Why is this page text-only?


App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

« Article RoundUp: Benefits of Telecommuting to the Queen on YouTube to Tech Policy on the Hill | Main | Questions Raised About Efficacy of FCC's Telehealth Initiative »

December 27, 2007 12:15 PM

Pondering the Dichotomy of Those Who Use Broadband and Those Who Don't

The last month of traveling has provided me with a telling juxtaposition of images that highlight how far we still have to go in getting people to use broadband and how close we are to realizing this goal.

Two weeks ago my wife and I made our semi-annual trek up to New York City to visit with friends, enjoy the city, and eat a criminal amount of food.

We stayed with my good friend Nico McLane, affectionately known in some circles as the queen of streaming media. Nico's been producing streaming media projects for enterprise, entertainment, and news companies since the earliest days of streaming video over the Internet.

We also spent one afternoon visiting with friend and former employer Jesse Chenard, CTO of Tremor Media, a top fifteen online ad network that helps websites sell their in-banner and in-stream ad inventory.

Both are well-respected in their fields. I consider both to be my go-to experts in all things related to online video. And both rely heavily on broadband for the very existence of their professions.

So, assuming that broadband must play a significant role outside of work, I asked each how they use it in their day-to-day lives.

To Jesse I asked what his favorite application that uses broadband is. His answer couldn't have been savvier: his Internet browser. With so many things that can be done in-browser today, there's really no underestimating its importance.

But I wasn't satisfied, so I pushed him further, asking for a more specific application or use. Much to my surprise he didn't have one. He admitted that he didn't really use broadband all that much beyond his day job of helping content owners deliver ad-supported rich media experiences.

I posed a similar question to Nico, and she expressed a similar sentiment, that from a pure bandwidth standpoint nothing she does outside of work relies all that heavily on broadband.

Needless to say, these answers blew me away. How could the people who were not just on the cutting edge of technology but also those who were helping push it forward not be heavier users of broadband outside of their chosen professions?

Even more amazing is that these are people who really know what it means to use broadband. They have a fundamental understanding of how bits are sent over the Internet, so when they say they don't use broadband much, they mean it.

Now contrast this realization against my experiences from Christmas dinner at my parents' house in Minnesota, where Dr. Jay and Sue Tracy, longtime family friends, joined in our festivities.

Jay and Sue are two of the nicest people in the world, but "tech savvy" is not how I would describe them. Case in point: while they use iPods to listen to books on tape, my wife's new iPod Touch was completely foreign to them. Even the idea of viewing video on a mobile device seemed new.

So you could've knocked me over with a feather when my mom--a reformed computer nerd--ran into trouble trying to initiate a videocall through Skype with her folks and called over Sue as her expert in trying to resolve the issue.

How had this sweet suburban housewife become an expert in the use of videocalling? Their eldest daughter is located in New Zealand and, most importantly, is in possession of their newest granddaughter.

They've been using Skype to communicate with her for months if not years, so much so that I'd bet if you asked them they'd admit it's gone far past a nice-to-have and is now an essential tool in keeping their family together, and in their being able to enjoy watching their granddaughter grow up even though she's located far too far away to pop in for a weekend visit.

So even though they may not use broadband much in their professional lives, it couldn't be more important in their personal lives.

The juxtaposition of tech savvy friends not using broadband set against non-techie friends relying heavily on it has been jarring to say the least.

It has highlighted for me both how far we have still to go before the use of broadband is a more integral part of our lives while at the same time demonstrating how close we are to realizing this goal.

The truth of the matter is that most people, even those who know what it can do, have yet to find a compelling reason to use broadband. They see little purpose in using broadband purely for broadband's sake, and the applications that utilize broadband have yet to deliver experiences that go all that far above and beyond the behaviors that have existed long before broadband.

At the same time, once people find that compelling application or experience they're likely to quickly and completely become reliant on broadband, no matter how much of a techie they may have been before. And with online experiences becoming increasingly user-friendly, the barriers to entry for the unwashed masses continue to lower.

Tying all these threads of thought together, I'm left with one more image from my travels: the sight of Jesse's five-year-old daughter seated at the coffee table staring intently (or at least as intently as a five-year-old can stare) at a laptop screen, typing and clicking away as she interacts with a colorful, educational online virtual world.

This image reminds me that even though we may have a long ways to go, as younger generations mature, the adoption of and reliance on broadband is in large part inevitable.

Yet even if it is inevitable, the fact we're not more reliant on it today suggests a failure of sorts. We're spending billions of dollars to upgrade networks and increase capacity. There are thousands of applications currently available and thoroughly tested that could revolutionize the efficiency and expand the opportunities of society. And yet we're just not there yet.

Where these thoughts all lead me is to the belief that if we want more people to understand the value of broadband (and in turn garner more support to get more capacity in the ground), we need to mount more proactive campaigns to not only get more people online but get them doing more things once they're there.

No one will understand the value of broadband until they experience it for themselves. Simply saying broadband is great isn't enough. The moment we help an individual understand how their lives can specifically be improved through the use of broadband is the moment they become an ardent supporter of the need for more capacity.

Now the mission for all of us engaged with this broad discussion is how can we educate and inspire not just the government officials who make important decisions, but each and every citizen in the United States of America about why broadband's great and what it means not only to society at large but to improving the quality of their day-to-day lives.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)