National broadband strategy should focus on users’ needs

“Broadband projects will be part of the $1 trillion stimulus plan. That has set off a debate among lobbyists, tech companies, and congressional leaders.” This excerpt from a BusinessWeek column today sums up perfectly the potential fatal flaw in the race to create a broadband-related economic stimulus plan.

A cardinal rule for deploying technology applications successfully within organizations is that, before spending millions of dollars, you do a thorough analysis of what end users need AND how they will use the technology. Washington wants to throw billions at broadband for the nation, and who’s at the table driving the needs analysis? Apparently not people from the communities that need and will use the technology.

Last Friday I released a report, “Fighting the Next Good Fight: Assessing what our national broadband strategy should be.” It has detailed comments about what communities can do with true high-speed access, and what national and local governments should do so that broadband has short- and long-term economic results. People directly responsible for bringing broadband benefits to rural and urban areas participated, as did Esme Vos and the Immediate Past Chair of the International Economic Development Council.

A key takeaway from the report: there appears to be a disconnect between D.C. debates and end user needs. Ideas being floated from the Capitol advocate a single national network, 95% coverage, free wireless everywhere, tax breaks to incumbents. If you read and analyze what people in communities need, you discover some of these points are way off the mark. And to be fair, you also find agreements with key ideas such as radically increasing the speeds that define broadband.

To help the new administration develop strategy to reform healthcare, President-Elect Obama’s transition team held 8,200 meetings over two weeks throughout the country, involving citizens, doctors and others directly affected by the healthcare mess. We need to demand the same type of feedback-gathering activity for the broadband discussion. Local and state governments also should conduct constituent needs analysis.

If you’re concerned about having a broadband strategy that improves your economy, have you done all you can to ensure that our national and local officials conduct effective, comprehensive needs analysis? It’s your money they’re spending.

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Craig Settles, president of, is an Oakland, CA-based business strategy consultant and author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless, a guide to effectively deploying municipal broadband networks.

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  1. WiFi Gadfly says

    I agree with Craig, but need to make sure that these feasibility studies are done through a competitive procurement process so that the local or state government entity does not get fleeced. There are a few consulting groups, such as Civitium, that will look at this as a way to get rich at the taxpayers’ expense. We need to not repeat the muniwireless saga of poorly conceived projects with feasiblity studies that were not grounded in reality.

  2. There is an organization of computer user groups, which I think would be a good resource regarding this issue.

    The member groups are not only a single platform, but include PCs, MACs, Linux, etc.

    By definition participants in the member groups are computer users, so who better to ask what is really needed?

  3. With new designs being deployed that have reduced the cost of municipal systems to $6000 or less per mile, I’m hoping that the new administration gets more bang for it’s buck than many of the original systems.