Several nations' policymakers around the
globe are reportedly reviewing initial proposals for a National
Broadband Network Infrastructure program. But, with no proven public
policy model on the exact same subject and scale already in existence,
perhaps there are lessons to be learned by studying the events that led
up to the creation of the U.S. Interstate Highway System (a notable
national infrastructure grand plan that has delivered measurable
Then-U.S. President Eisenhower signed the
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, but this significant accomplishment
was the culmination of a vast concerted effort by many determined policymakers and their credible advisers.
Furthermore, this enactment was preceded by many years of preparatory
analysis and planning work. As an example, Congress originally decided
to explore the concept by creating The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938,
and directed the chief of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to study the
feasibility of a six-route toll network.
In addition, Eisenhower's advisers didn't
cloud the public debate with how wide interstate highways should be;
they instead espoused the social and commercial end results made
possible by this underlying infrastructure development program. Of
course, these technical points had to be addressed behind the scenes in
a detailed proposal, but it wasn't mentioned in the initial "issue
positioning and messaging."
Resisting the urge to focus attention on
two-lane or four-lane highway capacity, or the utility of straight or
circular access-egress ramps to main highway arteries, they instead
captured the people's imagination with images of positive social and
economic transformation (improved access to regional trade, easier
movement of goods for export, more jobs created to support this
increased movement of goods, etc.).
Also, the staged implementation of this
plan and the deployment of the physical infrastructure (highways and
bridges) occurred over many years, and actually didn't reach nor
benefit all the intended beneficiaries as soon as had been originally
anticipated. In fact, consider how long it really took to make
ubiquitous high-speed road transportation a reality in America: "The
last stoplight on the Interstate system was removed in the 1980's. It
was on I-90 in Wallace, Idaho and when it was removed, the local
townspeople gave it a proper burial in the local cemetery, complete
with a 21-gun salute."
Clearly, while all grand plans take
significant time to implement, they all appear to have another key
thing in common -- they always start with an articulate and compelling
vision of the future that people can rally behind, because they believe
in the heart of the message and they have trust in the orator.
Conclusively, I offer an example quote
(from the prior U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater) as
the epitome of inspirational language that's proven to trigger
uplifting emotions which resonate with all people: "The Interstate
System is a tremendous engineering achievement, but it represents far
more than concrete, asphalt and steel, said Slater. The Interstate
System changed the way we live and the way we work. It is an engine
that fuels our economy, creates jobs and serves as a gateway to
opportunity. It is truly the tie that binds, a system that connects all
of us to this wonderful land, America the beautiful."
So, if we were to apply the "best
practices" from these valuable lessons learned, then how might we best
portray a National Broadband Network Infrastructure program that's
likely to be broadly embraced? Perhaps we can explain the intrinsic
role of broadband networking technology, by the effective use of simple
and yet vivid analogies. Suddenly, we're able to cast aside any
negative perceptions of a mercenary lobbyist, and instead assume the
role of the informed storyteller, a wise mentor, or a thoughtful and
caring agent of change.
Therefore, we should explain the enabling
role of broadband infrastructure as a foundation for e-business, and
the anticipated outcome to contribute to the common good of a given
community. Then it's easier to see the real impact of proximity and
access (or the lack thereof) to broadband network arteries. By
comparison: consider the prior economic impact to the towns along Route
66, in the aftermath of the creation of the U.S. interstate highway
system. The "cause and affect" is apparent, and you don't need to be a
professional economist to comprehend the commercial and social
implications to impacted local communities.
We should explain how the Internet isn't
just about "surfing" web pages, and offer up specific examples. In
fact, there are pragmatic applications of how even small and medium
enterprises (SME's) can leverage the Internet to positively open up new
markets for their products and services.
Unfortunately, much of the recent progress
to make the Internet relevant and indispensable to SME's is unknown to
policymakers, and frankly the underlying principles of these nascent
technologies are quite complex, if presented from a
"techie" perspective. So, let's also depict simple analogies for these
In summary, it's my opinion that greater
importance must be placed upon the more obvious benefits of tangible
business applications that are totally dependent on attaining and
enhancing access to appropriate telecom infrastructure. Policymakers
will choose to comprehend, and ultimately endorse, a value proposition
that is based on a premise that is clear to them, and compelling --
because it's stated in such a way that it's relevant to a broad
cross-section of their local constituents.
Policymakers must be briefed on a rational
broadband deployment business case that clearly resonates with
mainstream constituents. Therefore, more emphasis must be applied to
simplicity, clarity and pertinence of a broadband public policy
proposal, in order to attain meaningful progress on this issue.
Initially, I was all for "educating" policymakers, but I've since
discovered that it is us (the telecom and IT industry thought-leaders)
that needs to learn what constitutes the effective communication of
Let's all rise to the occasion, and hone
our storytelling skills. Alternatively, let's recognize that the power
of passionate persuasion needs to be at the forefront of selecting an
appropriate spokesperson for this cause, not technical expertise.
Let's acknowledge that broadband networks
are the means to an end objective; they're not the essential aim or the
ambition that drives people who seek their inherent benefit. Somehow
this perspective tends to get lost in the often-myopic "bigger
Given the experience of the residents of
Wallace, Idaho, perhaps we can all witness the same level of passionate
community engagement, when the enlightened citizens of your local
community finally lay the last 56Kbps analog modem to rest.
Economic TeleDevelopment Forum