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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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November 8, 2007 9:33 AM

Blogging on Broadband from Blandin

Am on the road again, this time in St. Cloud, MN to attend the Blandin Foundation's Broadband Conference entitled "Community Broadband: Making the Right Choices".

So far we've had informative presentations on the present state and technologies of fiber and wireless, a rancorous panel about the realities of the business and mechanics of deploying broadband, and an exercise where we broke into small groups, were assigned roles to play like Mayor and Telecom Operator, and attempted to develop a broadband plan for a fictional community.

My community was a rural county with an incumbent telecom and cable operator whose residents were envious of the service and value being provided by a neighboring independent coop and who wanted to do more with broadband to attract jobs to the area.

I ended up playing the role of Telecom Operator, which in Minnesota means the oft-reviled Qwest.

We boiled our big-picture strategies down into the three tracks facing any community: work with the incumbents, bring in another competitor like that coop, or build a municipal network.

Needless to say, making the market more competitive was not my first choice as a telecom operator. But at the same time without competition I didn't have much incentive to invest in my network's capacity.

In the end, the mayor offered to build a fiber network that the incumbents could ride to provide their services on. I was hesitant to jump on board without knowing more about the details and business terms, but as soon as the cable company signed on I couldn't move fast enough to push in my chips.

It was an interesting experience that led to conversations which rang true for other participants in terms of what they've faced in their communities, especially in more rural areas.

To finish off the day we were treated to a great talk by the inestimable Mayor Graham Richard of Fort Wayne, IN. While I've heard different variations on a similar talk by him on more than one occasion, he always manages to make it fresh and capture my attention.

In particular this time around I was struck by his comment that I'll attempt to paraphrase here: "When we have to call a snow day in the summer due to an outbreak of avian flu, then we'll finally understand the true value and benefits of broadband."

This is an interesting thing to think about: what would happen if an emergency occurred that forced us all to stay home for a day, or a week? Would the gears of society have to grind to a halt if no one can go to work?

Not in a world empowered by broadband we won't.

The challenge we face now is that if this were to happen today, we're not ready to leverage what broadband has to offer. Not everyone has broadband. Most who do don't know what they can do with it. Businesses and government agencies often have no standard procedures for telecommuting. And the applications that will make this all possible are woefully underutilized.

What we should realize, though, is that by preparing ourselves for an emergency of this sort we can simultaneously figure out how to make telecommuting a bigger part of our day-to-day lives.


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