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BridgeNet is transforming the future of New Westminster’s business landscape

The City of New Westminster takes a giant step towards its goal of becoming an intelligent city with its open-access fibre network

New Westminster’s evolution from an industrial- to a knowledge-based economy is about to accelerate— to 1,000 megabytes per second, to be exact. That’s how fast the city’s new open-access fibre network, BridgeNet, can transfer data for businesses and residential high-rises throughout its commercial districts. That’s 40 times faster than traditional copper wire—big news for anyone in creative, tech, health care, finance and other industries that rely on efficient big-data transfer. And “open access” means they’ll be connecting affordably via one of a growing list of innovative Internet service providers (ISPs), including AEBC, Novus, Uniserve and Urbanfibre.

In its aspirations to become an “intelligent city,” New Westminster had an advantage most other municipalities don’t: a city-owned electrical utility. With trucks, equipment and specialized workers already available, the City decided a decade ago to install empty fibre conduit while streets were open for service upgrades, saving the largest expense of new infrastructure. Today BridgeNet is operational, and the city is hoping to take advantage of another unique asset: geography. Occupying the bull’s-eye position in Metro Vancouver, the compact city (only 15 square kilometres) boasts five SkyTrain stations, making it incredibly accessible for commuters.

“If you’re an existing business in the city, BridgeNet makes access more affordable,” says Blair Fryer, economic development manager. “If you’re a new creative- tech- or knowledge-based company, it provides yet another reason to really give New Westminster a hard look when choosing a place to grow.”

Peter Keung is managing director of Mugo, a website enterprise company that relocated from Vancouver two years ago, motivated by New Westminster’s centrality, inexpensive and river-view office spaces, and growing tech community.

For him, BridgeNet is more than just high-speed access. “It’s a concrete way the City is showing they’re serious about investing in the knowledge economy to attract like-minded businesses and tech talent so we can grow,” says Keung. “My company is small, but we’ve already expanded from five to eight people since moving to New Westminster.”

A successful shift to a knowledge-based economy will be dependent on more than just infrastructure. New Westminster’s strategy is modelled on “the Intelligent Community Forum, a New York-based think tank looking at how more than 100 communities around the world have leveraged access to broadband fibre to improve local economies and quality of life,” explains Fryer.

In New Westminster, “intelligent city” means drawing on the experience of citizens. A digital inclusion committee, for example, composed of leaders from the social service sector, devises ways to make technology more accessible. A knowledge workforce committee, comprising representatives from The Justice Institute of British Columbia, New Westminster School District, Douglas College and CG Masters Academy among others, is considering how curriculums can be made more relevant to tech-dependent sectors. And an innovation committee, loaded with local entrepreneurs, is looking at ways to nurture forward-thinking businesses.
Making BridgeNet accessible to residents through its Internet service providers is the first, hardest and most exciting step, says Michael Hrybyk, faculty member at Douglas College and founder and former CEO of BCNet.

“New West’s approach is different: we installed the infrastructure to encourage smaller innovative ISPs to offer services,” explains Hrybyk, who is also co-chair of New Westminster’s Intelligent City Advisory Committee. “The Internet started this way, all the little ISPs years ago taking risks and putting modems up, and very creative people layering ideas and innovation on top. Software and other industries will blossom because of the infrastructure New Westminster now has in place with BridgeNet.”