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November 21, 2008 10:00 AM

Something Everyone Agrees On: More Demand = Good Thing

While not a new observation it's become more acute in recent weeks that at least on one front in the Great Broadband Debates all parties seem to be in agreement: we need more people using and relying upon broadband to a greater degree.

It's the one issue that unites network, applications, content, and public interest people, both ideologically (we've all drank the broadband Kool-Aid) as well as from a business perspective (more users = more potential customers).

In particular this has been a major point of emphasis among the big-time network operators. I've now heard telcos and cablecos alike strongly suggesting that we need to be pursuing policies that can help stimulate understanding of and demand for broadband.

Yet while it obviously behooves any online purveyor of apps or content to have a larger marketplace to sell into, I have yet to see these overlapping interests turn into a working consensus over what needs to be done to stimulate consumer demand.

Of course, I can see why some might be wary of supporting any initiative that'll result in increasing subscription rates and ultimately profits for multi-billion dollar network operators. Also, there's the issue that apps guys want to talk about network deployment and management, whereas these are topics that network operators would rather just faded away.

But I think what might be really stalling a coordinated campaign to increase demand for bandwidth is that I have yet to see a concise plan or even any specific actions that can be done to improve this situation.

We've got studies showing that part of what's holding back people who don't subscribe to broadband is cost, but even more significant is that many people still don't have computers at home. On top of this, most people without broadband don't see the value it holds; it's a nice-to-have not a must-have service.

And taking this a step further, I'd argue that we've done a poor job of educating even those who already have broadband about how they can use it to improve their lives. The Internet may be this endless sandbox, library without walls, communications nirvana, but it also tends to be a medium that can only be fully exploited by those with the know how and initiative to spend a lot of time finding and figuring out how to use apps.

From a policy point of view it comes down the simple question of: what can the government really do to spur demand for bandwidth?

One obvious answer is to continue making more of their services available online, in particular in ways that add value to the old paradigm in order to incentivize people to shift into the new.

For example, webcasting government meetings through a company like Granicus. Today many of these meetings at all levels of government can be watched on TV, but what's possible online is revolutionary: never missing a meeting, watching at your convenience, easily search through agenda items, look up related materials, and more.

But this alone won't be enough as there's a ton of training and equipping that needs to be done in order to help all Americans participate in this new age of communications.

In order to shift the paradigm in a big way we need big ideas and a coordinated campaign uniting the abilities and interests of all parts of the Internet value chain to stand together and help inspire our country to embrace what a networked life can be.

Spurring demand for broadband and therefore apps and content is an issue we can all agree on. So let's use this common ground to start finding ways to work together on crafting effective federal policy to accomplish these specific goals rather than wasting all of our time bickering over issues we don't agree on.

This isn't to say we can ignore those issues we don't see eye-to-eye on, but I'm hopeful that by working together we can find more common ground that can lead to a more productive dialog and ultimately lead to more effective legislation.

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Comments (1)


Here's a very viable avenue for thought. Move past the "buyer- customer" paradigm as the dominant means by which BB deployments are supported.

In the USA and other developed economies, no matter what the current economic situation may be, massive money flows are directed by third parties on behalf of consumers.

Think third party payers (private insurers, Medicaid, Medicare, state programs) for telemedicine and home care.

Consider the impact of a well designed primary (K-12) education program which requires BB at all student's homes.

Think aggregation of consumers within BB networks for various buying co-operatives where pooling creates value or reduces risk.

Consider this: Keeping an eldery person at home for just one more month before they have to go into an institution would pay for the cost of a fiber connection.

There's more to consider than two-party transactions.

The challenge will be to avoid capture by vested interests and subsequent dilution of intent I also would be concerned about the excessive burdening of trials and experiments.

Posted by Nick Stanley on November 21, 2008 2:39 PM

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