With broadband funding, whose needs are we meeting?

This tweet (Twitter message) that crossed my digital doorstep today goes to the crux of why some people don't have high hopes for our eventual national broadband strategy: "Disappointed the FCC is choosing a bunch of technologists to advise on the National BB Plan - they need a better group of stakeholders."

A similar complaint was lodged from some other quarters last week and it appears the FCC is shifting some of the makeup of its workshops. There are still a number of workshops whose panel compositions are still being determined. Let's hope it shifts more toward the in-the-trenches community leaders and not be overbalanced with policy wonks.

Whether I'm consulting with private sector or government organizations to develop a business strategy for using broadband technologies, I never start the planning by having conversations with vendors and service providers. Their primary objectives are to sell me whatever products they have, and to meet the needs of their bottom line. They often want the client to be satisfied as well, but don't misunderstand where their priorities lie. I save them for later when I have a better idea what clients really need.

Where I start--and finish--every engagement is with the needs analysis of the organization using the technology. They own the problem, they benefit from the solution, or not, as the case may be. Unless they effectively identify their needs, then build or buy the right technology to meet them, the client's needs will not be adequately met. Money will be lost. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth by all concerned.

So it should be with our national broadband policy. Assembling a group of technologists, industry think tanks and, yes, us consultant types into the first rounds of discussions does the needs analysis process a disservice. You're not going to fix the problems that the lack of broadband creates, nor deliver the opportunities that broadband promises unless early on you have these discussions with the clients.

Communities are the clients. They have the economic development needs, the telemedicine needs, the lack of educational opportunities. They have the population demographics and the terrain challenges that impacts the ability to use "x" versus "y" technology. What's more, they are paying directly and indirectly for the solution they get.

Furthermore, these discussions have to be more than just dog and pony shows to appease the masses while the agencies go back to their offices to craft rules more favorable to sellers than to buyers. Or they split the difference with some rules that appease communities and many that appease incumbents, which usually means ultimately that those benefitting the most are the biggest private sector companies.

The Feds have to realize that there are private sector companies that will lose out on some deals. The world will not end. If five companies bid on a project with Ford Motors and Ford's only taking one winner, four companies lose. Ford plucks the one bidder that best meets their need. Same five bidders go to GM, GM may pick a different winner. Four others lose. Life goes on...Continued

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