Broadband Review: The 'Saver' Apps

Panelists at a Federal Communications Commission field hearing on mobile broadband in San Diego Thursday talked about taking care of the three "L's": the least, last and lost.

And rather that "killer apps," much of the focus was on "saver apps," which could provide life-saving or life-enhancing services like housing or medical monitoring.

Least is low or modest income. Last are those in the outer limits of new technology or beyond its reach, while the lost are those who do not understand the relevance of broadband adoption to their lives.

Rey Ramsey, of One Economy, a nonprofit working on getting broadband to low income citizens, including minorities, said that one of the keys to reach those three L's is via developing "life-enhancing" applications.

He said that those would include applications related to important government services like housing or utility assistance programs.

To that end, he said that One Economy would soon announce the creation of a social innovations lab that would design applications specifically targeted to assisting low income households.

Some of the apps that could be used to help fight the heart disease and diabetes that often hit minority populations harder than others, are already out there.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowksi talked about walking the floor of the CTIA convention in San Diego -- where he spoke Wednesday -- and seeing applications on health care making it easier to monitor patients.

At the hearing, which included a panel devoted to applications, Genachowski and co-moderator FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, got the lowdown on a range of applications.

They ranged from mobile air quality monitors for tracking greenhouse gasses to interactive health monitoring.

And as with recent discussions about what kind of broadband speeds the FCC should be looking at for its broadband plan, one of the biggest issues, both explicitly and as running subtext, was how much bandwidth it was going to take to support all the killer, or in the case of health care, "saver" apps.

Darrel Drinan, CEO of PhiloMetron, which conducts wireless diagnostics, said that the spectrum requirements were increasing rapidly. He also said that, while he did not want to get into the issue of network neutrality, there was also an issue of prioritizing. "Is grandma's ECG going to be delayed because Billy is watching a YouTube video," he asked.

Drinan had one possible band-aid for the spectrum capcity problem, at least in terms of health monitoring: Use spectrum set aside for first responders, who would share the benefit of remote monitors by being able use them in mass casualty situations.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.