Regional Community Priorities for Ultra Broadband IST-
Opportunities for new services, infrastructure, regional and urban development
Current discussion on future IST - Information Society Technology - usually assumes as an axiom the objective of equal worldwide access. They accept the present bottleneck of the last mile, including certain limits defining “broadband” service, and lead to the conclusion, that „distance does not matter“ and should be free of charge. The project proposed here is to find out and establish the opportunities of an additional IST-development beyond this loop of conclusions, conditions and limitations of global equality. So the following possible developments should be the subject of research:
1. There may be a reasonable quantity of ideas and demand for ultra high-quality transmission of information, needing 10 to1000 times capacity compared to todays definition of „broadband“.
2. This demand may cause serious congestion problems for certain parts of the long distance network infrastructure. These problems should best be handled by pricing and accounting: the same data amount should be cheaper at short distance transmitted. Inhouse Broadband Access would be used adequately.
3. This would result in relatively lower prices for higher-quality local and regional services on one hand, and in relatively higher prices for lower-quality global services on the other hand. So prices would also represent the cost of investment and actual consumer demand according to the willingness of the consumer to pay.
4. Future IST infrastructure and management should be modified to allow the user to choose between at least those two service alternatives. To save peak costs, ubiquity is not necessary on any spatial scale: locations can be served to differing conditions.
5. Future architectural, location, urban and regional planning may lead to new conclusions with respect to the new criteria and differences of IST-advantages.
6. Social objectives of equal opportunities for people would no longer be mixed up with the idea of identical conditions for different locations, which tends to work against ecological and economic sustainability.
Thus, present global exchange of equal, standardised, medium quality information in future might be complemented by new regional and local exchange of a rich variety of highly-defined and sophisticated information of high resolution. Creating rich cultural varieties within short distances would continue one of Europe`s most successful historical qualities. So urban and regional IST also could be one of Europe`s most substantial contributions to future IST development worldwide.
1. CURRENT SITUATION
Today, IST works in favour of equality, ubiquity and globalisation.
Europe's traditional qualities always included highly efficient techniques, infrastructures and habits concerning communication. Three main characteristics were and still are
- Short distances for personal contact within and between densely populated units like towns and villages, and between urban networks and small scale regions.
- High-quality communication and high density of information such as personal contacts.
- Rich variety of very sophisticated media, languages and contents, changing continouusly within short distances crossing semi-open borders.
Its social and individual identity based on a variety of small scale spatial differences and various non-standardised human relations may be quoted as one very important base for Europe´s economic and cultural success.
Electronic digital telecommunication, broadly-speaking, lacks these qualities, because some major conditions had to be respected: last mile IST worldwide standard had to use parallel copper or wireless transmission with capacity restraints suitable only for medium quality information. This medium quality information using the advantages of digital optical fibre transmission for long distances found giant capacities almost without distance restraints. At last, connecting everybody worldwide seemed to be a technical performance which was more interesting for customers, managers and engineers than improving quality on local or regional level. Optical fibre or symmetrical koax infrastructure into the house prepared by some communities never used its giant potential and seemed to prove a misinvestment
Furthermore, they followed and still follow the social objective and idea of equality of people by donating them the same access and technical conditions everywhere even at locations and settlements, where equality is very expensive and very unecological especially in the still so-called “countryside”, which is in fact suburban sprawl.
Thus, today’s IST technical and economic systems, standards and habits have a tendency to emphasise the following items contradictory to European traditions:
- Very long distances at global scale with next to no differences in urban and regional structure, quality or price.
- Medium quality communication and low density and low bit-rate information such as voice, e-mail-text, low definition pictures and delayed transmission.
- Equality of access, standards, user surfaces, operating systems, price and quality unequal locations.
Although this is only one possible technical solution or approach amongst others, these characteristics are often quoted as unavoidable, general IST qualities. So IST becomes one of the keys for globalisation, while at the same time having the tendency to dissolve local or regional characteristics and cohesion. Other technical options are rarely discussed, like the quite obvious thought, that in electronic telecommunication systems also longer distances cost more money. This means that the present heavy bias of IST towards globalisation is at least partly a result of misunderstanding and misaccounting - not of physical, technical and economic fact.
The program is to develop and implement new IST in a way especially targeted at cheap and attractive application by urban, local and regional users. Technical and economic analyses so far reveal chances preferably with possible new ultra broadband services.
Central objective is to find out if, which, how and to what extent IST may contribute to and improve not only global, but also local and regional businesses, activities, relations and identities. Wherever short distance connections cost less, the price for consumers should be lower and/or quality of service should be enhanced. Then IST prices would require not only data amount but also distance components. This could strengthen communities and regions and motivate more regionally-oriented people to use more IST in all private and business sectors.
Right now it is considered as a rule that “distance does not matter” and consequently should be free of charge in spite of some network congestion, and having in mind what nowadays is called “broadband” (the ultimate capacity of the DSL-powered, data-compressed parallel copper or wireless last mile). But there is some evidence that beyond that considerable IST use might develop using data streams which are 10-1000-times bigger. The cost of these ultra broadband services, that require ultra high capacity, are far more sensitive to distances. If this really is an interesting alternative, future technical and economic systems, standards and habits could include special offers, such as the following, which are very much characteristic of Europe:
- Short distances with relevant advantages in ultra high quality or low price for urban or rural structures at local or regional level.
- Regional variety of the highest quality communication and high density information such as high-definition dialogue motion pictures and undelayed real-time transmission.
3. APPROACH AND RESEARCH ACTION
Theoretical research will suggest and assess new IST applications, regulations, standards and urban and regional distribution patterns. In scenarios and feasibility studies these can be analysed and evaluated.
The major question seems to be which demand exists for hitherto underestimated ultra broadband applications, if they were very cheap at local or regional level:
- Undelayed real-time high-definition video dialogue? For teleconference, teleconsulting, telerepair, teleteaching, telemedical treatment, telechat? Very cheap and easy even for very trivial purposes? On very attractive high-definition motion pictures?
- Trivial mass data (partly delayed) like decentral full-time and full-area survey, control and accounting services? 24hrs.webcam telecare for children or elderly people? Road and parking pricing at 5m/5sec rates? Teenagers all-weekend netgame parties? Grandma’s pulse monitor?
- Everyday private and business (grid) computing with multiplied qualities and quantities of data processing? Using personal computers merely as terminals, connected by ultra broadband with more common software on central regional computers? For e.g. new individual or regional user surfaces or operating systems, offering picturesque screen landscapes, furnishings, avatars?
The following questions, among others, will be the subjects of research:
- What would a price structure look like, that takes into account not only demand, capacity, amount of data and connecting and accounting cost, but also elements of distance?
- Which decisions for distance infrastructure investment and regulations can realistically be justified on the basis of the consumers’ willingness to pay?
- What conditions and consequences will there be in the field of IST hardware and software? Definition standards of Cams? PC-TV? Home Laser projection?
- How will habits of use of phone, SMS, mail, voice-mail, fax, change, if distance and data amount is charged?
- What changes of commercial or residential, public or private settlement will develop as a result of the technical changes? Which locations will be preferred in existing or new urban, rural or suburban built up areas? How will real estate prices and urban design patterns be influenced?
- Will the new spatial order follow traditional authority borders? Or will there be new borders, that authorities will have to react to? Could individual regionalism be based on close or far, but according to European objectives without geographical or political borders?
Theoretical research should develop scenarios, feasibility studies and evaluations. They should include technical, economic, ecological, environmental, social, political and spatial short and long term conditions, effects, impacts, consequences, chances and restrictions. The amount and complexity of the problems will make it necessary to plan a subsequent research program rather than a single project. The program should prepare application in several different pilot regions and empirical research. It will require investment in infrastructure, adaptation of hardware and software, and modification or completion of international regulations, standards and comments.
4. NEED AND RELEVANCE
Cheap short-distance, high-quality communication could contribute to the next generation of global IST performance, to European and global urban and regional diversity of human settlement, and to European leadership in important parts of IT economy.
Technical progress and social demand create a continuing need for updating technical and social systems and standards. From the start there has been a lack of specific European characteristics in IST. Only if Europe actively takes part in an advanced redesign process of IST will this gap be reduced. This project is not meant to run behind global IST, but to adapt IST to Europe`s aims for local and regional communication, identity and variety.
The results at least will be relevant as an additional offering for all European communities, regions and provinces, even in case they might not be accepted by worldwide information society. But furthermore worldwide relevance and acceptance is much more probable. Cheap high-quality- short-distance information of rich variety also can be an additional offering for many other parts of the world, e.g. for purposes like differentiation or decentralisation.
Right now there is no evidence that the concept could affect existing technologies, rules or attitudes of global information systems or habits. Instead, it will offer additional opportunities to all current users; additionally, it may even extend IST access to more regionally- or traditionally oriented people who tend to reject habits of globalisation.
Of course, answering relevant questions about future technology includes opportunities to take the technolgical lead in new hardware and necessary software. This might create worldwide markets for European industries of considerable relevance.
Need and relevance give some indication of the scale of ambition of the program. Furthermore, there can be expected a rather meaningful impact on people’s habits of settlement and patterns of spatial behaviour. European urbanity including density, mix of functions, public spaces, and networks of transportation has been a basic element of Europe`s economic, social and cultural success for nearly three millenniums. A hundred years of transportation technology seemed to make this obsolete and merely historical. Local and regional IST could re-interpret this important heritage in a very modern way and according to technical and economic ratios. Unlike the current theory of transportation and telematics, it will not simply enlarge the distances between people to suburban sprawl and beyond. Instead, it may lead to a new sophisticated balance between near and far, close and distant, network and hierarchy, city and countryside, and people’s attitudes and lifestyles. So, Europe`s order of settlement with its regional variety could again be an important contribution to human cultural development.
5. INTEGRATION, COST, RESEARCH SCHEDULE
Integration of disciplines should cover technical, economic, ecological, social and spatial sciences and different types of regions. The ideas can be brought in as a minor consulting part into a different project; they also can be a program of its own, starting with a pilot study of at least 100,000 EUR and spanning one year.
The program does not need basic innovation: all components are well-known and ready for instant application and implementation. But they are to be put together in very unconventional ways. The most challenging task will be the integration of people involved in the project who are engaged in nearly every type of research activity across all disciplines and who are located all over Europe. Integration of sciences will cover technical, social, economic, ecological and spatial disciplines. Integration of regions will cover different cultural, topographic and political conditions that might affect the character of the elements of the project in different ways. Integration of research activities will cover:
- Analysis of the current situation as well as existing approaches possibly relevant for the results achieved;
- Theoretical design of future options, demand, performance, scenarios, projects and solutions as well as their feasibility, evaluations, effects and impacts;
- Technical development, modification and application of equipment for ultra broadband technology and organisation forms required;
- Scenarios for implementation of possibly different technical solutions in different urban and regional units;
- Scenarios for demonstration, public relations and public awareness programs for scientists, users, manufacturers and politicians;
- Concepts for empirical assessment by a program surveying social, technical, economic, and ecological matters.
The idea of urban and regional IST may be a part of any major project dealing with any aspect of future IST or future spatial development; it can be brought in by discussion and consulting, by short written comments, by special chapters, or by a separate part of the study any time at any volume fitting in the context.
At the same time, it should be planned as a special research program of several years with a larger research team including implementation of hardware, software and a public awareness campaign in pilot regions. This program could be started with a pilot study scheduled to last about one year with public funding. Private companies probably will only be interested at an advanced stage of the project.