Spanning the Online World: From Exaflood to the Digital Divide to Public Policy
Late last week I attended a seminar that blew my mind on several levels. It was titled Connecticut and the Future of Broadband: What to think about Net Neutrality, Bridging the Digital Divide and are we really ready for the “Exaflood”. The event was conceived and presented by the Connecticut Technology Council, a high-powered group that is firmly in the lead when it comes to supporting technology innovation in my state.
I’m going to blog about this seminar more than once, starting with an overview now and an introduction of the three panelists. They were:
- Bret Swanson, Senior Fellow & Director, Center for Global Innovation; President Entropy Economics, LLC. Bret blogs at www.bretswanson.com and I encourage anyone interested in the future of the web to make a beeline.
- Curtis Hill, Director, Concepts for Adaptive Learning. Curtis retired as a Hewlett Packard exec to start a non-profit engaged in bridging the digital divide, one teacher at a time, one parent at a time, one child at a time. Learn more at www.eachchildlearns.org.
- Jeff Blodgett, Vice President of Research, the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. Go to www.cerc.com.
Ironically, the meeting room turned out to be the only one in the conference center not equipped with Internet access. And one of the moderators who was to dial in from a hotel on the West Coast was unable to attend due to a power outage. These glitches reminded us that technology isn’t perfect and that we’re all still human – a happy consequence. We all flexed, and the morning powerfully engaged us nonetheless.
Mindblow #1 came with Bret Swanson’s presentation that compared a 2008 visionary study he was involved in with a recent two-year study of global Internet traffic and usage by Arbor Networks and the University of Michigan. The latter pretty much confirmed the predictions of Swanson’s study. Just to highlight…Internet traffic has grown 45% in the study period. The Arbor study analyzed 264 exabytes of global Internet traffic to reach conclusions on everything from which ISP’s have gained enormous ground (Google and Comcast) to what traffic will look like in 2015 – wow!
Before the seminar I didn’t even have a handle on what an exabyte is. Consider that a kilobyte is 103, an Exabyte is 1018. In other words, if the Library of Congress contains 20 million books – which it does – an exabyte is what it would take to store 50,000 Libraries of Congress. Driven by video and rich media, it’s likely that Internet traffic will continue to grow at a 50-60% annual rate – a phenomenon dubbed the “exaflood” way back in ancient 2001. We’re at an advanced – and at the same time infantile — state of the Web. Future opportunity abounds!!
Next, Curtis Hill brought everyone from the 50,000-foot view to the sidewalks of Connecticut’s cities, where thousands of disadvantaged families live without computers, let alone connection to the web and the world of information, knowledge and opportunity that it offers. Hill’s organization is attacking this digital divide on several levels. It trains teachers to use technology in education. It places computers in the homes of poor families in partnership with corporations like ComCast and A.T. & T. whose foundation is supporting free annual Internet access to go with the computers. It trains parents to use the computers so that they can help their children use them for research, homework and other educational pursuits. In a wonderful off-shoot of the endeavor, the parents – many of whom are jobless when the computer arrives – are using their new technology to search for and connect with jobs!!
Jeff Blodgett had the task of sharing how public policy is bridging the vision of a world connected by unimaginable technological advances and the realities of society’s economic gaps. Unfortunately, public policy doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with either the need for enormous investments in technology infrastructure to maintain growth – or the far more modest investment in bringing the Internet to the small percentage of as-yet-unconnected citizens. That’s not only sad, but potentially tragic in terms of lost opportunity and impeded forward progress. But with enough foresight and will – and agreement that our future growth is tied to the online world — we can hopefully overcome any challenges.
As hot a topic as it is, Net Neutrality, was an appendix at this event, addressed in the Q&A session in the interest of time and in the face of three compelling presentations. It’s probable that it will become a topic of its own at a future seminar.
To end on an upbeat note – which you can pretty much always count on from me -the idea of exaflood made me think of the iconic Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim’s song Aguas de Marco – Waters of March – his impression of Brazil’s annual rains and consequent floods. As nature is random, the music, though it sounds somewhat repetitive, never repeats a phrase exactly. The sheet music goes on for about ten pages. The recording you’re listening to is by Brazilian-born jazz pianist Eliane Elias. She couples Waters of March with another Jobim tune – Agua de Beber, Water to Drink — a song about nurturing — in this post a tribute to Curtis Hill and his excellent nonprofit. If you visited last week, you’ll know that I’m on a big Brazilian kick! I’ll try to diversify next time, but oh do I love the music of Brazil!!!
Enjoy! Hope to see you soon!!