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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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July 24, 2007 10:52 AM

Tracking Broadband Adoption in Lafayette and Beyond

Towards the end of my meetings last Monday in Lafayette I had the great fortune to sit down to chat with Andre Comeaux. Andre works in the area as a VP for Regions Insurance and, more pertinent to the matter at hand, he serves on the Greater Lafayette Parish Chamber of Commerce.

What we spent most of our time talking about was his efforts to champion a study of Lafayette’s current adoption and use of broadband.

In his mind, we can’t know where we’re going and/or how far we’ve gone without knowing where we came from, and in order to understand that we need to have a fuller understanding of how, and if, the Internet is being used today.

I think he’s spot on in his focus on this area, especially in a community like Lafayette that stands on the verge of making a major investment in its fiber infrastructure. I say this not only as a way to hopefully justify the cost of the fiber down the road, but also because of Andre’s savvy belief that if they can chart where they are today and then compare that to where they end up tomorrow, they’ll then have hard data that can be used to spur government officials into action, either through championing the successes that have been realized or stepping up to more fully support underachieving areas.

Andre’s not alone in understanding the need to get more information about how people are using the Internet today.

A couple of weeks ago RVA Market Research released the results of a survey it conducted of 100,000 people who live in fiber communities. You can download the Powerpoint slides of their results here.

While most of the questions in this survey had to deal with issues like speed, cost, and satisfaction of fiber vs. other last-mile technologies, there was one slide in particular that caught my attention, lucky number 13 in the presentation.

I found this graph to be highly eye opening. Looking at the numbers, the application with the highest adoption rate is downloading full-length movies, followed by gaming and video-on-demand services (I’m assuming these refer to everything from YouTube to TV shows).

The fact that these three were the highest isn’t surprising, what is are the rates at which they’re being adopted. Only full-length movie downloads currently top 20%. Remember, that isn’t 20% of all Americans, or even 20% of everyone who’s online. Out of the people who have fiber optic connectivity, only a fifth of them are downloading movies. Less than a fifth are gaming or using video-on-demand services.

Looking further down the list, the numbers become even more startling. Personal videoconferencing at 6%; home security at a mere 2.5%.

Then you get to the bottom and discover less than 1% adoption of distance education and telemedicine, though with the caveat that the survey appears to have narrowed these topics down specifically to videoconferencing rather than leaving it open to the full scope of applications that help enable distance education or telemedicine.

(Also worth noting on a more positive side, though, is the fact that this survey found that FTTH communities tended to have more people working from home more days than prior to the deployment of fiber.)

There’s endless talk about the need for new advanced broadband networks with more capacity in order to support all the wonderful things the Internet can do, yet with numbers like these it makes me think we’re not doing enough to identify how people are actually using the Internet today.

Case in point, take a look at the Broadband Data Improvement Act (you can download a PDF of its contents here), which aims to increase the granularity of our understanding of how much broadband deployment we actually have in this country. Despite this bill’s many positive elements, and the promise of millions of dollars in federal funding on the way to fund this research, not one word in this bill is devoted to ferreting out more info about how people actually use the Internet.

That’s astonishing to me. Time after time when people talk broadband they’re only discussing the supply side of the equation. It’s high time we start paying closer attention to what’s driving demand for bandwidth and how we can create more of it in order for us to more fully realize the true potential of the Internet.

As I continue my own personal hunt for how broadband is having a positive impact on people’s lives, I’m headed out to a brown bag luncheon featuring the Alliance for Public Technology’s Broadband Changed My Life series, with this session focused on benefits for older and disabled peoples.

More on my experiences at this event tomorrow!

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