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AppRising delivers insight into new broadband applications, exploring their impact on networks and their implications for public policy.

AppRising is written by Geoff Daily, who covers broadband applications and the business of online video. Based in Washington, DC, Geoff regularly advises applications developers, network operators, community leaders, and public officials on how to maximize adoption and use of the Internet.

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October 22, 2007 12:21 PM

A Missed Opportunity: Trumpeting the Benefits of Broadband to the Green Revolution

Moving from Alexandria, VA up into southwest DC has obviously scrambled my brain somewhat as I completely missed the opportunity to join the chorus of Blog Action Day. Luckily, my most loyal, honest reader--my mom--called me out on it, so here I am attempting to make amends.

Blog Action Day was an attempt to unite the blogosphere for one day to write about one issue in the hopes of affecting a large scale change in awareness of and attitude towards a particular issue. In the case of what occurred on October 15th, the topic was the environment.

I'm certainly not the first to say this (here's a good post on Cisco's blog doing just that), but it's worth repeating: through broadband we have incredible new opportunities to reduce our negative impact on the environment.

Yet we need to be realistic about these opportunities as well, recognizing that what can at first seem to be a blessed promised may ultimately end up harming rather than helping the cause.

A prime example of this is in the long-promised paper-less society computers were supposed to enable. As anyone who works in an office knows, we're using more paper now than ever.

Sure content can be created, delivered, and viewed digitally, but computers and the Internet have also opened up huge new stores of information, and many people are still more comfortable reading, annotating, and storing documents on paper rather than on a computer screen.

Ultimately I think what'll push us more firmly towards a paperless society will be the introduction of epaper, or digital display technologies that mimic the form factor of paper. Eventually this technology will be so cheap to print you'll see it on cereal boxes, but for the time being economics, form factors, and established behaviors prevent it from entering into mainstream use.

There's little doubt that the use of broadband and in particular broadband applications like videoconferencing and telepresence promise to reduce and even eliminate the need for travel, but again, there's a flipside to this promise.

Through the Internet, businesses can now reach customers located further afield than ever. New efficiencies mean they can make more sales calls, generating more business. So even if the Internet reduces the ratio of travel to business, the overall amount of travel may be on the rise.

And despite the many wondrous things made possible by computers and broadband, we mustn't forget that everything comes with a cost, even in the digital age. Computers require electricity, as does the network every time you send or receive a byte. And the influx of cool new technology means an increase in the waste that's created as consumers leave behind old gadgets for the latest and greatest.

Looking back on this post, I didn't intend for it to be so curmudgeonly about the positive environmental impact of broadband, but if you read closely you can still sense the limitless possibility. All these technologies can do what they're promised, just so long as we don't lose sight of the fact that despite the wonders made possible by broadband and computers, they all still come with a cost.

So as we transition further into a digital society, let's not overlook this basic premise as we seek out new ways to utilize broadband and computers to ostensibly save the environment.


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