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November 10, 2010 10:06 AM

Why Broadband Utilization Matters More Than Deployment/Adoption

In recent conversations I've been having with Michael Curri, head of Strategic Networks Group, it's become crystal clear to me that as a nation we're not focused enough on what really matters as it relates to broadband.

Most of the attention to date has gone to broadband deployment, figuring out how to get every last home online and how to encourage more deployment of faster networks. Increasingly the conversation also now turns to issues of broadband adoption, or how do you get everyone online.

What I've come to believe is that what's too often missing in this equation are questions surrounding broadband utilization, or how people and organizations are actually using broadband to improve their lives and how can we encourage more of that use.

The reason this is so important is simple: why are we building broadband networks? Is the end game to have viable, self-sustaining infrastructure? Is it to make sure that everyone's connected to that infrastructure? Or is what really matters what we do with that infrastructure once we've got it?

To some this may seem like an obvious line of thinking. We didn't deploy electricity in the 20th century for the sake of deploying electricity, and we didn't encourage adoption for the sake of being able to use electricity, it's what individuals and institutions did with electricity that led America to be the economic superpower of the 20th century.

I bring this up because I think we've been focusing too much energy on issues of deployment and adoption to the detriment of those surrounding utilization.

Is focusing on deployment important? Absolutely! Without broadband available none of the rest of this is important. But we can't lose sight of the fact that having viable networks is only part of the equation.

Is focusing on adoption important? Without a doubt! We need an environment whereby everyone understands the value of broadband and has the financial ability to get connected. But if we only focus on the basics of getting people online we'll never realize the full potential of what broadband has to offer.

A way to think about this is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The bottom tiers of Physiological and Safety relate to the availability of broadband. The middle tier of Love-Belonging relates generally to the adoption of broadband. The top tiers of Esteem and Self-Actualization, then, relate to the utilization of broadband.

It's important to note that it's in this top tier where we find things like creativity, problem solving, confidence, and achievement.

What this says to me is that despite the fact that the bottom tiers of deployment and adoption are vitally important, if we focus all of our attention on them we're missing out on encouraging greater realization of the true benefits of broadband, which can only be found in the utilization of the many apps, services, and technologies that broadband makes possible.

So let's not limit our focus to deployment and adoption. Instead let's realize that, in the end, what really matters most is what we do with broadband once we've got it. And that if we want our communities to realize the full potential of what broadband makes possible, we can't stop at deployment and adoption when it's the utilization of broadband that drives economic development and improves quality of life.

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