3
Broadband Applications and Content

BROADBAND APPLICATIONS: PROMISE AND REALITY

Broadband is a means to an end: It refers to capabilities that people will use, but the question is, how and why? There is much excitement in some quarters, but many consumers who are unsophisticated about information technology and networks and do not yet have experience with broadband connectivity have expectations that are very much at odds with current reality. Indeed, as the discussion below suggests, there is much potential for future applications that enrich or complement traditional content and communications channels, but excitement about them should be tempered by an appraisal of the time frame in which these applications could be realized.

In practice, what broadband customers see today is largely a better version of the Internet access that they enjoyed with dial-up ISP service, featuring Web-page viewing, e-mail access, messaging, and the like. This experience is enriched by improved access to audio materials (most notably, music and Internet radio) and, albeit less frequently today, video. A few new broadband-only applications are available today, such as network backup and storage. This incrementalism may be inevitable for economic reasons, but it also disconnects the application experience of today from that anticipated as a result of enhancements to familiar applications, the introduction of new applications, and the integration of diverse broadband-based activities into everyday life.

As the examples in this chapter illustrate, technology capabilities are one constraint on new applications. Current-generation DSL and cable



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits 3 Broadband Applications and Content BROADBAND APPLICATIONS: PROMISE AND REALITY Broadband is a means to an end: It refers to capabilities that people will use, but the question is, how and why? There is much excitement in some quarters, but many consumers who are unsophisticated about information technology and networks and do not yet have experience with broadband connectivity have expectations that are very much at odds with current reality. Indeed, as the discussion below suggests, there is much potential for future applications that enrich or complement traditional content and communications channels, but excitement about them should be tempered by an appraisal of the time frame in which these applications could be realized. In practice, what broadband customers see today is largely a better version of the Internet access that they enjoyed with dial-up ISP service, featuring Web-page viewing, e-mail access, messaging, and the like. This experience is enriched by improved access to audio materials (most notably, music and Internet radio) and, albeit less frequently today, video. A few new broadband-only applications are available today, such as network backup and storage. This incrementalism may be inevitable for economic reasons, but it also disconnects the application experience of today from that anticipated as a result of enhancements to familiar applications, the introduction of new applications, and the integration of diverse broadband-based activities into everyday life. As the examples in this chapter illustrate, technology capabilities are one constraint on new applications. Current-generation DSL and cable

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits modem technology are unable to provide large quantities of high-quality video-on-demand. And distributing content within the home in a useful way—i.e., at least as well as do today’s conventional consumer electronics (television, radio, and stereo systems)—remains a significant “systems integration” problem involving broadband hardware and software, inhome networking, and consumer appliance design. There are, nonetheless, a number of places with experience in new broadband applications. The limited pool of users with broadband at home today, together with a larger set of users who access the Internet at high speeds in the workplace or through the networks of academic institutions, provides some indication of the sorts of applications that could emerge on a mass-market basis. Experimentation in industry and academic laboratories provides another source of indications of potential applications. These early adopters and their applications may not generalize completely, and not all of these services will necessarily succeed from a business standpoint, but they do illustrate how people respond to the availability of broadband and integrate it into their activities at large. This chapter explores the characteristics of a variety of present and future applications and examines some of their technical and related socioeconomic features. CLASSES OF BROADBAND APPLICATIONS Key technical characteristics—the bandwidth (upstream and downstream), latency, jitter, addressability, and “on-ness” (always-on), as defined in Chapter 2—distinguish several currently deployed or potential classes of applications. This section outlines the overall characteristics of each class and provides one or more specific examples of applications within each class. Notwithstanding their seeming variety, possible applications by and large depend on a few core, or primitive, signal or traffic types and connection characteristics, such as always-on. These core traffic types are characterized by their basic data rates, by whether they rely on file download or streaming (which in turn may have particular latency and jitter requirements), and the like. Performance and quality trade-offs reflect the interaction between the broadband link and other capabilities such as coding and compression and local storage. Although there is no rigorous taxonomy of broadband applications, it is useful to draw associations between key characteristics of broadband and major application classes. For example, video-on-demand and other media streaming applications rely on the availability of downstream bandwidth, while information appliances require always-on service even though the bandwidth requirements may be low (see Table 3.1). Also of interest are “composite” applications that rely on a set of capabilities. For

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits TABLE 3.1 Mapping Between Broadband Service Capabilities and Application Classes Broadband Capability Application Class Large downstream bandwidth Streaming content (e.g., video) Large upstream bandwidth Home publishing Always-on Information appliances Low latency Interactive games example, shared sports viewing requires substantial upstream and downstream bandwidth simultaneously. Furthermore, the composite broadband use in a home may be made up of multiple applications being used simultaneously by different family members. Faster General Internet Access and General Internet Applications Browsing and Related Activities The primary motivation today for residential broadband access is simply to improve the performance of the overall Web browsing experience. While many factors actually influence the perceived speed of Web browsing—including, most notably, the performance of the server itself and the performance of the server’s connection to the rest of the Internet— moving from dial-up speeds to broadband speeds on a consumer’s Internet access link will almost always provide dramatic perceived speed improvements in general Internet usage. In addition to making the general Web experience more enjoyable, this speed improvement can also mean that new types of content become usable by the consumer. There is, for example, a widely held belief among commerce site operators that it is essential to minimize page-load times.1 Commerce sites thus depend on network performance in designing their pages, and any increase in that performance (either on average or for specific users that they can identify) means that they can increase the richness (and hence possibly the value) of their pages. For example, small images might be replaced by higher-resolution pictures that more closely approximate the quality available in print catalogs. 1   One rule of thumb, the “8-second rule,” states that if it takes longer than 8 seconds for a page to appear on the consumer’s screen, there is a high likelihood that the consumer will abandon the site. See, for example, Zona Research, 1999, The Economic Impacts of Unacceptable Web Site Download Speeds, available online at <http://www.zonaresearch.com/deliverables/white_papers/wp17/>.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Other Web usage, such as simply reading long articles (for example, from online news sources), becomes more enjoyable with greater bandwidth, and hence the Web is a more attractive medium when the effective speed of information display approaches that experienced in physical page turning. Finally, certain types of real-time applications, such as streaming stock quotes, depend upon speed and timeliness to be valuable. Such applications can often run continuously in a part of the screen and attract user attention intermittently. However, to be effective, bandwidth must be sufficient for the performance of these applications and that of whatever other network interactions the user may be involved with. Messaging Messaging of various kinds continues to show up in surveys as an important application. For example, a Jupiter MediaMetrix assessment of AOL usage for January 2001 reported that of 22 billion minutes spent on AOL’s online service, 4.7 billion were spent on AOL e-mail, 2.8 billion on internal instant messaging, and 6.2 billion minutes on AOL instant messaging with users outside of AOL’s online service; this contrasts with 2.1 billion inside all AOL content channels.2 Although many saw it as an application geared toward entertainment, messaging is also seeing increased use in a variety of business environments. While not demanding in terms of bandwidth (dial-up bandwidths are sufficient), broadband enhances messaging because it is always on. Fast File Downloading Many users are familiar with downloading e-mail attachments or software upgrades. But many bulk file transfers are simply not practical without broadband. For example, downloading an entire application that might otherwise be delivered on a CD would require many hours over even the best dial-up connection—a 60-megabyte (MB) file would take about 4 hours on a link with a sustained 35-kbps transfer rate. For most people, this length of time is simply impractical, particularly if the dial-up line is also used for voice communications or is subject to periodic disconnection. On the other hand, a constant connection to the network at even modest broadband speeds may make such transfers reasonable. It is important not to underestimate the impact of fast file-downloading capability on a very wide range of applications, including audio and video. Streaming is complicated compared with file downloading, and 2   See “AOL’s Minutes.” 2001. The Washington Post, March 8, p. E11.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits TABLE 3.2 Time (in seconds) to Download Various Media Types for Different Access Speeds   Access Speed Media Typical File Size, MB 64 kbps 288 kbps 640 kbps 64 Mbps Image 0.1 12.5 2.78 1.25 0.0125 Audio single 1.9 238 52.8 23.8 0.238 Audio album 34.6 4,330 961 433 4.33 Video album 1,000.0 125,000 27,800 12,500 125 NOTE: Assumptions— • Bit rates after compression are 64 kbps (audio) and 1.85 Mbps (video). • Single song (audio single) is 4 minutes; music album is 72 minutes; image is 1,000 by 1,000 pixels, compressed to 0.8 bits per pixel. the main reasons that people do it, other than for real-time delivery, is because the files are so large that users do not want to wait while the files download; the files are too big to store locally conveniently (although storage space is rapidly becoming very inexpensive); and/or there are intellectual property protection concerns (but application of digital rights management technologies to stored files can provide protection comparable to that of encrypted streams). If one can move music files in a few seconds, videos in a minute or two, or an entire newspaper or book in a minute, many applications become practical. In addition, the economics are becoming more appealing with the spread of very large, cheap storage units. Downloading is of particular value when one wants the content for portable appliances—such as e-book readers or music players—though making this easy for consumers depends on addressing the in-home connectivity issues discussed below. Some typical figures for media bit rate and data file size, together with user-oriented parameters such as download time and the size of the data file acquired give a practical sense of the relationships between media type, broadband link capacity, and download times (see Table 3.2). Already, surveys correlate audio and video downloading with broadband,3 while indicating that (as of early 2001) fewer than half of home computer users used a media player.4 3   “Survey Says: DSL Users Addicted to Broadband,” April 3, 2001, available online at <http://www.sbc.com/News_Center/1,3950,31,00.html?query=20010403-1>. Pierre Bouvard and Warren Kurtzman. 2000. The Broadband Revolution: How Superfast Internet Access Changes Media Habits in American Households. Arbitron Company, New York. Available online at <www.arbitron.com> and <www.colemanresearch.com>. 4   “Reality Bytes.” 2001. The Wall Street Journal, January 29, p. B8, using figures from Jupiter Research and Media Metrix.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Games The interactivity demands of some games were alluded to above. Multiplayer games are of considerable interest because they connect growing numbers of people in a shared activity (“massively-multiplayer roleplaying games”), providing both social and demand-stimulating dimensions. As of fall 2000, for example, Everquest involved up to 100,000 simultaneous users out of more than 300,000 paying subscribers. Of those subscribers, 30 percent had broadband connections. According to Sony, which provides Everquest, availability and reliability are key requirements; latency is less important in this game than in the shooter variety; and bandwidth demand is moderated by a design that presents graphics on the client software and transmits only changes in graphics and in game and character state.5 Speed and Response-Time-Sensitive Internet Applications While activities based on Web browsing are generally improved by faster network connectivity, a small number of Internet-based applications are particularly sensitive to connection speed, latency, and response time. The two most prominent are day trading and some forms of multi-player games (in which delays of as little as 50 milliseconds can impair game play). Note that these activities are not generally done through Web browsers, but rather through special-purpose interface software. Both of these call for functionality not easily achievable through any other means, suggesting they will continue to drive interest in broadband. Application Rental The most common model for consumer software distribution is one in which consumers purchase applications on CD-ROM or for Internet download. These are one-time purchases; except for upgrades, there is no recurring cost. In many cases, software vendors choose to sell their software in large bundles, of which the office-application suites are the most common instance. An alternative model is being explored by software vendors is the rental of particular applications on a by-use basis. Simple examples include financial planners and simple tax-preparation software built out of Web forms. While greater bandwidth would offer faster download times, it is unclear to what extent acceptance of this model depends 5   Robert Gehorsam, personal communication, briefing to CSTB Committee on IT and Creativity, November 9, 2000.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits on bandwidth or on consumer acceptance of a model in which the individual does not own the software. In many cases (for example, tax preparation software), users may want to control the data locally for privacy and security reasons. Other applications, such as games, could be obtained through rental, and there would be no such concerns. Network Storage Network storage applications provide users with an alternative to storing data on local hard drives or on removable storage media such as floppy disks or CD-ROM. There are two major advantages to this service. First, people use network-based storage rather than run their own local servers to do such things as sharing photos. It is hard to know whether storage will migrate into the home or out of the home when material can be stored in either place—much undoubtedly depends on pricing, confidence about access controls for out-of-the-home storage for certain kinds of materials, and so forth. Second, network-based storage provides redundant off-site storage. This is likely to be attractive to small and home businesses and to people who require disaster recovery (which might well include anyone with a PC who has had a disk crash). Privacy issues can be handled by only placing encrypted data on the remote store. For small business it seems likely, for reasons of performance, management, and support, that content will be hosted remotely by commercial Web hosting services rather than at the small business site. The requirements depend on what sort of data is being stored. For example, photo (or video) storage may require relatively high upstream capacity to permit uploading in a reasonable time (and not tie up the connection). But file-system backups, which normally need to transfer only periodic, incremental updates, depend more on the always-on nature of the connection rather than the bandwidth (unless the volume of modified data is very large). One can imagine the emergence of a generation of operating systems with automatic continuous backup across the network as an option—greatly reducing the likelihood of data loss due to disk crashes or other computer failures. Static Image Delivery Several interesting video applications depend on the ability to deliver still photos or short video clips. The emergence of inexpensive—albeit more expensive than their analog counterparts—digital still and video cameras enables easy capture of photos.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Audio Because many audio applications do not demand especially high bandwidth, in notable contrast to video applications, they often work with at least some level of functionality over a fast dial-up connection. All of the currently deployed broadband technologies are fast enough to support the key audio applications that have emerged to date. These include conventional voice similar to telephony; voice as a complement to games and other interactive applications; and a full range of sound applications, beginning with music but including other types of content (e.g., news and other spoken word). As a result, some experience has been gained with the delivery of audio applications over the Internet in general, and via residential broadband in particular. This experience supports a key theme of this chapter—for many applications, the bandwidth provided by broadband services is a necessary but not a sufficient condition by itself to make an application work effectively. Factors such as which home networking technologies are used, the availability of special-purpose appliances, and the nature of user interfaces are also critical enablers of widespread use of audio applications. While there is much interest in broadband for video delivery, this chapter devotes considerable attention to audio as well, both because it is an important application and because understanding of audio applications is better grounded than that of video applications, given early efforts to deploy various audio applications. Audio Delivery Fundamentally, there are two ways to approach audio delivery—a file can be downloaded to a local computer and then played, or the data can be streamed from a remote computer to the local computer, played more or less as it is received. Clearly, the file transfer model is appropriate only for distributing prerecorded material; conversations by their very nature have to be conducted in a streaming mode, and streaming is also essential for “live” content that has high time value (such as commentary on a sporting event). The use of streaming delivery does mean that the audio is necessarily listened to in real time. While some streaming applications use encryption to make it difficult to keep a copy, some streaming applications permit a copy to be saved to a file for replay or other later use. Streaming audio requires an end-to-end network connection that is fast enough to handle the actual encoded size of the audio file on a second-by-second basis (one end may be at a content server located some-

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits where within the broadband provider’s network). In some applications, a technique known as buffering can be used to prevent transient network delays from interrupting playback. Audio is played from the end of the buffer as newly received audio is added to the start of the buffer. Still, network delay and jitter must be kept within bounds so that the buffered data are sufficient to imperceptibly smooth over these delays. The acceptable buffer size depends on human factors that vary according to the application. A few-second pause between when a request is made to play a song and when the song starts playing is probably acceptable, but a significantly longer delay is likely to be annoying. Delays of anywhere near this magnitude in a voice conversation are very distracting, however, as is familiar to anyone who has contended with even the half-second round-trip delay on a geosynchronous satellite circuit. There are other circumstances in which the length of the delay affects acceptability. If one is streaming a live event, the sensation of being live is dependent on the stream delay. If users have access to the event through other media, they may notice even relatively small delays. For example, there are data streams that deliver information on sporting events. If a user runs one of these concurrently with an audio streaming feed of the sporting event, the inconsistencies may be noticeable—for example, a play is reported on the data feed before it is heard over the audio feed. Another parameter affecting the performance of streaming audio is the packet loss rate. Typically, lost packets are not retransmitted because the resulting delays (the sum of the time it takes to determine that a packet is lost, the time it takes to transmit a request across the network, and the time it takes for the replacement packet to be delivered) would make the playback jerky.6 For typical audio applications, occasional packet loss turns into distortion and sound disruption and causes variable quality as the sound is reproduced. Depending on what the audio is and how often packet loss happens, this effect can be very annoying, though it may not be enough to make the application unsatisfactory. People do accept a certain degree of impairment due to interference when listening to the radio and tolerate brief dropouts when using cell phones or wireless handsets for wireline phones. In the file download model, the key question is how long the user is willing to wait to receive the file. Simple calculation of the transfer times 6   With a low-latency network connection and a sufficiently large buffer, limited retransmission may be tenable, but this is not the typical practice in streaming protocols. Indeed, lower performance is observed in applications where a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) connection (which builds in retransmission of lost data) is used in place of the raw User Datagram Protocol (UDP)-based transport. The time taken by the TCP algorithm to handle packet loss translates into much higher delay and jitter figures.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits TABLE 3.3 Download Times (in seconds) for a 5-Minute Music Selection Network Capacity (kbps) Low Fidelity (3 MB) High Fidelity (30 MB) 50 480 4,800 100 240 2,400 200 120 1,200 500 48 480 800 30 300 1,000 24 240 1,500 16 160 5,000 4.8 48 NOTE: A file size of 3 MB at low fidelity and 30 MB at CD-quality encoding is assumed. The sustained file transfer rate is assumed to be the same as the network bandwidth. required for a 5-minute musical recording at different bandwidths yields an indication of the timescales involved (Table 3.3). Note that these times assume that the server transmitting the music has sufficient capacity to support the transfer rate offered by the last mile link and that there is no backbone network congestion that would reduce the effective transfer rate. In many real-world applications, either or both of these may turn out to be the actual limiting factors. The acceptable download time depends considerably on the details of the application. For example, in a download-first and listen-later application, it may not be satisfactory if it takes more than a few seconds to cue up a song (and streaming may be a more appropriate approach). If the application downloads a collection of music in the background for later listening, however, this transfer time may be acceptable. But if the goal is to download a compilation of music and immediately listen to it “offline” on a portable device, taking more than a few seconds to download each song is probably unacceptable. Compression-Quality Trade-offs Compression is a key determinant of the network performance requirements for an application such as audio. Compression algorithms for media rely on two basic principles—the removal of redundancy and the reduction of irrelevancy in the input signal. While mathematically lossless compression—in which the original signal can be completely restored upon decompression—is used in some archival, legal, and medical applications, the pragmatic goal in most media applications is some degree of perceptual losslessness.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits While acceptable spoken voice quality is provided by a data rate as low as 4 kbps, music playback covers a wider range of data rates. Present storage and transmission costs generally mean that the maximum practical compressed signal data rate for many applications is 32 to 64 kbps. MP3-type encoding is commonly used today to compress audio at a variety of compression ratios. MP3 at 64 kbps provides a quality roughly analogous to (analog) FM radio quality—acceptable in some applications, particularly if it is to be played back through a low-quality system, but not as good as a CD played using high-quality equipment. Compact disk (CD) quality using today’s compression algorithms requires 128 kpbs.7 The gap may also be growing between what generally available bandwidth supports and state-of-the-art audio. Consumer electronics companies are currently beginning to promote a series of super-high-fidelity recording schemes using higher-capacity DVD (digital versatile disk) media that provide a much higher quality than that of CD audio. Multi-channel sound proposed for future HDTV-class applications would require a higher bit rate, with 320 kbps being a conservative figure for 5channel sound.8 The wide range of bandwidth-quality trade-offs for sound is illustrated by radio broadcasting that is being streamed across the Internet. At the low end, services such as spinner.com stream sub-FM radio quality music at roughly 20 kbps. Much content is streamed at rates in the range of 20 to 100 kbps, with the low end serving dial-up users and the high end aimed at users in the workplace or with residential broadband. Toward the high end of that range, the quality lies somewhere between FM radio and CD quality. And at the high end lies uncompressed full-fidelity radio broadcasting at a data rate of 1.4 Mbps, as was demonstrated at the October 2000 meeting of the Internet 2 consortium. The majority of applications moving audio over the network today, however, operate toward the lower end of the quality-bandwidth curve. The range of technology options today supports the observation that there are very different thresholds for what constitutes “minimally acceptable” music quality and what constitutes “high” quality. This is a very subjective matter—many people are willing to listen to AM radio, a large number find FM radio acceptable, and some significantly prefer CDs over FM because of the quality difference. In addition, acceptability varies from one recording to another; some lossy algorithms work reason- 7   Released in 1980, the CD audio specification (the so-called red book standard) makes use of an inefficient compression scheme that requires about 1.5 Mbps. Today, considerably better compression algorithms are available. 8   Fortunately, the bit rate grows less than linearly with the number of channels.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Push Content Various business models assume an ability for different kinds of parties to push content into homes—that is, rather than await a specific request, always-on connectivity would enable these parties to transmit content into homes on a variety of schedules. Some of these arrangements would be highly functional—updates to device software, regular and automatic updates to databases maintained in the home, diagnostic probes (which would trigger responses), and so on. Other arrangements may be part of the “price” of a device or service, such as advertising. Multiplexing Applications Demand in Homes Understanding how demand for networked capabilities and services will evolve is extraordinarily difficult. It is apparent that there are multiple broadband applications of interest and that some sort of composite of this is likely to typify future broadband use. To complement rampant speculation, a number of scholarly and corporate entities have begun to develop model homes of the future, which are laboratories, showcases, or both, for potential windows into new options for home life. These possibilities leverage many developments, as explained in a variety of speculative media pieces: The fusion of technology and materials is making new forms possible. Add the potential of artificial intelligence, biometric sensing, robotics and mass customization, and it’s little wonder that designers are imagining a new generation of houses in which people rule their environments, rather than submit to them. Web-linked companies already are rolling out model homes with all the click-and-drag amenities available today. They trumpet a lifestyle in which work, play and shopping are only a palm-held device away. It’s the profusion of gadgets, and the dependence on them and the linkages among them, that will define the future of this house.20 These visions imply bandwidth demand associated with both individual household members and devices; people will use networks to communicate with each other, and devices will communicate with each other (and with people) directly, too. The descriptions suggest movement toward more symmetric communication capability—in the limit, equal upstream and downstream capacity—for homes; but how much remains an open question. In the meantime, the descriptions clearly argue for in-home 20   Linda Hales. 2001. “Blobs, Pods and People.” The Washington Post Magazine, March 25, p. 37.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits networking and multiple access points in homes, and suggest choices still to be worked out about how data is managed in the home. How the data get sent around or through the home becomes a critical factor in a number of applications, as does the interplay between storage in the home and remote storage. And whether people will have to reboot their homes under various circumstances raises other questions, from how to contain various risks to interactions of the information infrastructure with power supply in the household to disaster recovery options (familiar to businesses and encouraged by commercial insurance). There are perils in scrutinizing any one application too closely. Although it is important to appreciate how the technical requirements of applications vary, the promise of broadband is simultaneous support for a large number and a wide variety of applications rather than just one or two. Moreover, the broadband vision involves several people in a household using different applications concurrently—perhaps more than one application per individual—as well as more network-based interaction among people in multiple locations (from extended family to work or study collaborators to fellow hobbyists). At the same time, people are already experimenting with—and being subjected to more hype about— mobile computing and communications devices. The eventual context for broadband is thus one of anytime, anywhere networking and an information infrastructure that is pervasive and integral to many places and activities. The individual and social implications of this aggregate of activity suggest new behavioral patterns that themselves may stimulate new applications. The impact on quality of life can be much greater than that suggested by any one application, and its full potential hinges on growth in number of users as well as uses, since some applications involve sharing among households (and/or between households and a variety of public and private institutions). The enabling technology remains only a piece of the picture, of course, and it interacts with expectations for how it would be used. In the committee’s June 2000 workshop, Andrew Cohill, speaking from the experience of the Blacksburg Electronic Village initiative in Blacksburg, Virginia, noted that the aggregate bandwidth demand as conventional applications (communications such as telephony and entertainment such as radio and television) migrate to the Internet would exceed the bandwidth available from today’s DSL and cable services. The expectation for significant outflow as well as inflow of content opens up the possibility of new kinds of connections from the home to points outside. For example, a family’s (or friends’ and family’s) virtual private network (VPN) could be established to promote social sharing, much as corporate VPNs enable protected communication among co-workers and others granted access, regardless of location.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Internet Appliances The majority of existing and potential broadband applications assume a person at the end of the pipe actively using the content being served, whether he or she is watching a movie, shopping on the Web, or talking to a doctor. With this assumption, there is a potential upper bound on the demand for broadband, as it is limited by the number of people in a typical home. However, some futurists, as well as some commercial appliance vendors, anticipate a demand that is more accurately bounded by the number of information appliances in the home—autonomous consumers and producers of content that rely on the always-on capabilities of a broadband connection. Although the scenario of the dishwasher that independently calls the repairman for service has met with appropriate skepticism, there are already information appliances in the marketplace and in people’s homes. Internet photo frames are a good example. Marketed by various companies, these frames are essentially an LCD (liquid crystal display) with a phone connection packaged as a traditional picture frame. In current versions, the frames connect to the Internet at off-hours (e.g., 3:00 a.m.) and download new photos that have been sent to the appropriate Web site by family members and friends. A simple extension of this idea would be wall art that loads art pieces from various museum collections. Connecting these displays to live content (perhaps including a time delay) offers the ability of viewing, say, the London skyline and bridges fresh each day. A poster of Africa in a child’s bedroom could be replaced with live webcam images from safari rides and waterholes.21 Returning to the theme of families sharing photos, appliance designers predict aesthetically pleasing (and privacy-preserving) representations of the well-being of a loved one. In one scenario, opening the portable photo frame of a family member while traveling triggers switching an art piece in the home from black-and-white to color. Returning to the dishwasher, while there are sound objections to appliances requesting people to arrive at the owner’s home, it is less farfetched for an appliance under warranty to preorder new parts upon detecting a failure, or for prescribed medications to directly request re-fills. Although business models for new Internet services (e.g., online grocery reordering) may not work, some extensions to existing services may prove to be economical and desirable. 21   See <http://www.africam.com>.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Distributed Work and Education Distributed work and education—which depend on e-mail, file transfer, and sometimes on audio- and videoconference capabilities—have long been touted as applications for information networks; both have already benefited from narrowband Internet access. Following significant growth in the 1990s, a sizable minority of companies are believed to offer a telecommuting option to some employees, presumably as a result of the proliferation of personal computing and communications options as well as the impetus provided by a variety of situations (e.g., California earthquakes) that have increased transportation problems.22 At the same time, there have also been reports of dissatisfaction on the part of both employees and employers. Forecasts have included expectations of growing use of multiple media (e.g., enabling simultaneous transmission of data and voice or of at least two streams of data) and of conferencing involving multiple media, including video as well as audio links. One enabler would be availability of connectivity comparable to the 10 Mbps typical of low-end office local area networks, with more symmetric bandwidth enabling more symmetrical use. One small study examined reactions of people working at home to a transition to DSL service and found overall satisfaction based on the increase in their productivity attributed to higher-speed connectivity; people also noted that the productivity benefit depended on whether other home-based workers with whom they collaborated also had such connectivity.23 That kind of comment underscores the potential for qualitative change in an activity from widespread availability of a capability—change not visible when availability is unevenly distributed among a population, such as a group of teleworkers. Distributed education, like distributed work, involves remote access to information and communications. Discussions of distributed education are more likely to involve use of still and moving images with broadband; they also involve conferencing for interaction among multiple students. Note that distributed education is expected to benefit both adults and children. 22   Patricia Riley, Anu Mandavilli, and Rebecca Heino. 2000. “Observing the Impact of Communication and Information Technology on ‘Net-Work’.” Telework and the New Workplace of the 21st Century. U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C. Available online at <http://www.dol.gov/dol/asp/public/telework/p2_3.htm>. 23   Riley, “Observing the Impact of Communication Technology,” 2000.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits “Tele-webbing” A new sort of composite application that some have begun to call “tele-webbing,” which combines Internet access with conventional television viewing, is beginning to appear. Simplistically, accessing the Web while also watching television would qualify for this description, and indeed it is common for people to engage in other activities while also watching entertainment television that has low attention demands. Thus, the consumer who scans e-mail while watching a sitcom could be said to be tele-webbing. More interesting, however, are cases now emerging where the television watching and Web access are interrelated. For example, many sports Web sites now provide real-time Web applications that feed game statistics to a browser. Having such a site open while watching a televised sports event provides a deeper experience of the event. For an even more real-time experience, experiments have been done with making race-car telemetry information available concurrently with a race broadcast. This allows a measure of user selectivity in how the race is experienced, since the user can focus attention on a particular driver. Finally, various levels of viewer interactivity have been evaluated for making television game shows (which have long elicited vicarious play-along-at-home experiences) truly interactive. All of these ideas involve taking advantage of a second screen that the user can selectively use for added experiences. Importantly, all these applications involve constraints on tolerable latency for the data streams relative to the primary video streams. This class of applications may be another example of where the total bandwidth demand to a home may exceed what the user can consume at any instant because the value of these applications lies at least in part in the user’s ability to instantly shift attention from one video feed to another screen full of information. Communities and Community Networks Community networking efforts to date provide a window into the interactions and synergistic possibilities presented by greater networking capabilities among people in a given area, who presumably have at least some shared interest in a common set of information or in communicating with each other. With disappearance of a number of the pioneering bulletin-board-type community networks, network communications have tended to become less geographically focused. And as dial-up Internet access via commercial ISPs has become widespread, community networking initiatives have, for the most part, focused less on building local infrastructure and more on content and services. Contemporary approaches to community networks are likely to emphasize a variety of service activities

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits that accompany deployment and facilitate use, such as information resources and training, economic incubation, pilot and demonstration projects, and development of public-private partnerships. But regardless of how it is labeled, the attention to local interests has persisted; it is expressed in the various Web sites established by local governments, schools, libraries, athletic consortia, religious institutions, and so on—a diverse group of sources that defies the categorization of the more controlled local access cable television or local radio station and that offers the potential of upgraded offerings where capabilities are available. Note that on a small scale, multiunit dwellings (e.g., apartment buildings) can serve as microcommunities: the availability of broadband to individuals in the component units is constrained by decision making of the owner; where the owner is supportive, all units can have this capability, but the reverse tends to be true as well. Also, in some communities, special centers have been established that offer broadband capabilities together with the hardware and software to take advantage of them—a physical portal.24 These communications centers complement the concentrations of demand in such public-interest (and often publicly supported) facilities as medical and education centers of different kinds. Thus, it is important to recognize that community networks have both infrastructural and content dimensions. SOCIAL FACTORS AND IMPACTS OF BROADBAND There is much potential for future applications that enrich or complement traditional content and communications channels, but excitement about them should be tempered by an appraisal of the time frame in which these applications could be realized and the nontechnical obstacles that retard their deployment. Much of the expectation surrounding broadband involves more than new technology—it also requires a transformation of societal structures, media, and other institutions. This section briefly discusses some of these factors. Availability of Content One obstacle is the availability of content. A recent television commercial from Qwest exemplified the expectations—being able to access every book ever published in any language and every movie ever made 24   Richard Civille, Michael Gurstein, and Kenneth Pigg. 2001. “Access to What? First Mile Issues for Rural Broadband,” white paper; see Appendix C.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits available, on demand over the Internet. In reality, we are some time away from widespread video-on-demand; thousands of channels of “radio” over the Internet; abundant, high-quality educational video content; and so forth.25 In addition to technical obstacles, the familiar chicken-and-egg phenomenon comes into play. Without a mass market of consumers with broadband access, it is hard to develop a business model that justifies investment in new content (or translating old content). One new media businessperson, Andrew Sharpless, addressed the committee from his vantage at that time of developing new online services for Discovery Communications. He suggested that at least 10 million households would need to use broadband before meaningful content would emerge, and he noted that cable experience shows that serving 50 million customers is key to lining up advertisers (with online services, a top rating by Jupiter Media Metrix had become key to advertiser interest by 2000).26 Intellectual property rights issues are another large factor—the interests and holdings of broadband providers, users, and rights holders are not necessarily aligned. The 2000-2001 rise of Internet radio raised a set of issues related to content use fees, and the popularity of Napster and other content-sharing technologies heightened rights holders’ concerns about control over their intellectual property, making intellectual property more prominent in the development of business plans.27 Finally, although content availability affects demand for broadband, one should not underestimate the volume and value of customer-provided content. Broadband is not only a mass media technology; it is also an interpersonal technology. As noted above, messaging and e-mail are both very popular applications, illustrating the value of broadband for 25   Unrealistic expectations have been rampant when it comes to home technology, if not the Internet generally. For example, the Washington Post published an article in 1994 that suggested that going online will not support new relationships, online banking, real-time game-playing, “basking” in multimedia, hobnobbing with celebrities, and online shopping, most of which has, in fact, happened, at least to some degree even with low bandwidth. See Jim Kennelly. 1994. “9 Ways Going On-Line Can Change Your Life and 6 Ways It Can’t,” The Washington Post: Fast Forward, September, pp. 9-13. 26   Andrew Sharpless, personal communication, briefing to the committee, November 1999. He discussed how Discovery Online scaled back its content expectations because of these considerations. 27   For an in-depth exploration of the issues surrounding intellectual property rights in a digital, networked environment, see Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, 2000, The Digital Dilemma, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits z communication as well as content delivery.28 Multiplayer games, one of the few profitable Internet applications today, rely on user-provided content. Telemedicine will rely, in large measure, on user-provided content, plus some professionally prepared patient education materials. Families will generate and want to distribute pictures and home movies. Broadband Impacts One category of impact on quality of life derives from broadband’s interaction with consumption of media: broadband is associated with the allocation of more time to media consumption overall, in part because it puts Internet use on a par with TV and radio use.29 Whether the increase in media consumption is transient or long term, and what it may imply for (or as a result of) other activities that may receive less time than media consumption, remain to be seen. It is not known whether the home is truly an infinite sink for bits over time or whether there is some limit that one can compute, based on something like human perception or expectations about other things going on in the home. In terms of general information access, one could argue that broadband provides limited content beyond that available through dial-up. There is little unique content available only to broadband users that is not duplicated on cable television today (e.g., CSPAN). In terms of applications, the prominent examples deal with entertainment—access to interactive games, or even a broader assortment of music than one can find on the local radio channels is unlikely to compel public policy support, but these applications, along with day-trading tools and e-commerce, exercise the technology (and, sometimes, the law) and build an experience base for the underlying capabilities.30 Attention to individual categories of information or applications can obscure the larger development, which is a shift to an expectation of ubiquitous access to a variety of information and applications. But ubiquity does not imply endless variety: experience with television shows 28   Some argue that the value of communications applications such as messaging is underappreciated compared to content delivery. See Andrew Odlyzko. 2001. “Content Is Not King.” First Monday 6(2)(February). Available online at <http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_2/odlyzko/>. 29   Pierre Bouvard and Warren Kurtzman. 2000. The Broadband Revolution: How Superfast Internet Access Changes Media Habits in American Households. Arbitron Company, New York. Available online at <www.arbitron.com> and <www.colemanresearch.com>. 30   One might draw a limited analogy to the supply of simple games with the Windows operating system and Palm devices to help people get used to manipulating a mouse in the former case and the Graffiti writing system in the latter.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits that consumers limit themselves to seven to nine channels, implying high cost in searching for acceptable content—and that aids in effecting such search may be an important complement to content innovations per se. The oft-made contrast between children who are exposed to computer-based technology early on and adults who are introduced to it at older ages underscores the potential for cumulative experience to change people’s expectations and behavior. Several emerging applications described above may be more compelling from a policy perspective. Telecommuting can have positive impacts on the environment, local economies, and people’s ability to earn a good living. Telemetry and monitoring applications can enhance health care delivery. Basic communications and telepresence applications can help keep children and elderly parents connected. And broadband can be used to deliver more sophisticated (multimedia and interactive) educational content. But many of these applications remain more promise than reality. There is time to consider and act on possible negative impacts (from the obvious questions about privacy and security to the more idiosyncratic ones relating to cases of excessive use). For example, public- and private-sector attempts to deal with spam originating in the narrowband context are likely to take on new urgency in the broadband context. If any kind of communications of the past is any guide, people will send information whether there is demand or not, and the prospect of video spam may arouse people even more than fax and e-mail spam have. Security concerns have arisen, associated with the always-on nature of broadband. But with anticipated assimilation of broadband into a technology-intensive household, other concerns will arise. For example, just as people change physical locks after, say, a divorced spouse leaves, a kind of virtual door is developing with broadband, and there may be a kind of virtual set of keys to change, too. This is also a time to address the implications of technology options for the disabled: Some of the envisioned capabilities will make it easier for people with disabilities to remain in their homes; some may require appropriate design for effective use by people with disabilities. Consideration of differences in abilities leads naturally to consideration of human-computer interaction and user interfaces; progress in these areas may facilitate use by all. While the lag in compelling applications may contain growth in demand for broadband, its silver lining may be to limit the impact of disparities in access and use. Measurements of the disparity are in flux, given progress in deployment and adoption, but significant differences have been noted by region, locality, racial and ethnic groups, income, educational attainment, and age.31 Income and educational attainment 31   See NTIA’s Falling Through the Net series.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits tend to drive demographic differences; geographic differences reflect the larger complex of factors governing deployment discussed in Chapter 4. Progress implies deeper understanding of differences in media consumption among population groups and options for diminishing disparities. Consumer advocates report an overall bimodal pattern, with clusters of low-volume and extremely high-volume users of media and differences in terms of what people use communications for. The bottom half pays $60 per month for all services, while the top half pays $200 per month. Different business models are needed to serve the lower half, and observable business models for broadband seem to focus on the upper, more-lucrative half.32 Of course, it is reasonable to expect that during the transition from broadband, even people who could shift will not do so at once, and those who do so first value the capabilities more and will pay more. The picture painted in this chapter, of multidimensional change in household technology and activities, suggests that raising the floor for residential broadband implies addressing total and life-cycle costs. That is, the broadband-enabled changes in lifestyle and quality of life that could occur presume both network deployment and consumer electronics and applications (software, services), all of which may impinge on household budgets (for acquisition and operation or regular use costs) and requirements for know-how (the aggregate of technologies and activities imply new set-up, use, and maintenance activities). The full, short- and long-term impacts on household economics deserve further study, perhaps in conjunction with the model homes and communities that have been or will be initiated. For example, for connectivity alone, it would be useful to compare the costs of various scenarios, from current options, such as multiple phone lines plus cable or satellite, to broadband connectivity (with or without additional home connections), with different approaches to in-home networking and customer equipment. Business models make different assumptions about demand and willingness to pay.33 Understanding the implications of alternative approaches is a logical element of public- and private-sector planning. The combination of failures and successes in Internet-related and, more generally, media-related services underscores a dearth of social science insight into how people use and respond to new media. 32   Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union, personal communication, briefing to the committee, November 1999. 33   For example, Time Warner Cable’s $40 per month charge was based on the recognition that consumers were paying $19.95 per month to an ISP and more for a second phone line.

OCR for page 82
Broadband Bringing Home the Bits Finally, there are the uncertainties relating to what people want and will do. Assimilation of these changes, of course, presumes assuring that the use of these capabilities is perceived as valuable (appealing and relevant) to multiple categories of people. Historically, with television, which was fundamentally familiar, the introduction of pay-TV programming led to consumers often electing to buy multiple services, which are differentiated. The new, nonincremental and interacting broadband options are less familiar than were variations on the TV theme. There is some evidence that willingness to pay increases with consumer control: in the committee’s June 2000 workshop, for example, AT&T researcher Andrew Odlyzko compared people’s willingness to pay $40 per month for cable for 100 Mbps consumed 3 hours per day with $70 per month for wireline phone for 64 kbps used 1 hour per day with $40 to $50 per month for wireless phone for 8 kbps used less than 10 minutes per day. This line of argument complements that of consumer advocates and others who argue for open access (see Chapter 5 in this report), as a counter to a fear that content coming into the home will be overly controlled by commercial providers. It is not surprising that local efforts that link deployment to economic development tend to feature awareness and training programs,34 while various nonprofit and entrepreneurial efforts seek to generate content that is of interest to specific demographic groups. Recognizing that socioeconomic context affects willingness and ability to use new technology does not necessarily make it easier to devise effective strategies, and trial and error is evident. 34   Glasgow, Kentucky, was a pioneer in providing broadband, but the experience showed slow adoption and uncertainty about why the capability should be used, necessitating efforts to generate awareness, interest, and use. See Anick Jesdanum. 2000. “Wiring Rural America: Just the Beginning.” Associated Press, September 6. Available online at <http://www.msnbc.com:80/news/452691.asp?cp1=1>.