Automobile traffic is expected to be crawling in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention next month. There is little than can be done to avoid that.
But a lot of people are working to make sure that online traffic will be running fast and smooth.
Just as the City of Cleveland is working to spruce up for the convention, below-ground work is also going on. It all begins here at Public Square.
Above ground, the city is pushing to rebuild its main square in time for the RNC. But before that could start, AT&T needed to lay conduit for new fiber optic cables underneath so that the main convention sites are linked together.
“You think about the location of that, you have a casino in one direction, convention center in another, Q and Progressive in another," says AT&T Ohio President Adam Grzybicki. "It’s really an epicenter for downtown and an epicenter for our network.
Underground workers found some pretty corroded pipes. AT&T's area manager for network and process, Christy Moore, worked on the Democratic convention in Charlotte 4 years ago. She says Cleveland is like most cities for its phone and internet infrastructure.
“It was average, but we did have to some repair work. So we’ve enhanced what was already in place and made it even better,” Moore said.
As the convention’s official communications provider, AT&T promised to lay 50,000 feet of optical fiber but has already done 70,000 feet and may go on beyond that. Much of that is connecting Quicken Loans and providing hi-def television feeds to reporters at the Huntington Convention Center. That infrastructure will be useful for future conventions says Lev Gonick. He’s the CEO of One Community, a non-profit advocate for building broadband in Northeast Ohio.
“There is significant capacity both at the convention center and the Global Center for Health Innovation – again the legacy of the RNC -- because everybody is priming the pump, as it were, to make sure there is capacity. But we will be able to offer very robust services to the next events,” Gonick said.
AT&T says the installations for conventions four year ago is a drop in the bucket compared to what’s happening this year. Grzybicki explains the company is providing internet access to 15,000 reporters at the convention center and 35,000 delegates in the Q.
“Not half the audience is going to have their cell phone out snapping pictures and taking video. It’s probably going to be the entire audience,” Gryzbicki said.
The company is also upgrading 165 cell towers around the region and installing distribution antenna systems, a kind of mini cell tower, inside the Q and convention center as well as out on the streets. Moore says you might not notice those.
"You may see a street pole, you may a little longer length in one of them or a funny little gadget that’s up on top of it," Moore said.
AT&T spent some $350 million building out its Cleveland area network over the last three years and Grzybicki says most of this year’s investment will be left behind.
“In and around the perimeter, I’m sure there will be a couple temporary towers that we’ll put up but that’s the extent of it. In terms of the outdoor antenna systems, the indoor antenna systems, the upgrades that we’re making at the cell towers -- those are all permanent. Obviously the fiber is all permanent. The vast majority of what we’re doing is here to stay,” Gryzbicki said.
Those aren’t the only electronics likely to stay. The federal government is providing security money to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, part of which will be used for security cameras. One Community’s Lev Gonick says some cameras will be used to track vehicle traffic.
“There will be additional investments coming to Cleveland as part of the RNC to make sure that those thousands of buses that the RTA is deploying will actually produce optimized routes and that will be in part enabled by smart-traffic technology. Those sensors and those cameras could have a life beyond the RNC," Gonick said.
Gonick notes another nice benefit: Cisco Systems is donating its wi-fi routers from the convention to the Cleveland Municipal School District. But he laments that area cities and counties didn’t work together to ask for more.
“How many other things could the schools be able to take advantage of if we said “Schools First” for all of the digital infrastructure that’s coming to Cleveland? What else could we be doing?" Gonick said.
Besides the official networks, other cell-phone companies and local businesses and hotels are reportedly also upgrading their networks for the convention.
This story is part of WKSU and ideastream’s election collaborative.