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Data as the Next Great Utility 

Image © Gensler

As technology, Internet, communications, and financial service enterprises continue to invest in network infrastructure to achieve continuous and seamless connectivity, reliability and redundancy are paramount. Driven by ever-increasing demand for bandwidth, the Data Utility is everywhere.

Electricity, gas, water, sewer systems and other basic utilities available throughout the developed world, have a new sibling: data. The proliferation of wireless access and devices, along with increasingly complex content and the push of this content to clouds have contributed to the fact that digital information is a prized commodity. In addition to significant technological advances in wireless access and content to support societal change in the developed countries, the economic rise in the BRIC countries (Brazil, India, Russia, China), Eastern Europe and Africa are also feeding increased demand for data on an unprecedented global scale.

In many instances the design and construction of network infrastructure, including dedicated fiber bands/rings, telecommunications platforms, and hyper-scale data centers, represents the next great infrastructure build for these societies.

Will the past privatization and market capitalization of this Data Utility (via internet service providers, telecommunication industry, and global network providers) shift to a public model, in which utilities own, operate, and maintain data and the networks it traverses?

Other core utilities (ie: electricity and water) are provided by local utility companies and/or regional cooperatives/associations. By nature, data networks extend beyond this local framework and regional infrastructure to a global playing field. Data comprises a universal connected network.

The question facing us is how can we design, regulate and service a prevalent and accessible data utility on a global scale?

UPDATE - June 15, 2016: For more on this topic, see The New York Times article "Court Backs Rules Treating Internet as Utility, Not Luxury."

Grant Uhlir is a principal and co-managing director of Gensler’s Chicago office. Grant is president of AIA Chicago Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and he is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and a product council member with ULI Chicago. Contact him at grant_uhlir@gensler.com.

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