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Spanish Fork recognized for its tech savvy

City's second year on list due to fiber-optic system

SPANISH FORK — Move over Moab. Another Utah city is hobnobbing with the world's elite.

While Spanish Fork may not be sharing bumper sticker and T-shirt space with the likes of Paris and New York, it is getting attention for its tech savvy along with London, Melbourne and Taipei.

The Utah County city is again among the world's "Smart 21 Communities," chosen by the Intelligent Community Forum, an international organization that promotes the use of broadband technology in community development.

It's Spanish Fork's second year on the list, due largely to its citywide fiber-optic system, which has become a key in promoting the city's residential and economic development.

"We went from 0 percent high-speed Internet access in Spanish Fork to 42 percent access in a relatively short period of time," said John Bowcut, information systems director for the city.

"That is a significant improvement to the community, and 100 percent of residents now have access to it if they want," he continued. "I think (the ICF) liked that improvement."

The ICF looks at five factors in compiling its list — the availability of broadband communications, the network's role in educating the workforce, the use of broadband to promote community involvement, governmental innovation through the network and successful marketing of the system.

Spanish Fork has done well in all those categories — the network is available at all of its schools and some churches for educational purposes. A successful marketing campaign has resulted in subscriptions for almost half the city.

While the city's television station cannot boast a network affiliation, local residents can tune in for an hour or two of tense (OK, mostly boring) City Council sessions or some 14 to 16 hours per week of other community programming.

It is "unique" for a city of Spanish Fork's size, Bowcut said.

"We use that as a means of keeping our residents involved, because we want to keep that small-town feel," he said. "There are cities, of course, that have their own broadband system, but (ICF) is looking at the fact that we not only created a system but we created a community network."

The city system includes a few bells and whistles not found elsewhere, including free wireless access in city parks.

The system — despite being "close-captured" inside the city's boundaries — has played a major role in Spanish Fork's development in recent years, city councilman Seth Sorensen said.

"It's been tremendously important," he said. "We're just now starting to see its impact on economic development. As businesses have come into the city and considered moving here, they've responded very well to this."

Sorensen, who works at the Nebo School District as a curriculum and assessment specialist, is also a technical trainer and said the broadband system has increased educational opportunities for students.

"It's done tremendous things for our schools," he said. "All elementary schools in Spanish Fork have a T1 connection, which is something no other school in the district has."

Spanish Fork is one of five U.S. cities that made the list, joining behemoths Philadelphia and Cleveland and small cities Adel, Ga., and Monmouth, Ill.

Tinajin, China, is the largest city on the list (9.8 million), while Spanish Fork is 18th (25,000). Dubai City, United Arab Emirates, is the smallest (5,500).

While he said it's nice to share the international spotlight, Bowcut said he prefers the glow from local street lights. When someone approaches him on the street and thanks him or when he hears about a family or business that moved to Spanish Fork in part because of the broadband system, the lights get a little brighter.

"The most gratifying (feeling) is the recognition we get from our own community because that's who we did it for," he said. "This (the ICF listing) is just icing on the cake."