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Nomadic WiFi Enhances Cable's, Others' Competitive Opportunity

A global analysis of broadband services, using nearly five dozen qualitative criteria, finds that "innovation and investment are the most important building blocks for government policymakers to take into account" when seeking to encourage broadband development of new Internet capabilities, according to new research from The Media Institute.

The "Net Vitality" report, which looks at broadband systems in five major countries including the U.S., contends that the top-tier Internet leaders "all recognize that government has a critical role to play in shaping the goals of Inetrnet vitality through forward-looking policymaking," in the words of study author Stuart Brotman, who teaches media and entertainment law at Harvard Law School.

At a presentation in Washington at which Brotman summarized his findings, an expert panel delved more deeply into the opportunities that confront broadband operators. Given the growing involvement of cable operators in WiFi delivery, several of the timely pointers underscored the value of wireless services.

More than 80% of wireless delivery is used by "nomadic" customers rather than "mobile/moving" communicators, explained Andy Haire, chairman of the U.S. chapter of the International Institute of Communications.  He defined “nomadic” as ranging from laptop users in a coffee shop or hotel to in-home tablet or smartphone customers who use WiFi for second-screen or other online activity. In such situations, wireless delivery serves a relatively fixed location.

In contrast, only about 15% to 20% of wireless users are actually "mobile" (in a car, train, walking or other moving position), Haire added.

"The model changes when dealing with 'nomadic' service," he said. Nomadic operations "create a lot of opportunity" but require the industry to work in different ways than it would for mobile services, Haire, who has run telecom services in the U.S. and overseas, suggested that WiFi delivery to nomadic users offers system providers numerous ways to innovate.

Overall, Brotman’s study provided a supply-side assessment (oriented toward policy issues) that complements the recent IE Market Research report that identified enormous global broadband appetites.

Unlike other studies that rank quantitative benchmarks (such as broadband penetration or network speeds), Brotman's Index gauges how well countries are performing in a global competitive environment, measuring “the true vitality of [each] country's Internet ecosystem," as Brotman explains it.

"We need a more holistic view," Brotman said, focusing on the difference between "political time" and "competitive time."  Renowned Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter identified that historic contras, noting that companies operate on competitive time while policy makers use political time. Brotman defined "political time" as driven in two- and four-year election cycles, while competitive time is gauged in longer terms, such as 10 years for capital investment.

The Brotman/Media Institute study focused on broadband development in five countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and France. Brotman said that funding resources limited the scope of this initial evaluation, but he hopes that future funding can expand the analysis to other countries.

Although the U.S generally ranks high in most of the report’s 47 categories (encompassing applications, macroeconomic and network factors), it falls behind other countries in several categories such as WiFi locations, pricing and “egovernment leaders.”  

“The Open Internet as a broadband Internet goal is worthwhile, but also too narrow as a foundation for Net Vitality,” Brotman explains in the report.   He recommends that the U.S. and other countries should focus on a “Wide Open Internet” that would encompass “the broad goal of an efficient ubiquitous broadband Internet ecosystem with virtually unlimited content and applications available without government restrictions.”

“Users should be able to use the Internet at home, at work, and on the run through a range of devices accessing affordable high-speed wireline and wireless broadband networks,” the report urges.

“Net vitality can be realized through a future-oriented policy process that capitalizes on the blazing speed of Internet time that has propelled us so far, so fast and so impactfully,” Brotman concludes.

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.