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Connected Life Exchange

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

When Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea for Web browsers, he really only wanted an easier way to access information on the Internet. He wasn’t planning on rewriting – and more important, simplifying — the rules by which information is exchanged and business is transacted.

Now apply that same concept to broadband Internet access.

An increasing number of countries already have national broadband plans, including Australia, Sweden, Morocco, Malaysia, and the United States. These networks are being deployed because, as we discussed in the Economic Incentive for Telecom Infrastructure Investment, they bring myriad advantages to their countries — and the citizens that apply them in everyday activities.

As Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General if the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said last year, “Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness.”

How Broadband is a Lever for Transformation

Indeed, it’s rare when a technology investment can serve multiple facets of the population. But broadband applications have ramifications in the three key areas for deployment. Let’s look at what experts say we can expect now, before such networks are even deployed.

Business. Broadband will aid video communications that support collaboration. It’s long been known that humans learn better when they use multiple senses to absorb information. That’s why seeing and hearing — i.e., video communication — is more effective than simply seeing (reading).

In addition, when people can actually see and hear each other clearly via a technology such as Telepresence, they grasp unspoken, cultural clues.

Already in medical services, the use of long-distance healthcare is helping solve the problem of too few doctors in rural areas. Broadband applications will help not only with consultations, but even with transferring test results and even long-distance, robotic-enabled surgery.

Public Sector. Just as the world is having trouble staffing medical facilities, it’s having trouble staffing education facilities. Broadband technology aids the ability of teachers to reach students no matter where they may be, and actually speak to them face-to-face in real time.

But add to that the ability of local government law enforcement to use video cameras to keep an eye on dangerous places, or valuables, or military armaments, without expending a lot of human resources. Finally, consider the ability to place sensors in environmentally sensitive places to collect better information about climate and geological trends.

Consumer. Consumers already know about high-definition television, but consider the ability to include loved ones across the world into a conversation, or into the hospital room of a dying relative. Nor have we begun to plumb the possibilities of surveillance of private property during work hours or vacations using strategically placed, networked cameras.

The Predictable Long-Term Cost of Doing Nothing

And those are just the applications we can see now. Of course, there are naysayers who think such investment is overkill. But they’re ignoring the lesson browsers taught us. Who knows what incremental boosts will come when smart people tweak these ideas? Who knows what will blossom from the imagination of inventive people?

Broadband networks and the communication applications that run on them can bring us insight that we’ve never imagined. They have the potential to make us smarter and safer than we’ve ever been before.

Yet, ironically, we can be sure of one thing — no applications are possible until a broadband service provider invests in the deployment and build-out of the enabling telecommunications infrastructure that is essential to start the whole process of discovery.

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