A Desiderata for Wireless Broadband Networks in the Public Interest
65 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2012
Date Written: August 17, 2007
There is currently an expanding range of initiatives in North America, and world-wide, attempting in various ways to develop public internet infrastructures. Discussion about them so far has concentrated on the benefits they espouse (bridge the digital divide, promote commerce,..), what technological configuration is best (e.g. WiFi, fiber, hybrids of these,..) and who should own (and perhaps build) them (e.g. private sector, public sector, or a partnership of these,...). What has been relatively absent to date is systematic analysis of the functional and performance characteristics of the infrastructure itself. Such an analysis would be invaluable in assessing the competing claims about such benefits, technologies and ownership models. This paper offers an analytic framework for assessing public internet infrastructures. Drawing initially on familiar criteria for communications infrastructures (e.g. ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ from longstanding US public utility law, ‘universal and affordable’ from telecommunications legislation in the US, Canada, and elsewhere), it refines and expands these in light of contemporary internet initiatives. It thus presents a list of "desiderata" for public broadband infrastructure – a checklist of principles for building and operating them in the public interest. We examine each of these infrastructural characteristics in turn, describing what is meant by the term, and how it has been used in policy development as well as the relevant scholarly literature. These desiderata are illustrated using case studies of community/municipal wireless initiatives in North America. The paper also discusses how the desiderata can be used as a tool for assessing proposed and operational broadband networks.
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