By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
Much of the recent business and economic news has been uncertain, regarding the outlook for renewed growth. But I’ve been thinking positively about the upside opportunities for progress.
Let me indulge in a bit of crystal-ball gazing. The telecommunications industry spends a lot of time focusing on deploying broadband for current applications. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that there are at least a handful of macroeconomic trends that are either going to boost broadband adoption — or wither because there isn’t enough broadband available.
Trend #1: Diminished Business Travel. Business air travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be – and it never really was that enjoyable to begin with. The airlines are more inflexible when it comes to schedule changes; they’ve cut capacity and increased fees. Add to that the ancillary issues of the TSA and traffic to and from airports, and a lot of people would just as soon stay home.
The result: videoconferencing and immersive telepresence is becoming much more popular. Simpler videoconferencing capabilities will have a circular effect – the more people use them, the more they’ll want to use them, and the more demand they’ll be for broadband.
Trend #2: Increased Competition for Customers. One of the most sweeping trends in the retail space right now is the desire for organizations to engage customers at the point when they’re making a purchase decision. The better you can serve a customer, the more likely they are to stay a customer.
The result: enterprises are investing heavily in applications for mobile devices with which they can interact with customers when they’re in the proper proximity for shopping. That won’t work unless there’s broadband.
Trend #3: Municipal Revenue vs. Obligations. Cities across the country are realizing that they face divergent trends: diminished tax revenues and increasing pension obligations. Until they can get these two trends balanced, they’re going to look for new revenue sources. Savvy city CIOs are already looking at broadband as “the fourth utility” after water, electricity, and waste.
The result: they’ll deploy fiber either on their own or in partnership with local service providers.
Trend #4: Back to School. The ebb and flow of population bulges is putting institutions of higher education in a bind. While top-tier schools have their choice of applicants, second- and third-tier schools are struggling. Concurrent with this trend is the increasing opportunity of online education: offering students either live or recorded lectures. Throw in continuing education, and there’s no telling what kind of interest universities might engender. But live or recorded, the download or online streaming won’t work without broadband.
The result: education will become available anywhere for anyone, from an African villager to an unemployed machinist.
Trend #5: The News Never Stops. Even while newspapers such as the Detroit News and Free-Press and the New Orleans Times-Picayune reduce the number of days they print, citizens are still going to want news. There’s a reason why billionaires Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers are investing in media: if you take out printing and distribution costs, there’s actually a viable business model there – provided you have the bandwidth for multimedia.
The result: we may once again have local reporters focusing on community issues and contributing to a more-informed citizenry.
Technology + Imagination = Economic Boost
We talk frequently about how broadband brings economic benefits — wherever it goes to whoever deploys it.
But the fact remains that broadband infrastructure investment has a stark residual and incremental effect: where it goes, new opportunities will follow that we may not have considered. That’s really the fun part of imagining applications for this technology – observing all the unanticipated outcomes that exceed our expectations.