The second step is to pinpoint who has broadband and what type. Some folks don't place high value on this, saying we just need to focus on the have-not's because they're the only ones who need broadband. However, effective needs analysis requires a more comprehensive picture. To transform local businesses into international players and boost the local economy, you need to know what people have in order to clearly understand what they need.
The third step is to determine what changes are predicted to happen within specific industries, constituent groups, demographics, etc. that broadband can facilitate or remediate. Furthermore, what do constituents expect to do with broadband in three-to-five years? If our national strategy is to be effective, it must be forward looking.
The fourth step is to create an inventory of existing broadband resources: fiber lines owned by non-government organizations, towers, public hotspots, vertical assets that can support wireless infrastructure. Where are transportation or public works projects scheduled that you can leverage to install fiber conduits? What are the technology roadmaps and planned enhancements for current infrastructure that can boost broadband coverage?
The broadband map--not just another pretty face
An effective national broadband map is not, as Sens. McCain and Coburn seem to believe, a one-dimensional snapshot of blue data points and red data points you get for free on Google. It's a dynamic visual representation of myriad data that enables you to show multi-dimensional "living" views of what your broadband strategy should be.
When the needs assessment is done properly, one map layer shows who has broadband speed sufficient for reaching a community's economic, educational or healthcare goals. A second layer shows you how to save money by tapping into broadband resources of particular constituent groups. Another estimates what coverage or speeds you'll need in two years based on projected changes in population, or what industries come to town.
Collect the right broadband data, combine it with census and city/county planning data and the map helps you refine broadband strategy to support cities of the future. With constituents' and institutions' data on predicted broadband usage, your otherwise simple map becomes a digital crystal ball. State or national broadband maps can become integrated features in animated Web-based community marketing content.
Integrate the right sets of data and you won't have to ask again, "hey, got a map for that?" Re-direct money from coercing usage data from incumbents to build better networks. Plumb the depths of the Internet, directly poll the people who use the Internet. Good systems automatically refresh maps with this new data, while data sets validate each other.
All of this begs the question, did we get it backwards waving money around enticing broadband proposals without knowing true broadband needs? Yes. But that train has long left the station. Fortunately, we can still save the day with a better end game than starting game.
This Wednesday morning, the FCC presents a progress report on its broadband planning efforts. Now is a good time to note that its aggressive use of workshops in D.C. and across the nation and active general public comments gathering have done a reasonably decent job of needs assessment. If the FCC presents their strategy plan in February as a living document rather than the final word, they and others can use a strong guiding hand to move the states' mission from creating maps to executing effective needs analysis that collects strong market intelligence. The data and resulting maps can help the FCC and local communities refine their strategy plans.
Craig Settles, president of Successful.com, is an industry expert who helps private and public organizations develop broadband business strategies. Settles will be participating in a Webinar Dec. 16 hosted by ID Insight that further explores the tactics involved in gathering broadband usage data. For more information, click here.