--> Gill Blog: Small Town Broadband

Gill Blog

Friday, October 10, 2003

Small Town Broadband

Ten years ago, I was at a seminar hosted by Apple, which showed a glimpse into the future of a technology-enabled landscape. They showed a video presentation, set in the near future, of a corporate executive who had traded in his pinstripe suit for a comfy sweater, and his corner office in a gleaming office tower for a cozy chalet in the mountains. In the video, he’s shown grabbing a steaming cup of joe, sitting down in nicely worked-in leather chair/ottoman combo, and opening up this inconceivably small computer that folds in half. Within minutes of turning it on, he is in the midst of a video conference with seven other participants, each with their own video feeds. (I think at this point, they had a mountain goat nudge up to the window, just for effect.) They chat, work on spreadsheets, and solve all the world's problems. If this was what our future could be, I wanted in. Well, that future has arrived, and I am in! Just take a look at Dave Chalk's video presentation describing the new Sony wireless PDA to see what I'm talking about.

Much of that decentralized vision of the workplace has become reality. But there are still a few hurdles that need to be overcome. Case in point: broadband. As the internet boom of the 90's chugged along, many envisioned a totally wired world that extended to small towns. Then reality set in. The bubble burst, and within no time the promise for broadband in outlying areas seemed unattainable – popular media outlets, in fact, began bemoaning promises that went unfulfilled. The primary limitation preventing broadband’s expansion to outlying areas was private companies’ inability to find a way to make small town broadband economically feasible.

What happens, however, when financing for such projects shifts from the private sector profit model to the public sector development model? Ask Michael Curri, the 34 year old economist and founder of Strategic Networks Group. His groundbreaking study, providing the economic rationale for local municipalities to finance the installation of broadband, is the first of its kind in the world. This article, written by David Ticoll, appeared in yesterday's Globe and Mail and provides an overview of the initial project in Canada and its impact in the UK.

As we're working on a paper that puts the whole small town broadband discussion into context, and demonstrates ubiquitous broadband as a major component in a comprehensive decentralization strategy, I thought the article was timely news.


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