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January 7, 2010 10:39 AM

Questions To Ask Your Policymakers About Broadband

Yesterday I had the opportunity to address the Net Squared meetup group in New Orleans about my work advocating for broadband in general and fiber specifically.

The NetSquared crew is a group of local techies who are committed to seeing their city be as great as it can be, in particular through the use of technology and the Internet. They've got an incredible energy having grown to the fourth largest NetSquared group in the world, and they're taking on a number of excellent projects to further the public good of their community.

Needless to say, these are my kind of people.

To add some context for this post, New Orleans is the midst of a mayoral race, with the first primary to be held in February. So during our discussion questions were repeatedly raised about what kinds of questions they should be asking their candidates to raise the profile of broadband and to get their stances on the public record.

Figuring out the right questions to ask is a challenge no matter what level of government you're dealing with, so I thought I'd try to help this process along by starting to compile a list of questions that fellow broadband believers can and should be asking their representatives in government.

Without further adieu, let's begin:

1. Do you agree that broadband is one of the most important infrastructures of the 21st century?
It's important to get policymakers thinking about broadband in terms of infrastructure. Too many still define infrastructure in terms of water, roads, and electricity and don't acknowledge/realize that while those are important, nothing will be more significant to our future in the 21st century than broadband.

2. How do you see broadband playing a role in furthering your policy goals?
It may be more effective to ask this in terms of making the assertion that broadband can help further all policy goals, but it'd be interesting to see how your elected official or candidate responds to this.

If they get it, then they'll start talking about all the specific ways broadband can be used.

If they kind of get it in the abstract then they'll talk in vague terms about how of course it'll be helpful without providing any specifics.

If they don't answer immediately in the affirmative then they're still stuck thinking about broadband as a separate thing and you're going to need to do more to educate them about how broadband touches on all facets of a community.

This question can also be asked within the context of whatever specific issue is important to whichever official you're speaking with. If healthcare's their pet issue, then ask how they see broadband improving that, for example.

3. Are you a supporter of open government, where the Internet can be used to increase transparency, engage citizens, and drive efficiencies? If so, what are your specific plans to implement open government?
Unfortunately, most people you ask this of will say a quick yes to the first question but then not have any good answer for the second. But getting them to say yes to the first then creates an opening for you to make suggestions for open government initiatives they could be pursuing. And by getting them on the record you'll have something to hold them to if they don't follow through. Open government is also something that should cut across party lines as how can someone be against this issue? So it can be a potentially good issue to build consensus on.

4. Do you believe that it's important for your constituents to have access to world-class connectivity in order to support continued economic development?
The key words here are "world class" and "economic development." By getting them on the record supporting the need for world-class connectivity then that establishes some minimum standards that must be met. Also, it's vitally important we get our policymakers to equate broadband and economic development because not enough of them do.

I'm going to continue working on expanding this list over time. If you have any thoughts for questions to ask policymakers, submit a comment below and I'll add them to the list and cite your contribution.

But for now this gives us a start. So get out there and start asking your policymakers about their support for broadband so we can make sure these vitally important issues stay on the forefront of everyone's minds.

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