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TPRC Panelists Agree on Need for Better Broadband Data

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Editor’s Note: This is the one of a series of panelist summary articles that will be reporting from the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, September 25-27, at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va.

By Rahul Gaitonde, Reporter,

ARLINGTON, Va., September 25, 2009 - In a panel about the socio-economic impacts of broadband, panelists all agreed that the overwhelming limiting factor in proving the benefits to broadband was the lack of solid broadband data.

James McConnaughey, chief economist at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that “Having good data leads to good policy making,” but currently that policy-makers currently lack the necessary data to allow for effective cost-benefit analysis or even general societal implication analysis.

McConnaughey also said that broadband data collected must come from reliable and neutral sources. The Census Bureau has recently reinvigorated its efforts in this field, but it cannot be the only source.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, called for a National Broadband Data Warehouse.” Such a warehouse would house all the data on availability and usage which was collected by the government, and any organization which is getting federal funding to aid in broadband expansion or mapping. The data warehouse was one of six policy options suggested Thursday by the Metrics Working Group of the U.S. Broadband Coalition, of which Atkinson was Co-Chair.

Additionally, said Atkinson, independent sources such as the Pew Internet & American Life Project would be able to submit their data to the site. Citizens would also be allowed to directly input availability and other information. Atkinson noted that all of the data necessary exists in some form, but it is not able to be compared or accessed by academics, policy makers or customers. This broadband data warehouse would be a simple application which would allow users to access and download the data.

While those individuals representing the developed world emphasized the necessity for data gathering; Professor Rekha Jain, of the Indian Institute of Management, spoke of the need for more mobile application development.

In India, only 10 million people have access to broadband, and most of those individuals are located in major cities, while 400 million people have mobile phones; however only 10 percent of those phones are internet enabled and only a fraction of those individuals actually subscribe to internet service. In the developed world, the push is for faster wired technologies. But the developing world simply cannot afford the computers necessary for these connections, he said. There, the mobile phone is the future.

Panelists for this event included:

  • Prabir Neogi, Industry Canada/Government of Canada (Moderator)
  • Robert Atkinson, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
  • James McConnaughey, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
  • Catherine Middleton, Ryerson University
  • Rekha Jain, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
  • Erik Bohlin, Chalmers University
  • Judith Marsical, CIDE Mexico
  • Dimitri Ypsilanti/Taylor Reynolds, OECD

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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