Archive for August, 2010

July 2010: Broadband Lifecycle… and Getting Smart

“Awareness, adoption, impacts, and outcomes”

This month we finish our three-part series covering the steps of the broadband lifecycle. In May we covered demand analysis and pre-planning while June’s discussion centered on strategy, investing, and building the network.

The last steps of the process to create a “platform for productivity, competitiveness and innovation” via broadband are both simple and complex, and the most critical step in the journey – driving usage.

Step 5: Awareness & Adoption Support
Upon the complex building or expansion of the network, we turn to the basics, in this case Marketing 101.  Even the world’s best product or service has no chance without consumers learning about its availability. Likewise, if it is difficult or confusing to get their hands on your product/service, its most likely that consumers will just continue the status quo, never to adapt your offering, no matter how life-changing.

Your message should always focus on life changing the benefits of broadband – avoid a “features” discussion.  No matter the product or service, consumers “buy” benefits.  They want to know why and what will change in their lives… not how. Once your marketing has convinced consumers and businesses that they need/want the social and economic benefits of broadband, the “how” to get connected naturally follows.   

SNG can help you drive utilization and with it, the effectiveness of your network and how do you get businesses and households to leverage the power of broadband. And with connections to broadband and e-solutions – your region reaps the rewards.

Step 6: Monitor Impacts and Outcomes
Critical to the ongoing success, sustainability, and funding for your expanding broadband network and efforts is measuring the direct community benefits.  It is step six that validates the broadband investment decisions and the direct and indirect positive impacts.  And with this validation comes compelling reasons for further investment in network expansion and upgrades and/ or additional adoption and awareness campaigns to increase benefits from a broader base of users. At the same time, measuring outcomes serves as a model for businesses and citizens to utilize broadband.

SNG can help you measure the impacts of your investment, its use, and the direct/indirect economic benefits. Make sure your investment is being used, promoting economic development – and where and how you can increase adoption.


Step “7”: Back to the Start
As your broadband network is an evolving asset, the Broadband Lifecycle begins again as you adjust your strategies to meet evolving needs. SNG helps identify and shore-up any gaps, resulting in continuing development, effectiveness, and impact.

The “Broadband Lifecycle” is SNG’s unique approach to each and every broadband initiative. Keeping it in focus will result in creating a platform for productivity, competitiveness and innovation” for your region rather than a network that may or may not be used.

Broadband Lifecycle in Action: Virginia

The project is a follow-up to a successful 2007 SNG study in which the small town of Bristol (17,000 residents) reported big benefits just 12 months after BVU’s initial fiber investment.  SNG’s study found that for local businesses, fiber meant operational and sales efficiencies, cost savings, and employment opportunities. Bristol’s newly installed “platform for innovation” had created:

  • Dozens of businesses reporting a total increase of $2.7 million in annual sales
  • Two-thirds of businesses reporting cost-savings due to fiber use
  • Nearly 300 new jobs, including a 10% increase in employment from organizations reporting an increase in sales as a result of the fiber network  

Today, the Economic impact study of e‐solutions in the Bristol area is a core project component, quantifying the impacts of implementing e‐solutions from BVU OptiNet’s deployment.  In conjunction with the state-wide initiative, SNG is again collecting data in Bristol that will serve as benchmarks for the rest of Virginia, helping identify the most significant and immediate economic and social benefits from e‐solutions. This will help guide Virginia as it makes decisions for what solutions are needed, and where, throughout the Commonwealth.

Findings from the Bristol test bed will be used to take effective awareness and adoption strategies for education, workforce, economic growth, healthcare and community.  Learnings will also help prioritize planning activities, workshops, awareness campaigns, training on e‐solutions that will sustain and grow broadband.

Get Smart

Before we wrap up this issue of Bandwidth, a few words about smart grids. Before you tune out from this seemingly over-hyped and over-discussed topic, we’re with you – smart grids are not exactly the most exciting topic. While touting the need for smart grids, there seems to be a lack of discussion of the benefits.

Proponents of smart grids need to convey the benefits to drive awareness and adoption among businesses and households. Just like any broadband-enabled application, in order to drive adoption, change agents need to tell people why they should care and/or change their behavior – a “so what.” Smart grids are here, they are great… so what does that mean to me?

Driving awareness and adoption (Step 5 of the Broadband Lifecycle) seems to be a missing component in many of the early smart grid initiatives.  And while finding the benefits that resonate for your audience is key to driving adoption – let’s not forget the first step – awareness. SNG’s recent studies show that the number of business owners and homeowners even aware of a “smart grid” falls under 5% of the population.


For those who do know the story of smart grids, the narrative seems to be closer to that of 1984’s “Big Brother” than 2010’s BP Oil Spill, creating more support than ever for the need for energy conservation and responsibility.  So taking a look at smart grids from a perspective of a broadband-enabled application, how do we drive adoption among our different audiences? 

The Pragmatist
There are a lot of reasons a pragmatist will like smart grids. Outages can be prevented through monitoring and proactive maintenance/repair of equipment as well as diverting energy to areas of need during peak demand. 

The Environmentalist
Smart grids help reduce community carbon footprints – and help individuals spread out their energy consumption for conservation.

The Thrifty Consumer
Recently Baltimore Gas and Electric estimated that the average home owner will save $115/year by using a smart meter and effectively controlling the way that energy is being utilized. Many utilities are giving households the opportunity to earn “Negawatts” – which serve as credits that translate to refunds.

The Business Owner
Business owners for any size business can work with their utility to create a control for the disbursement of energy to their facilities and drive down costs. At the same time, by implementing smart grids community-wide, costly power outages like the one in Washington DC this week can be avoided.

So let’s get smart about smart grids, remember that just like all e-solutions, you need to drive awareness and adoption (even if government regulation forces adoption).  At the end of the day, environmentalists and pragmatists alike will find smart grids a benefit to the community, with broadband once again enabling cost savings and – in this case – conservation.

June 2010: The Broadband Lifecycle and Your BB Score


“The broadband lifecycle: e-strategy, pre-planning, and building capacity”

This month we continue our three-part series covering the steps of the broadband lifecycle as we focus on the strategy and the decision to invest, as well as the network build, or expansion.

By Michael Curri – Broadband networks can create a “platform for productivity, competitiveness and innovation” in your community – delivering the infrastructure to capture economic and social opportunities, some known, some yet to be invented.  Many communities fail during the broadband strategy, build-out and adoption phases as they lack focus and/or sufficient investment of time, energy, and resources.

Too often communities develop strategies based on following recipes from other regions. Instead of uncovering what the needed resources are, or how to leverage current efforts to best serve the specific and unique needs of the community, civic leaders race to “do what they did.”

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for successful broadband strategies that bring economic and civic benefits to a region and its citizens. Each community not only has different needs, but different strengths to best leverage the broadband platform. Strategic Networks Group (SNG) has for years been helping governments, at municipal, regional and national levels, to best understand where investment will make the biggest impact – and each and every time the best approach involves following the broadband lifecycle.

Before your community can thrive with its own “platform,” you need to get over the common pitfalls along the broadband lifecycle. In case you missed it, last month we reviewed how initiatives can fall flat because of a lack of focus and/or sufficient investment of time, energy, and resources (demand analysis and pre-planning). SNG encourages all broadband project managers to design and run their broadband initiative with one eye on the Broadband Lifecycle. Click here to review steps one and two.

Step 3: e-Strategy & decision to invest

Often the toughest stage – this is where you and your partners in this journey need to ask yourself some tough questions, including – should we proceed?  Obviously, you’ve started the journey, so you believe in the value and benefits that broadband can provide your community. But while you (and your colleagues) may be ready to proceed with building your region’s very own “platform for innovation” – will it be used, will it be sustainable? In short, have you addressed the key factors in the pathway to sustainable success?

Obviously, you’re not asking the “are we ready” question in a vacuum.  A critical component of being “ready” is understanding the investment required – where the it will come from – and what the measurable benefits will be… will they outweigh the costs?

One way to do this is through SNG’s Community Broadband Readiness Self-Assessment, a process that SNG is taking communities through across the United States – most recently in Miami. The assessment tool provides a comprehensive understanding of the relative value of key factors that should be addressed as a pathway to sustainable success.

Image002 The Community Broadband Readiness Self-Assessment Tool is structured around six readiness categories:

  • Leadership
  • Vision and Plan
  • Organizational Stability
  • Community Awareness
  • Implementation Ability
  • Market Profile

For example, the readiness assessment showed that Miami-Dade had a relatively high level of readiness to undertake a broadband initiative.

SNG can help guide you in this phase applying market analytics and our proprietary Community Broadband Readiness Self-Assessment Tool.  By shaping your strategy to address not only broadband for un/under-served areas, but to include applications to drive innovation and efficiencies, we’re able to help establish a strategy to maximize broadband’s benefits. Recently SNG conducted readiness assessments for Miami Dade (FL), Lexington (KY),  Akron (OH), Aberdeen (SD), providing an objective view of the current state of readiness for undertaking a broadband initiative

Step 4 – Build or expand network capacity

This step seems like the most straightforward – but don’t be fooled. While we know that building the network is can be the most difficult step, we all have or are a part of a technical team that specializes in building networks. But there are many implications – that without the right guidance and discipline – could be neglected.

Are your technical and business plans in place to ensure a smooth implementation? Do you have the right provider – and are your requirements well defined? SNG has helped regions in Ontario and partnered with organizations like IBM to ensure the build process runs smoothly, building to the current and future needs of businesses, organizations and households.

Next Month: Steps 5 (Awareness & adoption support) and 6 (Monitor impacts and outcomes).

What’s your broadband score?

DEi While we’re on the topic of steps 3 and 4 and developing e-strategies for successful broadband initiatives and network builds, have you ever been asked by your constituents – how do I compare to my competition? What are other communities doing to better leverage broadband? What are the benefits of broadband should I be leveraging? In general, how am I doing?

SNG has recently announced our Digital Economy Index (DEi) – an assessment tool, an organization-specific “scorecard” that draws on information from eSolutions Benchmarking to assist small businesses and other organizations see where they stand. SNG’s DEi is a composite score of how organizations use Internet-enabled applications, or “e-solutions,” to drive productivity and competitiveness. By providing organizations’ with their DEi score, you are providing them insights into their utilization of e-solutions, how they compare to their peers, and where they can adjust to increase efficiencies, innovation, and profitability.

The Digital Economy Index helps organizations develop their own broadband adoption plan (and economic growth path). Which leads into the next step, awareness & adoption support (Step 5 of the Broadband Lifecycle, which we will discuss next month).

Broadband in a Down Economy

Across the globe the global downturn has had deep impacts. Many households are stretched thin, looking for ways to supplement lost income or to supplement declining or stagnant salaries. Recently SNG worked with the e-North Carolina Authority to conduct “eSolutions Benchmarking” across the state to understand how households are using broadband to tackle some of their challenges.

The study revealed the potential of broadband for competitiveness and economic opportunity:

  • Nearly a third (31%) of the State’s broadband households operate a business from their home;
  • The number of households either currently running (31%) or planning to run a business from their home in the next twelve months (14%) is nearly half (45%) of the State’s broadband households;
  • Even more broadband households are either now using (41%) or planning to use (24%) broadband to sell items online. That’s nearly two-thirds (65%) of broadband households using it to at least supplement their income;
  • Most (85%) of home-based businesses said that broadband was essential to their business. More than half (54%) said that they would not be in business if they did not have broadband while two in five (41%) would have to relocate if broadband was not available in their community.

For more information about these findings, please contact the e-North Carolina Authority who commissioned this work – see, or phone 1-866-627-8725.

In good times and in bad, broadband is critical for community members to earn income (and extra income).   But in bad times, research shows us that home-based businesses and sole proprietorships are more likely to sprout up.  More than ever, it is critical for states and communities that want to remain competitive – and even thrive – to have broadband’s platform for innovation and competitiveness in place.

Want to know how your state is doing to facilitate competitiveness trhough broadband? Contact SNG today. 

May 2010: The Broadband Lifecycle and Investing Wisely

The broadband lifecycle: demand analysis and pre-planning

By Michael Curri

Much too often broadband initiatives that should be successful end up falling flat – for a Making_plans myriad reasons.  Perhaps they do not get off the ground because of a lack of vision, planning, or leadership. Many fail during the strategy and build-out process as they lack focus and/or sufficient investment of time, energy, and resources. Some initiatives may have been successful building the network but fail because they are simply taking a “we built it – you use it” approach and not driving applications and adoption. And even the most successful broadband projects, with ample utilization and economic and social impact can be perceived as a failure if the outcomes are not measured and reported.

It is for all of these reasons that SNG encourages its customers (and all broadband project managers for that matter!) to design and run their broadband initiative with “one eye on the Broadband Lifecycle.” In this issue of Bandwidth, and the next two, we will be taking a look at 2 of the 6 steps of the Broadband Lifecycle. In this issue: step 1 (identifying gaps, needs, and demand) and step 2 (pre-planning and assessment). 


Step 1: Identify gaps, needs, and demand

Before you jump in with both feet (and fistfuls of dollars), ask yourself: does your community need (more) broadband? Is your region’s current infrastructure insufficient when it comes to meeting the needs of your entrepreneurs? If the answer to either question is YES – then the most important task in step one is to determine how a broadband investment can eliminate community shortfalls and create solutions for economic and civic advancement.

Critical here is to identify your community’s specific needs. Don’t make the mistake of simply following any “tried and true best practices” that you think may apply in your territory – as the gaps and needs for one region are not necessarily yours. Don’t scrimp on research in this stage – too often it is feared that research is too slow and expensive – or just unobtainable. However, we know it can be done. Strategic Networks Group (SNG) has for years been helping governments, at municipal, regional and national levels, to best understand where investment will make the biggest impact. [Most recently SNG has helped Alberta (Canada), Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia with a variety of data collection solutions, including e-Solutions Benchmarking.]

Step 2: Pre-planning & assessment

Make sure you have your “ducks in a row” and all of your stakeholders/partners on board before moving forward with the next step (developing a strategy). What do you need to implement a successful broadband deployment? What leadership and partners do you need to achieve your community’s goals? What components need to be included your deployment? Keep in mind that having a well-represented group of invested parties in your community helps create the momentum you need for a wide-reaching, successful project.

Make sure you take into account your community’s assets: each community has both different needs and different strengths – and those strengths will be uniquely leveraged via the broadband-enabled “platform for innovation”. Too often communities take shortcuts. Instead of uncovering what the needed resources are, or how to leverage current efforts to best serve the specific and unique needs of the community, civic leaders race to copy what another community did. [Contact SNG for our numerous case studies in this phase, including work in Miami (FL), Akron (OH), the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Toronto, Manitoba, and Australia.]

No matter where you are on the Broadband Lifecycle, you can turn to us for leadership to help navigate through the challenges and pitfalls of each step, maximizing your project’s economic impact and civic advancement.

Next Month: Steps 3 (e-Strategy & decision to invest) and 4 (Build or expand network capacity).

How to invest wisely – 4 key guidelines

By Doug Adams

Now that you have funding, how can you make sure that your project lives up to the promise that got it funded in the Invest_wisely_SNGfirst place? Hundreds of broadband projects are being funded in 2010 – be it from Stimulus or some other funding source – but how many will truly become a community asset that drives economic and social benefits?

 Key to making sure your project will have a return on investment with quantifiable outcomes starts with these four guidelines:

  1. Don’t focus on engineering: it’s all about awareness and adoption;
  2. Use data to drive decisions before, during, and after the project;
  3. Create a “platform for innovation”: investing in broadband is NOT just about the financials;
  4. Frame the benefits, measure them, and promote.

Don’t focus on engineering. It’s all about awareness and adoption.

Broadband planning should start with current and future demand of e-solutions by individual businesses, organizations and households. It is natural to focus on the tangible always – the network build, the nuts and bolts of it all – it is how we’re programmed… to follow a blueprint and build.

But building without utilization is a fruitless (although significant) exercise. It’s the utilization, the applications, and the resulting increased productivity, competiveness and innovation that your network creates that are the reasons for investment. Never lose sight of this. It’s the “off-balance sheet” benefits to the private and public sectors that are key for your broadband initiative to bring community value. And the key to deriving value is, and always will be awareness and adoption. Often requiring campaigns targeted at the individual business, organization and household level.

By always keeping your eye on driving adoption, the public investment will be seen as a successful part of community growth.

Use data to drive decisions – before, during, and after the project.

Broadband planning is part of strategic planning for a community / region. Without an assessment of current utilization, or a vision of what the utilization could be, how can an appropriate network be built?

Make sure you do the legwork (research) to understand what how local businesses need to do to be productive and competitive and how broadband – or better broadband – can help them achieve their goals. Do you have plans for applications that will support needs? What services can broadband support for public institutions? And will the network be able to meet utilization requirements?

Take ownership locally of your region’s future – local stakeholders need hard data and insights to make the right decisions about what kind of community they want to be 5, 10 years down the road – and how broadband helps get you there?

Investing in broadband is NOT just about the financials. It is about creating a “platform for innovation.”

It’s easy to see the immediate benefits that broadband will bring – be it needs that are blatantly apparent or discovered through assessment. What is not always as immediately evident is the long term transformational power of a broadband “platform for innovation.” One needs only to look back ten years to see how the world has changed – and the economic and social benefits that have accompanied this change – when broadband first emerged as a replacement for dial-up.

Looking back through our history, there have been countless – and sometimes unpopular – decisions to make an investment in infrastructure whose benefits would reveal themselves only when it was in place, and for decades to come. Roads, railroads, water and sewer systems, national defense, etc. are all examples of economic drivers that exceeded what could have even been imagined.

The opportunity cost of not having broadband is continued loss of jobs, industry and youth from a community / region – you cannot afford not to have it if you wish to remain relevant and competitive in an increasingly globalized economy.

Only when you stop looking at your broadband project yielding only immediate and finite benefits will you begin to see the true benefits for your community.

Frame the benefits. Measure them. Promote.

While all of the benefits of your network are not immediately measurable – measure what you can – and promote your success! Define success is measurable, tangible metrics – not with philosophical mumbo jumbo.

By defining goals and the criteria for measuring success, it is possible to collect the data needed for short-term return on investment. All public investments require accountability and transparency, so putting in place up-front monitoring and management process maximizes cost-effectiveness of cost-benefit analysis, but more importantly can leverage these processes and tools to maximize local economic and social benefits. Of course SNG can help you with each and every challenge you may have to ensure your community’s network investment has the measurable impacts and long-term benefits you need.

Issue 15, February 23, 2010

“The South Dundas municipally-owned network: from fiber optic pioneer to cautionary tale”
… or why public officials should document and monitor all public investments in broadband

In February 2006, South Dundas Township, a rural community of 10,000 located south of Ottawa, Ontario (Canada), sold its highly publicized municipal broadband network to W3 Connex Inc. One of the first publicly-owned fiber-optic broadband networks sold to the eastern Canadian fixed wireless provider for only 29% of the investment made by local taxpayers just a few years earlier.

While a high-profile study (commissioned by the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry) had found that the $1.3 million invested in the network had resulted in a $25 million increase in local GDP, the creation of over 600 jobs in South Dundas, and an $8 million increase in tax revenues, the network’s financials showed mounting operating losses. This led to an election cycle where candidates ran and won on campaigns decrying public involvement in broadband infrastructure and calling to privatize the network.

The town council members who were responsible for the broadband initiative were ousted as they were not able to fully demonstrate and convince the taxpayers that public investment in broadband infrastructure was paying-off. Their opponents believed “municipalities have no business in running a communication network,” and “the private sector could do it better.” The network’s sale closed a chapter in a local controversy about the system that was built and owned by the municipality.

Who really lost? The community – as broadband is now necessary infrastructure for a community or region, just like roads and electricity. Without broadband it is difficult to retain local businesses and stop high-paying jobs from leaving. Broadband infrastructure is the platform for innovation and communication for 21st century. But the truth is: the ousted council members did not have enough data to defend the value of the network when trouble arose. Those who saw no role for the public sector in broadband infrastructure did not have a comprehensive understanding of the impact of the network on the region when making the decision to sell. As a result the citizens of South Dundas Township are out a lot of money.

Don’t do that!

Broadband’s benefits cannot be fully realized if investment decisions are left only to the market forces within the telecom industry as the majority of broadband’s benefits are ‘off-balance sheet’ to telecom operators and service providers. Countries and their governments across the globe are actively investigating the social and economic benefits from broadband. Elected officials considering public investments in broadband deployments need to monitor and document the all of the benefits of their broadband public investments and the accompanying benefits associated with telecom infrastructure.

To grasp broadband’s value, it’s crucial to go beyond the basic business case (revenues vs. costs), because many benefits are “off-balance sheet.” That’s especially true when accountability and transparency in the use of public funds are becoming an important evaluation need. All the public funds being invested in broadband will come under increasing scrutiny as the pendulum swings back from post-crisis stimulus funding to financial prudence – worldwide. This is precisely what we articulated in the study (which you can find here)

Do invest!

South Dundas shouldn’t serve as a showcase of why municipal broadband can’t work – rather it is a cautionary tale about what it takes to do it right, i.e. gathering as much data as possible so that community leaders can make informed broadband investment decisions. At SNG, it is our job to assist them making those decisions: since 1998, we are the world’s leading experts in the gathering and analysis of data involving the economic impact of broadband, with tools and services encompassing the full lifecycle of community broadband investments.

We know it is critical for elected officials to have the ability to articulate the value of broadband investments to their constituents. Not just for political marketing purposes – but because the issue is crucial to a community’s future and its opportunities.

Ten years into the digital economy everybody agrees that “broadband is good and necessary.” Today, questions being asked include “How good” and “In what ways?” Documenting, articulating, measuring, structuring this “how good” is what we call building the “rationale for public broadband support.” We think the community of South Dundas could have used more of our help. But that was 5 years ago – an eternity… and of course hindsight is 20/20 – unless you are building your network today, or plan to build a network in the near future.

Click here to download this SNG position paper

We look forward to working with community leaders who are committed to equipping their communities with the most essential infrastructure for the digital economy, and to doing community broadband right, with data-driven decision-making.

Issue 14, February 26, 2010

“NTIA round 2: dont forget to include measurement mechanisms”

Dear Colleague:

As you submit your Round 2 Broadband Stimulus application, make sure to include the measurement of expected outcomes and benefits from your proposed broadband investment. This will show you are confident in the impact your project will have – and welcome accountability.

We can help you put a process in place to articulate and measure “what you are looking to do and the measurable results of implementation.”

Here is an example of how you can incorporate measurement into your proposal:

In order to fully appreciate the benefits derived from the use of the proposed broadband network, it is important to measure local outcomes. Yet, there is very little data related to community return on investment and the socio-economic impact of broadband and e-solutions, and none for [region name]. To address this issue, [Region name] is incorporating into the project metrics to track, benchmark and monitor productivity gains and other economic and socio-economic benefits from the utilization of broadband and e-solutions.

Data sets and specific questions required to evaluate the project will be identified, in order to incorporate the following metrics into the project process:

Project-level outcome metrics: expected service and impacts outcomes; expected outcomes for individual projects and in aggregate;
Socio-economic metrics: capture of utilization patterns and socio-economic impacts and benefits of funding recipients and their targeted clients (institutions, businesses, organizations, individuals).
The above metrics will help quantify and increase awareness of network benefits, identify best practices, and inform future policy and program development.

I’m confident we can help secure Round 2 Stimulus Funds. I’d encourage you to reach out to find out how SNG can help. It’s a competitive process – you need every edge you can get. Visit our sites: sngroup.comm, or to learn more, or dont hesitate to contact me.

We’re ready to help you secure Round 2 dollars!

Issue 10, November 16, 2009

“Measuring community the broadband community return on investment”

Research from SNG and others (as well as anecdotal experience) has convinced most decision makers that broadband is beneficial. This, along with federal funding and increased policy focus, is fueling a growing interest in taking this “broadband is beneficial” understanding to the next level of depth and practical value – including assessment of “return on investment.”

Here is how broadband contributes to economic growth – beyond “IT jobs”

The economic spill-over benefits from broadband are more far-reaching, although not as obvious, as the typically narrow “direct impacts” that are typically discussed, such as technology sectors, (e.g. “IT jobs”) and e-commerce activities related to B2C and B2B transactions. To understand the full impact of investing in broadband infrastructure and broadband adoption initiatives one needs to look deeper.

Business users quickly understand the broadband-enabled benefits of doing the same things faster: whatever the organization was doing before such as research, communication, or document transfers, etc. can be done more efficiently and reliably. However, the most significant benefits are generated from opportunities whereby businesses and organizations transform their business operations by using broadband-enabled applications to be creative and do things in new ways that were previously not possible, such as adopting new business models, or reaching-out to new markets.

Although it takes time for most businesses and organizations to determine what broadband-enabled changes makes sense for them and to implement the appropriate “e-solutions”. Enterprises that are motivated – by a need or opportunity – will move quickly to take these transformative steps and the others will follow, which is fundamental to productivity and competitiveness. The same dynamic occurs for organizations that may not be driven by revenues, or profits. All organizations that provide some kind of service have staff, internal processes, and interact with suppliers and clients. Organization growth may not be the first priority, however productivity and service delivery remain important drivers.

The three impact waves

  • Direct impacts: The increased revenues and/or cost savings generated from the utilization of broadband and e-solutions. Examples are extending market reach by going online, or reducing long distance charges by using VoIP.
  • Indirect impacts: The changes to production, employment, incomes etc. which occur up and down the supply chain from the businesses and organizations generating the direct impacts.
  • Induced impacts: The effects of spending wages derived from direct and indirect activities. Households spend their income on goods and services, creating a further ripple effect of economic impact that started with businesses and organizations using broadband.

The net result of the direct impacts from broadband and the spill-over benefits (indirect and induced impacts) increase overall economic activity. Other positive spill-over effects occur, such as demand for new skills and its implications for the labor force. With increasing adoption of e-solutions the need grows for new skills to implement, maintain, and utilize technology and applications to their full benefits. For example, the use of broadband itself also opens up new possibilities for staff training through online resources that would otherwise be unavailable or costly. This important because of the strong linkage between skills development to productivity and innovation.

What impact on the community?

While some of the increased spending created by broadband will occur outside the community, much of it will stay within the community, increasing the overall strength of the local economy through business retention and expansion. Not only does this enable businesses to compete globally on a more level playing field, but also creates a positive business environment to attract new businesses. The creation of new jobs is not only good for those employed, but it also reduces the risk of population decline and can attract high-paying jobs to the community.

Introducing the “community return on investment”

Traditionally, and when left to the private sector, decisions to invest in broadband networks have been based on the typical business case of subscriber revenues generating an ongoing operating profit. We certainly cannot blame service providers for that decision-making criteria – it is their business to make a profit and to choose wisely where to make their investments. Unfortunately, this is also the reason that many communities still do not have sufficient broadband availability – sometimes the business case just does not work for the service provider. When we look beyond the traditional business case and examine the economic impacts from broadband investments we get a very different picture. SNG research has shown that the economic return can be up to 10 times the amount invested in broadband networks. The challenge is how to bridge the gap between the profit-driven decisions of those that build networks and the investments needed to achieve the economic impact potential of broadband.

Increasingly, the answer is coming through public policy interventions at various levels of government, often accompanied by funds to stimulate investment in broadband infrastructure. The underpinning of such public investments needs to be the belief and the confidence that broadband is essential for maintaining business competitiveness and productivity and for enabling economic growth, as well as the numerous social benefits such as enhanced delivery of health and education services. Governments of many countries and regions are taking the leadership to undertake or facilitate investments in broadband in recognition of its economic impact potential – which can actually be measured.

Recent example

Businesses and organizations do increase revenues, reduce costs, and create jobs as a result of using broadband, and they are able to tell us that. For example, in a recent study, we found an 11% average 12-month increase in employment across 221 US organizations directly as a result of using fiber access for their operations. Over 63% of businesses said that their use of fiber was important for increasing sales and 179 establishments generated a total of $3.3M in additional revenue through fiber use. The majority of these impacts occurred in the second and third year after using fiber, reflecting the reality that it takes some time for businesses to integrate new broadband applications into their operations and to see their impact. Such direct impacts create spin-off effects across the rest of the local economy, often at a factor of 2 to 3 times the direct impacts.

Where investments in broadband are made with the goal of stimulating economic activity it is both essential and possible to measure the outcomes from those investments. It is equally essential to invest not only in broadband infrastructure, but also in providing a support and learning infrastructure to assist organizations in effectively adopting and utilizing e-solutions. Combined, broadband infrastructure and skills development generate the direct impacts for their business and the spill-over benefits for their communities. It is only through broad and effective utilization of broadband that economic benefits can be realized.

By Gary Dunmore, SNG

Click here to download this SNG position paper

If you think we can help, or would like to learn more about our broadband sustainable adoption services, please contact us.

Issue 9, October 26, 2009

“An e-strategy for Australia’s National Broadband Network”

As In a recent speech, Senator Stephen Conroy, Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, made important statements about the benefits of using broadband to improve the country’s economy, the health of society, and reduce costs. He emphasized that the Rudd Government, which has taken a leadership role to “ensuring the future competitiveness and quality of life for Australians with the $43billion being invested in a National Broadband Network (NBN),” saw its key role as “that of an enabler”. He went further to say that the role of the public and private sector is to create new initiatives and develop new technologies using broadband. He stated that “The benefits for the [health] sector and for the nation are clear, including more efficient delivery, better patient welfare, improved training and development, and economic savings.”

While one can appreciate that the Minister wants to stress the benefits of the government’s initiative, we believe that there needs to be a detailed strategy for adoption and leveraging of broadband investments. This detailed strategy should be evidence-based, and lead to concrete actions. A statement of “pious belief” alone that the investment will generate productive outcomes (public and private) is just not sufficient. How will the Rudd Government be able to judge whether its ‘enabling’ strategy is meeting the goals announced?

Beware of laissez-faire

The case for governments investing in broadband is clear: most political leaders now agree that because broadband is nécessaire to compete in the global economy, governments may have to intervene when private carriers choose not to. The next question is – how to best intervene, and when.

First, there’s the infrastructure. Governments’ involvement in the “enabling” network development stages is relatively straightforward. Some may disagree for political or philosophical reasons with what they describe as government meddling, but the fact of the matter is that public investment in telecom networks does work to spur competition. For example in France, thanks to a law passed in 2005, local governments (aided by the State, via a pseudo-VC body) were enabled to invest over 2bn€ in telecom networks. As a result, the incumbent (Orange, formerly France Telecom) finally chose to invest in areas it had previously snubbed, and new players (large and small) emerged – leading to a fourfold growth in the number of broadband subscribers, from 4.4m in 2004 to 18.7m 2009 – with a 93% of people accessing the Internet via broadband with an average bandwidth above 3 Mbps, at a monthly cost of around 30€ ($44, A$51), and a 98% population coverage. Free markets sometimes need a nudge…

On the network side, governments increasingly adopt an activist role – but often this activism is limited to infrastructure funding, which is not sufficient. Because with any broadband initiative, there should be a clear distinction between broadband deployment (making broadband available) and broadband adoption (getting broadband used). Unfortunately, most governments tend to take a ‘laissez-faire’ approach when it comes to adoption. This “build-it-and-they-will-come” philosophy is a mistake and a limitation that needs to be addressed – because time and time again, it has been demonstrated that this approach does not work. The alternative is an e-Strategy.

Demonstrate returns

The amounts at stake are increasingly staggering: over $7bn in the USA (leading to $350bn, says the FCC ), $43bn in Australia, 30bn€ in France alone. All over the world, governments are investing in broadband because of the economic and social opportunities that it enables. We suggest they should do so with a plan in mind, what we call an e-Strategy. Think of it as a business plan: no corporation would make a major investment without knowing all the facts, setting desired targets, and measuring outcomes – we believe investing in broadband is no different, and we think that public decision makers should prepare accordingly.

On a policy-making level, we advocate what Paul Budde describes as “trans-sector thinking – looking across sectors to create synergy – [fostering] the opportunities within the ICT industries to utilise new telecoms networks for e-health, e-education, smart grids (managing renewables, saving energy), etc. This way of thinking applies across infrastructure projects – looking at the potential synergies between the building of roads, sewerage systems, water and gas pipe networks as well as telecoms and electricity networks.”

When it comes to implementation, an e-Strategy is needed to articulate policy goals, agree on targets and implement appropriate performance measures required to understand where the gaps are in the usage of broadband and e-solutions – this is needed to identify opportunities and prioritize on those that offer the most significant and most immediate wins.

We believe that all governments at all levels (local, regional or national) considering investing in broadband should develop an all encompassing e-Strategy, structuring in the same framework infrastructure, needs, usage and funding, motivated to deliver socio-economic benefits.

A measure of impact should help to project socio-economic returns and that should facilitate fund sourcing. In the long-term, the vision of a community’s future development should drive network planning – this also applies regional, state or national planning. In the short-term, user needs (i.e. current and potential demand for e-solutions) should drive infrastructure priorities.

The need to educate users

Within that framework, promotion of broadband adoption is a key ongoing process that needs to be coordinated and supported – including the identification of e-Solutions usage gaps and prioritization of opportunities in bridging those gaps. Broadband adoption is also important for network sustainability as payback periods for broadband investments can be obviously shortened with higher take up rates.
Finally, the critical “user awareness” criteria should also be addressed: public decision makers need to know how ready their communities are to take advantage of a broadband deployment initiative – starting from the ground up. Promotion and awareness of broadband value to users, along with local support infrastructure, are essential to achieve the outcomes from broadband investment. Without this the very people who stand to benefit most from the broadband initiative may completely overlook it.

Unfortunately, that’s what happened recently in Tasmania, where a business seminar, pitched to the state’s business community to explain details of the government’s ambitious NBN project, had to be cancelled… due to lack of interest.

By Michael Curri, SNG

Click here to download this SNG position paper

If you think we can help, or would like to learn more about our broadband sustainable adoption services, please contact us.

Issue 8, September 30, 2009

“Public computer centers are key to sustainable broadband adoption”
… why community institutions have a crucial role to play

As the first phase of the Broadband Stimulus moves from the application to the implementation stage, many are already getting ready for the second funding phase. The first phase was marked by a sense of urgency and limited time lines, focusing on infrastructure and mapping. While infrastructure funding will continue to be the most visible core element of the broadband initiative, more emphasis will be placed on “sustainable adoption” and “public resource centers.” We believe that both these funding opportunities offer a key role to community anchor institutions.

The adoption issues are different for businesses and for households. Focusing on households it has been established that lower income households are the one that lag behind. What can be done? Counter-intuitively, it appears that to encourage broadband adoption, it’s not nearly sufficient to subsidize cheaper computers and ISP fees for lower income households. Because, as recently noted in the 2009 Pew Study on US Home Broadband Adoption, the predominant reasons for lack of adoption of broadband are not primarily costs, but “lack of interest or perceived benefits.”

Cost is an important issue, but only the fourth most cited reasons. Mostly, people don’t use high speed Internet because they dont have compelling reasons to do so – it’s about perceived values and benefits. This, along with cost issues, should inform approaches to bridging the digital divide, especially among lower income and elderly households. In other words: the real problem is education. That’s why, rather than make computer ownership cheaper, public authorities which want to encourage broadband adoption should also focus on public computer centers.

The cost-is-a-barrier argument

Let’s debunk the “cost-is-the-barrier” argument. The typical approach to fostering broadband adoption by lower income households is to help them financially purchase computers and get subscriptions. But the fundamental shortcoming of such an approach is that it requires low-income households to re-allocate their very scarce financial resources to purchase a subsidized but still (for them) expensive a computer, and then to make monthly payment for high speed internet services. While the latter may also be subsidized, such subsidies are too often temporary and insufficient to avoid straining family budgets – and then when they end, households are on their own. In many cases, the prime beneficiaries of individualized computer and internet access are the ISPs that gain more paying subscribers from these programs.In Furthermore, as was sadly evident with sub-prime mortgages, the real needs of end-users are too often paid only lip-service by programs backed by profit-seeking companies that view low-income households as “untapped markets” ripe for exploitation. We believe that there are other ways – for example making more public computer centers available to lower income households, as they represent a way to increase broadband access, usage, skills and benefit without pushing unsustainable costs onto them.

Supportive aspect of computer centers

It is pretty clear that public computing centers can be the most effective way of providing access to population groups that currently do not access the internet – including households that do not have an appreciation of the benefits of broadband applications, or the skills to use a computer and the internet. That’s especially relevant because, like libraries in the early 20th century, public computer centers can provide universal access in a cost effective and supportive manner.

The supportive aspect of public computer centers is key – because support is what’s required to enable many households (often older and less digitally-oriented) to take the steps to learn how to use the internet. A supportive environment can assist people to identify the benefits that they can derive from broadband enabled applications. And obviously, a public computer center can provide the technical support to maintain the equipment and connectivity in a cost efficient and sustainable manner, without imposing a financial burden on financially stressed households.

According to the NTIA, community anchor institutions are institutions that have “broadly defined mandates and play a central role in the community,” such as schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community colleges and other institutions of higher education. We believe that community anchor institutions are the best placed to set up and run public computer centers – because they have the physical and organizational infrastructure needed, together with the public mandate.It seems that the NTIA shares our ideas when it defines those institutions as “support organizations and agencies that provide outreach, access, equipment and support services to facilitate the greater use of broadband service by vulnerable populations, including low-income, unemployed and senior citizens.” Within that context, public computer centers are places that “provide broadband access to the general public or a specific vulnerable population, such as low-income, unemployed, aged, children, minorities and people with disabilities.”

Education is key

Community anchors institutions are well suited to the task because they are, at their core, providers of content (ranging from health, education and municipal services to public safety) and that content is one of the most compelling drivers in broadband adoption – especially for older households for whom health services are an increasingly important reason for them to use of broadband. As broadband enables these community anchor institutions to provide increasing levels of service, the motivation for households to use broadband should increase accordingly. However, accessing these emerging services is not simply a
matter of connectivity, because those who would benefit most from them often lack the basic internet and computer literacy skills required to do so. Hence it is in the interest of community anchor institutions to provide training and support to households that face barriers to access of online services – beyond subsidies. Also, as those with experience in adult education will confirm, the most effective training happens when students are motivated because they are learning material that is of direct interest and benefit to them. That’s why providing computer and Internet literacy training, not as an isolated exercise, but within the context of other community services –provided such as health and education, is a powerful way to foster sustainable broadband adoption by lower-income households.

The synergies of public computer centers between community anchor institutions are compelling. The NTIA “notice of funding availability” seems to indicate that the funders at national level are aware of the importance of supportive actions to encourage sustainable adoption, in essence leveraging these synergies. Let’s hope there are community organizations and leaders with the commitment and creativity to make them happen.

By Derek Murphy, SNG

Click here to download this SNG position paper

If you think we can help, or would like to learn more about our broadband sustainable adoption services, please contact us.

Issue 7, September 13, 2009

“Broadband-to-the-home is essential for economic development”
… or why communities should focus more on “broadband to the home”

Whereas it has long been considered a nice-to-have by households, evidence shows that today “broadband in the home” is increasingly seen as an essential service – this is most obvious in communities where broadband choice has been limited or non-existent. In fact, SNG research shows that 57% of households now (strongly) say that not having broadband would have a significant negative impact on their lifestyle. People now understand that broadband is creating new economic opportunities for household members – as well as the possibility to interact with their social networks in ways not possible before. This is perception is growing faster in suburban and rural communities with smaller populations, fewer businesses and services, and at a distance from major urban centers.

Important for improved lifestyle

From a social perspective, broadband enables new ways to stay connected beyond traditional telephone and email contact – which is especially important when over 60% of households communicate with family and friends on a daily basis. Parents with children away at college, family members living in different cities, grandparents who can see their grandchildren online: broadband allows for more frequent and intimate real-time communication, including video, while file sharing of photos and other documents becomes easier. With broadband, general research and online purchasing all become easier and more effective.

Other uses of the Internet take a whole new dimension with broadband (adult skills and continuing education, schoolwork research and online courses, access to health information and services, access to government services), whereas things such as streaming media, software and media downloads (free or purchased) are simply not possible without broadband.

Important for healthier (small) business

Broadband also offers tangible economic benefits for households. People now understand that tele-working and home businesses provide viable alternative income opportunities, allowing people to work in their community of choice while offering benefits of improved life-work balance. Either tele-working for a remote employer or operating their own home-based business, an increasing number of households have at least one member that works from home. SNG research shows that over 48% of tele-workers would not be employed in their present position without having broadband, and that tele-working has allowed 42% to avoid relocating to find suitable employment. Similarly, 55% of home business owners say that broadband is “essential” for their business to work effectively, and 25% would relocate to obtain broadband access.

Important for the community

Broadband allows people to stay connected to the global economy no matter where we live – and now we are fully aware of that fact. So much so that 45% of households would consider relocating to obtain broadband service (and 11% would “definitely” relocate)! Political leaders take notice. Because this new awareness has very significant importance to communities: for retaining and attracting population (with all of its implications for maintaining the local labor force), for maintaining property values and the local tax base, and for spending with local businesses.
Teleworking, in particular, extends employment opportunities well beyond the local community – as it brings about not only in an increase (or leveling) of local employment, but also in a “diversification” of the employment base to other industries And in a not-so-virtual way: with 72% of them spending more on goods and services within their community by working from home, gainfully employed tele-workers who would relocate without broadband surely help to maintain the local economy.

Broadband fosters a more attractive environment for new businesses to open or relocate in the community – as networked workers enjoy a better lifestyle, and are usually better educated. As more and more “social added-value” services are offered online (business services, social, health, and education services, and government services) it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the household consumer base has access to affordable broadband. Because household broadband contributes to the overall health and vitality of the (suburban and rural) community, we strongly suggest that municipalities should view broadband as an essential infrastructure and a strategic priority for their economic development.

By Gary Dunmore, SNG

Click here to download this SNG position paper

If you think we can help, or would like to learn more about our broadband sustainable adoption services, please contact us.

Issue 6, August 21, 2009: “Broadband adoption is about more than technology”

Why communities need to put in place a solid support structure

Today, most people and businesses are computer literate, and aware of the Internet’s potential – at least in general terms: about 70% of households have a computer at home with some form of Internet access (increasingly broadband), many others have access to computers and the Internet at other locations (such as the workplace or school) and virtually every business uses computers and over 85% have Internet access. Many households and businesses don’t “use” broadband mostly because it is not available in their area. However that’s changing fast – as private and public investments help make broadband increasingly more available and adoption more straightforward. The proof: current research shows that US household broadband adoption increased from 55% to 63% in the past year, while dial-up Internet use dropped from 10% to 7% over the same period.

But this also means that up to 30% of households remain “unconnected” to the Internet – for a variety of reasons, including uncertain relevance, affordability, and availability. And, while connected to a greater degree, many small businesses face the same issues when it comes to broadband adoption.

What it is missing?

For many, it is a complicated matter: firstly understanding what broadband can do for them, and then understanding that it is worth doing, and finally understanding how to make it happen. Increasing the understanding of broadband relevance contributes to the adoption of broadband by new users and increases the “benefits” of broadband by those that have it.

But the truth is that sustainable broadband adoption requires more than simply making broadband available. We can call it a virtuous circle of sort: the way households and businesses use broadband – in ways that are relevant and beneficial to them – creates broadband value. This value increases not only the sustainability of network investments through increased revenues, but also increases the social and economic benefits for households, businesses and communities. The key is education and support: meaningful support at the local level (to educate and facilitate on how to get the most out of broadband) is essential to for the full value of broadband to be realized. Businesses themselves, especially SMEs (small and medium enterprises), recognize their need for support in a number of areas: understanding broadband and e-solutions benefits, assessing and selecting relevant e-solutions, and implementing and maintaining e-solutions. Over 70% of SMEs do not have the time or resources themselves and 65% would seek external support. However, 63% say that the lack of local external resources is a critical or challenging barrier for progress in adopting e-solutions.

Key role for communities

Intermediary organizations, such as community groups, economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, etc., can play a key role in reaching out to the community of broadband users. The fact is that communities that take an active role in building capacity locally to support broadband users achieve higher impacts from broadband availability. Local support must be driven by an understanding of the fact that what is good for business growth and retention is good for the local economy, and that adoption of e-solutions contributes to business success in a global economy. Whichever organizations play this role, local economic development needs to be the driver. For households, which are contributors to the local workforce, broadband offers new opportunities for education, skills development, employment, and home businesses. For businesses, broadband offers the means to transform their operations and open new business opportunities.

Broadband support 101

Business support can be provided in a number of ways, including: access to useful information resources and tools; workshops and seminars; and local collaborative approaches to sharing experiences and best practices on what is possible and how to stimulate innovation. Success breeds success, and contributes to a positive business environment. Households and individuals can also benefit from local outreach and awareness, including training at various levels through schools, libraries, and community access centers.

Measurable results

Measurable results Not only can these support activities benefit broadband users and encourage sustainable adoption, but they help retain direct investment in broadband initiatives within the community through public and private support services. Building local capacity for broadband creates direct local opportunities for youth and re-employment. Sustainable broadband adoption and the benefits this brings require investment in “people infrastructure” as well as technology infrastructure.

By Gary Dunmore, SNG

Click here to download this SNG position paper

If you think we can help, or would like to learn more about our broadband sustainable adoption services, please contact us.

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