Collier: Austin needs action to shine during ACL Fest

Austin is at a crossroads. In the space where challenges, local policies and technology-based solutions intersect, the path forward is still foggy and the issues extend beyond ride-hailing. In just four months, tens of thousands of ACL festival-goers will arrive in Austin.

We welcome and appreciate these visitors and know we need to be prepared with plenty of transportation options. We must also recognize that a dense concentration of music lovers puts an enormous strain on our city’s wireless networks. On this front, we need for our city government to take deliberate action sooner rather than later, so that when the lights come up for ACL, Austin shines.

Inconsistency in city regulation has emerged as a prominent theme in news coverage of Austin’s ride-hailing industry after Uber and Lyft discontinued operations. The confusion that has resulted from this inconsistency is avoidable. Consumers and businesses are best served when rules are clear and don’t change midgame. Today, Austin’s city government has an opportunity to turn a new corner by embracing efficient processes and consistent regulations related to our city’s wireless infrastructure. The fact that ACL is coming creates some welcome urgency that we hope will bring some hustle to processes that could otherwise get bogged down in bureaucracy.

Specifically, multiple wireless providers have asked the city of Austin for permits to install “small cell” equipment that would improve the wireless experience in crowded places, whether in Zilker Park, areas of downtown or on the University of Texas campus. Small cell nodes can be installed in strategic places around town to so that wireless carriers can provide additional capacity.

If you’ve ever been in Central Austin on your mobile device, you get it — we need greater capacity. That reality is even more pronounced during an event like ACL, when demands on wireless networks skyrocket. Festival fans can attest that the only thing as frustrating as not being able to get a ride is not being able to share video, upload a photo or even send a simple text at the exact moment they would want to.

Wireless providers are ready to improve network capacity as soon as they get the local green light.

Providers like AT&T and Verizon often roll in temporary technology to offset festival-specific demand — but there are limits to those fixes. Better technology options exist, but it requires action from city government to establish the processes that providers need to follow to install small cell networks and deliver a better wireless experience to Austin. With no roadmap from the city, these technology investments — and solutions — are at a standstill.

Beefing up our wireless infrastructure should be a priority for Austin with or without big festivals. By 2020, 75 percent of mobile traffic will be video-based, meaning we’ll need much more wireless capacity on any given day in just four years. Smart city innovations like driverless cars and citywide sensors and advances in IoT — the internet of things — will drive wireless demand even higher. The city should act now to develop a streamlined process so that companies like ExteNet, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, who want to invest in Austin’s wireless capacity, are allowed to do just that.

Fall will be upon us in a flash, bringing with it throngs of enthusiastic visitors with high hopes for staying connected while they’re here. We are eager to see if Austin will act fast enough to be ready so our city can meet and even exceed those expectations. City government should grab this opportunity to shine and show the world that Austin embraces technologies that deliver what people want, need and expect in a city like ours. We’re known as a hotbed for innovation, entrepreneurship and for “thinking differently.” Let’s put those accolades to work.

Collier is principal at Intercambio Group, co-founder of Impact Hub Austin and a Zhi-Xing China Eisenhower Fellow.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Why Austin should take Dale Watson’s exit seriously
Commentary: Why Austin should take Dale Watson’s exit seriously

There’s a conversation in Austin that’s as predictable as starting the day with breakfast tacos and it revolves around the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds: Is our Austin dying? From Pinballz to Luis’ Corner Barber Shop and Yoga Vida to the patio over at LaLa’s, we love talking about what Austin is evolving...
Letters to the editor: March 25, 2018
Letters to the editor: March 25, 2018

Truly we all feel the Austin Police Department did an outstanding job of apprehending the bomber that terrified the city. As many other law enforcement agencies assisted in this process, the Austin police served as the base to create the successful outcome. The mayor and City Council can now come to terms to provide a mutually agreed upon contract...
Herman: Napkin folding, hand kissing and other diplomatic intricacies
Herman: Napkin folding, hand kissing and other diplomatic intricacies

Our president recently tweeted this at us: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job!” Exciting. The guy in charge of getting dirt on other countries will become the guy in charge of getting along with other countries. What could possibly go wrong? The change means Secretary of...
Facebook comments: March 25, 2018

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Sean Collins Walsh, Claire Osborn, Tony Plohetski, Jeremy Schwartz and Mary Huber relatives of Mark A. Conditt issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying they are shocked and devastated by the revelation that he was behind the string of bombings that have terrorized Austin this month. The statement was...
Jonathan Evison’s latest, ‘Lawn Boy,’ brings humor to life’s misfortunes
Jonathan Evison’s latest, ‘Lawn Boy,’ brings humor to life’s misfortunes

An aimless young man decides to get his life together, but life has other plans in Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy.” Mike Muñoz doesn’t quite know what he wants out of life, but he knows he deserves better than what he’s got now: a terrible job cutting lawns, a truck that barely runs, and a tiny house packed with a...
More Stories