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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 16, 2007 10:54 AM

Surveying the Broadband Mapping Bill

It's looking more and more like we might see a broadband mapping bill pass through Congress before the end of the year.

Everyone seems to agree we need to do more to improve our understanding of the US broadband marketplace, and most everyone has pointed to the Connect Kentucky model as a good starting point.

But does that mean this bill is the best it can be? Let's take a moment to dive in and find out:

Redefine broadband - Everyone knows we need to revisit the FCC's 200Kbps definition of broadband. What I like about this bill is that it cites the need to introduce different tiers of broadband. I don't see how we can introduce a new speed that takes most DSL lines out of the broadband category, at least not right away. That said, having a tiered definition may end up frustrating consumers who are already confused by the claims of dialup providers that they offer high-speed access. The biggest issue I have with this section, though, is that they're still pushing to define broadband based on the speed needed to transmit an HD video signal. I've written about the wrongheadedness of this approach in a previous post.

Map unserved areas - Hugely important. We need to quickly identify areas that don't have broadband and do everything we can to get it there. It boggles my mind that we're spending money subsidizing new entrants into under-served areas when there are still a number of unserved areas.

Better metrics for evaluation - I just about leaped out of my chair in joy when I read the item calling for more emphasis placed on establishing metrics that do a better job of informing consumers about the cost and capability of their broadband connection, in particular as it relates to the advertised vs. realized speed. There's way too much confusion in this space, so any efforts to clarify this for consumers is more than welcomed. Unfortunately, this bill also cites the need for metrics to better compare US broadband with that in other countries. In this post reacting to the latest OECD rankings, I argue that we need to focus on what's best for our country and not worry so much about where we stand relative to everyone else.

Establish local grassroots technology teams -
I couldn't be more excited about this. Appointing leaders in areas like medicine, education, government, and business is a less-publicized but equally important aspect of the Connect Kentucky project relative to their much-touted mapping initiative. As it stands right now, most entities are forced to find their own way through the broadband landscape, leaving the trailblazers to learn through trial and error. But if we can establish leadership positions in these areas then we can begin to do a better job of sharing best practices within and between communities. Only by doing this will we begin to more rapidly realize the true benefits of broadband.

So all in all, this is a pretty decent looking bill. While I don't agree with everything, it's heart is in the right place and there isn't anything that's egregiously bad.

What I'm most interested to watch now is what will happen if it passes to the Connect Kentucky project. It's been touted by everyone from government types to network operators, and this bill seems tailormade for their model. Already a couple of other states have signed on for similar initiatives, and I continue to read about states starting broadband committees of various sorts.

So it looks to me like 2008 is shaping up to be the year where the broadband debate finally gets serious, moving past the cries for why we need it towards more concrete discussions for how we make all this happen.


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Comments (1)

In regards to better metrics for evaluation, what matters is that broadband benchmarking be practical and practicable within the context for whom these tools are designed. Furthermore, the end-user must have the capacity to use this information to improve business efficiencies in a manner that is cost-effective and that can offer immediate results. In our experience, the greatest productivity gains are achieved not from the perspective of “are we doing things right” but from the perspective of “are we doing the right things.”

Whether at an enterprise or community level, benchmarking can enable business managers / owners, government and economic development agencies to assess competitiveness and efficient utilization of resources and capital.

In our approach, benchmarking provides intelligent insights at a firm level. Individual firms are able to compare broadband and ICT application usage against their peers and ‘best-in-class’ for their industry. Not only does this raise awareness at a firm level about their competitiveness, but it also raises awareness about opportunities for productivity increases. However, benchmarking alone only informs the firm about what areas of their operations may need to be addressed, but it falls short of informing them what the can or should do about it – the actions that lead to progressive change. These insights need to be actionable.

Posted by Michael Curri on November 19, 2007 12:12 PM

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