Monday, November 08, 2010

NTIA report reinforces outdated notion of "broadband adoption"

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is issuing a report today that continues to promote the outdated notion that Internet connectivity is separate and distinct from other types of Internet delivered telecommunications such as voice and video. It does so by parsing out "broadband" usage among various demographic groups.

Unfortunately, it's about as useful as reporting distinctions among these groups in their landline long distance calling patterns. Whether they make long distance calls or not, all use telecommunications infrastructure serving their premises. It's the same with the Internet as it replaces the publicly switched telephone network (PSTN) for voice calls and even cable TV for video. "Broadband usage" is no longer a meaningful metric.

If the calendar read 1999, the NTIA's report would be timely rather than more than decade out of date. Back then, "broadband" and "high speed Internet" was an emerging service option offered by legacy telephone and cable companies. Customers paid about $50 a month for the service over and above their usual monthly service charge.

Accordingly, discussing adoption of this service in terms of demographics and income would have made sense then since some groups of people would find this premium service more appealing and affordable than others -- especially since Internet applications such as websites and email were at the time only just starting to reach most consumers.

However, at a time when the Internet provides multiple services that formerly required separate, proprietary cable and telephone systems to deliver and can do so over a single tiny fiber optic strand connected to every home and business, reports like the one being issued today by the NTIA are increasingly irrelevant. It would be more far more useful and relevant if the NTIA and others instead studied how to hasten the build out of fiber optic infrastructure so that no homes and businesses are left offline.

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