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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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June 11, 2007 10:58 AM

Broadband Alone is Not a Panacea

I stopped by the Broadband Policy Summit last week and had the opportunity to listen to a keynote address by FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell.

While he said a lot of interesting things about what we need to do to encourage the deployment of broadband, it's what he didn't say that caught my attention most: Not one word about encouraging the use of broadband applications.

Now, I have to give him credit that he didn't fall victim to the easy trap of talking in vague, grandiose terms about the potential of telemedicine, egovernment, and the like.

But even still, not one word about broadband applications.

When people talk about broadband deployment it's often couched in terms that suggest that the deployment of broadband can be a panacea for all of societies ills. "If only we had more bandwidth, we could do all these amazing things."

I can't help but disagree with this sentiment on multiple levels:

1. If you build it, they might come, or they might not.
While it's true that demand for bandwidth generally trends in line with the increased availability of supply, we have not yet seen the revolutionary, nationwide adoption of Internet applications promised by the increasing penetration of broadband. For the most part, applications are still being used in small pockets. An implementation of videoconferencing here, the use of webcasting there.

There's a whole lot we can be doing with the broadband networks we have today that we aren't, and we can't assume that by deploying advanced broadband networks a wellspring of new applications will appear all on its own.

2. Through more broadband the US can be more competitive in the global economy, assuming we actually utilize these networks.
McDowell spent a good chunk of his time denouncing the gloom and doom of the US falling down the OECD's broadband penetration rankings. He opened my eyes to a number of shortcomings about what these rankings mean, but in the end the debate over how much broadband penetration the US does or doesn't have seems moot.

For me, what matters less than how many people are using the Internet is how they're using it. For example, imagine we reach a day where 100% of Americans subscribe to broadband at home, but no one's using the Internet for anything other than email, checking the weather, and watching funny clips on YouTube. In this scenario, what have we really accomplished? How much of a return would we as a society be getting from the investment and education spent on reaching this goal of 100% penetration?

3. We must encourage the deployment of broadband, while simultaneously promoting its use.
If we want to realize the full potential of the Internet, we can't do so solely be championing the deployment of advanced broadband networks. We also need to work equally as hard on finding ways to educate and inspire the public to use the bandwidth these networks provide to a fuller extent.

We should be exposing kids in the classroom to the possibilities of working in the digital economy, not sitting back and waiting for a handful of geniuses to figure it out on their own. We must identify opportunities to help support the adoption of broadband applications by cash-strapped organizations involved in furthering the public good, like medical facilities, schools, and government agencies. We need to be incentivizing private companies to start looking more intensively at how the use of broadband applications can drive new efficiencies in their businesses.

Broadband alone will not solve all of our problems. But deploying broadband while making every effort to further its use and adoption does hold tremendous potential for exponentially increasing the positive impact of the Internet on all facets of society.

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