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Broadway's Infrastructure Puzzle Has Many Needs

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2011, at 09:08AM
Broadway 2010 Eric Richardson

As the effort to bring a streetcar back to Downtown moves one step closer to putting tracks down Broadway, it's worth remembering that the project is just one piece in the puzzle of what is needed to bring life to underused buildings along the street.

Since kicking off in January of 2008, the Bringing Back Broadway effort has touted the million square feet of vacant upper floor space between 2nd and Olympic as one of the streets biggest assets. By turning a chunk of that into "creative office space," the effort hopes to attract architects, Internet and entertainment companies to what was once one of the city's most prestigious streets.

In that vein, new rules that would make it easier to bring life back to long-vacant commercial floors have been slowly moving through the system, as have more visible projects like the streetcar and new, more pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

One piece of things that I have been thinking about recently, though, involves the lifeblood of the new economy: bandwidth. Today's new companies need fat Internet pipes to move big files back and forth to servers and clients.

That infrastructure presents a chicken-and-egg situation for Broadway first-adopters. While there may be buildings and companies ready to take the plunge and plug in on Broadway, their present bandwidth choices aren't great—something I've been reminded of in the process of opening coworking space Indie Desk at 816 S. Broadway.

Get past a regular DSL line, and you're looking at expensive offerings like T1's and fractional-DS3's that have been around forever. There's little incentive for traditional telecom companies to build out new infrastructure yet, because the market is still a bet on the future.

That's frustrating, because just a half-mile away Downtown L.A. has almost unlimited bandwidth in a cluster of buildings centered around data centers like 600 W. 7th and One Wilshire.

There's certainly interest in City Hall in seeing a solution for Broadway, but the public sector has little funding to offer these days. A solution is likely going to take a combination of private money, Downtowners committed to pushing the issue forward and the city's support in bringing people together.

It's taken the streetcar effort roughly a decade to get to the point it's at today. If Broadway is going to come back to life, bandwidth can't take that long.

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