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Milwaukee is Looking to Adapt More Internet of Things Technology

Michelle Maternowski
Bublr bikes use IOT technology.

Strong internet connections can play a huge role these days in the economic viability of an area.  As growing numbers of devices and systems are being connected to the internet, cities across the country are looking to keep up with what’s called the Internet of Things, or IOT. Milwaukee is no different.

The city is in the early stages of examining what it means to be a "Smart City," or a city that uses technology and the internet to enhance performance.

The City of Milwaukee is ready using smart technology connected to the internet to improve lives and services.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
Parking in Milwaukee can be paid for using these meters or through the MKE Park app.

Erick Shambarger, director of environmental sustainability, says think about the ShotSpotter system that the police department uses to pinpoint gunfire or even the app that allows you to pay for meter parking.

Shambarger says the best example though is one that most people may not think about.

“Bublr bikes, I mean you have a whole system of hard infrastructure bikes that are connected to people’s smart phones and that’s all kind of controlled electronically. That kind of thing would not have been possible 10 years ago,”he says.

Shambarger says Milwaukee has implemented a lot of IoT technology, but it’s still just the tip of the iceberg. “Think about putting all the capability of your smart phone into a streetlight. We have about 76,000 streetlights in the city of Milwaukee, and so one of the things that we’re looking at is making our streetlights more energy efficient with LED lights, but then also having all the technology of a smartphone in there, which means you could add additional apps. Things like security cameras, ShotSpotter, those kinds of things,” he says.

Shambarger says the city could improve public safety and save money in energy costs, all by harnessing the potential of more IT products.

Nancy Olson says the city simply cannot afford to fall behind when it comes to IoT. She is Milwaukee’s Chief Information Officer. “Milwaukee wants to be available for businesses to do business in the city in a significant way. It’s all about the internet now,” she says.

Olson says businesses are attracted to places where services are effectively and efficiently supplied.

Still, the city only has a responsibility to provide internet access to its facilities; residents and businesses mainly rely on two main players here, Time Warner and AT&T.

READ: Milwaukee Companies Making an Impact on The Internet of Things

When it comes to state government, the only agency using IoT technology is the Department of Transportation, according to David Cagigal. He’s Wisconsin’s Chief Information Officer. “And they use that for the highway signs that many of us see and their cameras that are on the road, but right now it’s very limited in our strategy,” he says.

Cagigal says the state plans to develop a citizen portal, which would allow people to share how they feel about current services and what they would like to see.

Meanwhile, the CIO for Illinois, Hardik Bhatt is pushing his state to the forefront of IoT technology usage. For instance, he says Illinois is extending strong internet connections to rural areas.

“We have 2,000 miles of fiber across the state, what we call the Illinois Century Network. We can use that as the platform on which marketing solutions can be built for any part of the state. We may have to invest a little bit more on making sure they are connecting to the nearest fiber,” Bhatt says.

Across Wisconsin, many rural areas still don’t have access to reliable internet service. Since 2011, the Public Service Commission has been making grants available for broadband in underserved areas.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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