Need for new tools

Traditional research tools produce static, research-driven intelligence mostly used by academics and high level policy makers. To drive investments for digital infrastructure and digital inclusion, we need market intelligence producing tools that decision makers will be able to use to manage implementations and adjust policies as we learn more from what is happening on the ground. A few examples:

Setting implementation priorities

When it comes to the implementation of a “broadband plan,” – whether it be at national or regional level – decision-makers need better information and planning tools. For budgetary reasons, deployment plans are usually phased. Beyond any technical or financial constraints, implementation decisions must be governed by regional development planning priorities.

Just like the implementation of road infrastructure is determined by specific local needs, the implementation of a communications network should be undertaken to address specific local needs. When choosing where to build a new access road, planning authorities compare possible sites in terms of the expected benefits that the new access road might bring to the local economy. In order to inform their decisions, planners need to rely on local-level data: How many trucks will be able to travel quicker to local factories? How many firms will move into the area as a consequence of an easier access? How many jobs will these new firms create because of a new/easier access? How many jobs will be created in the existing firms? How many new bus routes will be created and how will those routes help lower income residents travel more freely – hence enhancing their quality of life?

The same approach should be followed to plan and monitor broadband networks implementation in the coming years – especially as the investment is massive and the financing constraints pervasive. This can only be done if “local-level, micro data” are available about usage of broadband-enabled services and applications by citizens, households, businesses and organizations.

Planning of support and adoption efforts

In the planning of broadband implementation, communities need to decide not only where they are going to lay fiber in the ground, but also where and how they will need to organize the support necessary for people to use tools and applications now available thanks to the new communication infrastructure.

In order to make the relevant support choices, decision-makers need to acquire detailed information of each area in their community, and especially about the level of broadband adoption. Here are example scenarios:

  • Broadband deployment a business park full of services firms who have been clamoring for “better broadband” for years FTTx implementation will not require a “support adoption” push. Most firms will jump at the opportunity for better broadband without being pushed. They will take advantage of broadband’s seamless connections to improve workflow, to communicate and to collaborate. However, firms could benefit from a “usage adoption” push – to ensure that broadband is used to its full potential.
  • Broadband deployment in suburban areas with lots of small businesses and sohos, whose current take up rate of DSL services is only ’average’, FTTx deployment should be followed up by a “support adoption” push to explain to business owner-managers that they could benefit from ‘doing much more’ with broadband than they have done to date. Most importantly, owner-managers who have only minimal DSL access or use should be enticed to ’upgrade’ aggressively. Using the “support adoption” push businesses would be encouraged to upgrade and to make better use of the speedier access.

In lower income areas FTTx deployment must be followed by a ”support adoption” push on all fronts:

  • A “commercial” push (i.e. what ISP should do – with help from the community) to get people to subscribe;
  • A “training” push to provide digital education workshops, and;
  • An “infrastructure” push to plan the set up of public/community computer centers in the area for those people not ready to subscribe, or who cannot afford it.
  • In all three scenarios, the benefits to people and businesses can be measured, assessed or projected. These “measurements” can be used to prioritize the implementation and to plan the support adoption pushes required to maximize the Community Return on Investment (CROI) of the implementation. In other words, to explain or even justify the FTTX, network implementation, and investment return.

Monitoring progress towards the goals

Monitoring and reporting are important parts of a telecommunications policy framework for the digital economy. Specifically, monitoring and reporting should be used to check that the industry is providing reasonable levels of service at the local or regional level, and to identify remedial action where this is not the case. Performance data plays an important role in identifying areas for strengthening or relaxing government requirements. Increasingly, communities and governments recognize their needs for special monitoring tools. For example:

  • In New Zealand the Ministry of Economic Development, acknowledging that “there is not currently enough useful baseline information directly relevant to confidently evaluate the effect of the Digital Strategy 2.0”, that it was going to “research and write the first digital development baseline monitoring report” to “create an effective monitoring and evaluation framework to inform future policy and priorities in the area of digital development” ;
  • In the United States, during a recent National Broadband Plan workshop devoted to Benchmarking (exploring metrics or benchmarks for evaluating the various dimensions of broadband across geographic areas and across time), Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, commented that “what we need is accumulated real time data that can be brought in, processed, cut in different ways, shared with the public”;
  • In the United States, within the context of the preparation of this National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is building a survey tool to reach out to businesses and organizations across the country to understand their broadband usage and adoption;
  • The European Commission publishes the Riga Dashboard, the first report aimed at providing evidence for the Communication on the European e-Inclusion Initiative. It acknowledges that it mainly draws on available Eurostat indicators and surveys to create the dashboard.

Evaluating the impact

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 also important for public-private partnerships, where private sector investors need to see a solid business case and positive return on investment – whether a purely financial or “community” return.