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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 27, 2008 7:55 AM

True Story: An 18-Year-Old Who Doesn't Know What "Broadband" Means

I've been up in Cape Cod for the OpenCape Summit (which I'll write about soon) but for now despite all the wonderful things I learned at that event what's sticking out most in my mind happened after the event as I sat down to catch up with my 18-year-old cousin, Lydia.

Sometimes there seems to be a sense that anyone under the age of 25 knows everything there is to know about broadband, that they're all hard wired with an inherently deeper sense of the what, how, and why of the Internet.

But then there's my cousin. Last night while chatting, she made a startling admission: she didn't know what "broadband" meant.

Now, that's not entirely true. As we discussed it further, she acknowledged that she knew broadband meant faster and that it came from the cable company.

And when I followed up by asking her if she used the Internet, she quickly confirmed that while she may not be a power user she does partake in some of the basics of an online existence as a young adult, like watching videos on YouTube and creating a Facebook page.

But I'm totally fascinated by the fact she didn't know what broadband was.

I had to take her through the explanation that the Internet is a bunch of interconnected fiber optic networks and that broadband encompasses the access networks that allow us to reach the Internet. That made sense to her.

Then I tried tackling the reasons why I support full fiber deployments. When I first started talking about bringing the full power of the Internet to her front door I could tell that didn't mean a lot, but when I began talking about how all the world's Internet traffic can be delivered today over a single strand of fiber, her interest perked up. And what really grabbed her attention was when I started covering how all that bandwidth makes possible those next-gen high-bandwidth applications that once seemed relegated to the realm of science fiction, things like communicating via hi-def holograms.

By the end I felt like I'd gotten her to see the light, not enough so that she'll become a champion for broadband but at least enough so that the next time she hears the word she'll know what it means and hopefully whenever she next encounters someone talking about fiber she may be more predisposed than before to supporting the concept.

But for now stories like this should show us that we can't make blanket assumptions like "all young people know broadband" just like we shouldn't assume that all old people don't know it.

And we can't forget that for the vast, vast majority of Internet users today, "broadband" doesn't represent the opportunity to revolutionize society through greater capacity, it just means faster Internet.

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Comments (1)

Your cousin is not unique. There are politicians, regulators, telco folk as well as citizens and consumers, who haven't grasped what broadband is FOR.

Sad but true, and it is time for every nation to start to educate all, beginning with those who make policy, regulate, or slow down deployment, as well as teaching citizens, business people and consumers what they can do with this broadband connectivity, and to show what NGA will enable, empower them to do.

The telcos of course don't want this because of the 'false scarcity' of bandwidth or supposed lack of business case for investment; politicians don't necessarily want us citizens being able to freely communicate, innovate or possibly get out of control; regulators by their very nature are generally behind the times and therefore could end up running so far behind the actuality as to be shown up; and the citizens and consumers don't generally know what they don't know, and hence haven't started clamouring for the education and resources they require to make the most of 'true connectivity'.

The result of this lack of education is a slowdown in adoption, usage and innovation in infrastructure, as well as forward thinking policies and regulation. Additionally, the social and economic impacts are profound, as could be seen with first gen digital divides, notspots etc.

What may possibly happen is that a single application will be introduced by a new entrant (or established player such as the BBC) which 'breaks the network' and highlights the inefficiencies of the existing infrastructure.

And then all we will hear is 'the broadband is broken'. When the truth is that it is the existing infrastructure that is broken, but many people will fail to understand that because they are like your cousin. Let's hope we all begin to see the light, down a fibre optic cable to our homes and businesses, sooner rather than later.

Posted by Lindsey Annison on June 30, 2008 3:08 PM

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