The societal implications of ubiquitous connectivity

01 Mar 09

or: What happens when everyone can get real broadband?

The following are four benefits, amongst many, that are already being delivered in communities that are able to adopt the services offered over high-speed internet connections made possible by Fibre To The Home.

  • A great-grandfather in a retirement village, too unwell to travel, watches his great-grandchild playing football live.

  • Many local residents choose to work from home a day or two a week.

  • Local residents drive to work in the city with no log jam on the local roads.

  • A family reduces its energy bill by 15%.

The benefits, of course, are not only life-enhancing but work- and business-enhancing. ICT professionals and chief information officers in particular are challenged to show how much benefit ICT is delivering to their organisations and to tightly manage costs.  As such, CIOs understand the need for fast connections, to allow the proliferation of the tools which are driving new business models.
The aim of these new models is to reduce the resources and money needed to deliver the ever-increasing expectations businesses have of technology, coupled with the ever-increasing expectations that customers have in interacting directly with business and government.
It is strange, however, that many business ICT leaders fail to actively support the need for huge and rapid investment to drive the installation of the passive infrastructure which supports fast connection. And by fast connection I mean better than 100 megabits.
The difficulty seems to be that the investment required is so large, and so far outside the CIOs’ control, that they tend to ignore it and hope the suppliers of their connections are doing enough to make it happen.
The reality is that telcos, in particular, have been unable or unwilling to see the strong business case for rapidly making high-speed connectivity ubiquitous. Typically they have relied on assumptions of potential revenues based on dial-up or ADSL connections, rather than the reality already appearing where communities with high-speed connections are spending more than enough to make the provision of the new infrastructure profitable.
Once we have sufficient (say 30%) of households in a region connected, new opportunities for business appear. The areas of growth include home working, entertainment, sport, education, security, energy management, content development and social networking.
From the CIOs’ perspective, these enablers ensure broad uptake of connections which allow more business-benefiting applications to be delivered more widely.
So how do CIOs advocate for ubiquitous connectivity?
There are three places to apply pressure:

  1. The telcos: They do listen to their customers and once they can see the return on fast connection being real, they will invest.

  2. Local authorities:  Globally, the main driver for better passive infrastructure (the fibre in the ground) has been the combination of local government working with electricity lines companies.

  3. Central government: Most governments now acknowledge that fast connection is vital to ensure a society that is keeping up with the rest of the world and providing the best opportunities for advancement for its citizens.

The tragedy is that all three of these groups suffer from a lot of inertia. They need to be pressed to make decisions and investments. It really doesn’t matter what model of funding is used or how the fibre gets laid; it just needs to happen now. The people with the most to gain and the best ability to influence are our CIOs. They must use their technical authority to drive their boards to be strong advocates for ubiquitous connectivity and to convince decision makers at all levels to move quickly.

Peter Macaulay
is responsible for IDC’s InTEP program, which provides CIOs and senior IT executives a forum to network and to share proven practices and experiences in the management and implementation of information technology. He is currently the elected President of InternetNZ.
+64 9 374 6684

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