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TechTank

The Net Vitality Index and the Wide Open Internet

Since 2010, I have been developing the first-ever quantitative and qualitative composite analysis of the global broadband Internet ecosystem, which compares countries from around the world. The broadband Internet ecosystem includes applications, content, devices, and networks. These essential elements drive each other in a virtuous cycle that is highly interdependent. If broadband networks are fast, reliable, and widely available, companies produce more powerful and more capable devices to connect to them. These new applications draw interest among various end users, bring new users online, and increase use among those who already subscribe to broadband services.

The continuing growth in the broadband Internet ecosystem reinforces the cycle; for example, encouraging service providers to boost the speed, functionality, and reach of the networks can also spur innovation in applications, content, and devices. Consequently, any consideration of how to best shape the future of broadband Internet should account for the entire ecosystem, rather than individual elements.

Introducing the Net Vitality Index

Through timely and reliable data, we now are able to gauge broadly how well particular countries, including the United States, are performing in a global competitive environment. My Net Vitality Index, released last week by The Media Institute’s Global Internet Freedom Program will policymakers develop policies based on a more complex view of the broadband Internet ecosystem. It also underscores a potential serious disconnect between a desire to accelerate the Internet’s usefulness to a range of users, and responses such as the FCC’s recent Open Internet Order that look to traditional regulatory tools as enablers.

The Net Vitality Index is a composite of 52 separate broadband Internet ecosystem indices developed independently to evaluate individual countries on an “apples-to-apples” basis. The development of this Index helps identify the top-tier global broadband Internet leaders – an elite grouping of five countries that distinguish themselves as pacesetters for future benchmarking and best practices analyses. The top-tier in now particular order are the United States, South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, and France.

Good policies from leading countries

Each country has unique distinguishing characteristics that have supported its broadband Internet leadership success, including geography, demographics, regulatory philosophy, and cultural values. While highlighting these distinctive elements in individual country profiles, it is clear that all of the top-tier global broadband leaders also have a common powerful driving force at play – innovation. When innovation is coupled with sustained investment, competition can thrive and the desired goal of promoting continuous Net Vitality can be achieved. Policy approaches that reflect this formulation seem to be particularly appropriate to promoting real Net Vitality.

The top-tier global broadband Internet leaders recognize that government has a critical role to play in shaping the goals of Net Vitality through forward-looking policymaking. Top-tier global broadband Internet leaders have taken varied regulatory approaches for one element of the Internet ecosystem – broadband networks – but they have benefited the most when government is a catalyst and challenger. Governments of the five leading Net Vitality Index countries were able to capitalize on their own competitive advantages by encouraging companies to set aspirational goals, increase the pace of innovation, make big investments into new technologies, and engage in healthy competition.

The Open Internet as a goal is worthwhile, but also too narrow as a foundation for Net Vitality. Rather, the Wide Open Internet is what the United States and other countries around the world should be trying to achieve. The Wide Open Internet encompasses the broader goal of an efficient ubiquitous broadband Internet ecosystem with virtually unlimited content and applications available without government restrictions. Users should be able to use the Internet at home, at work, and on the run through a range of devices accessing affordable high-speed wireline and wireless broadband networks.

With a sustained focus on the broadband Internet ecosystem, the idea of Net Vitality can be realized through a future-oriented policy process that capitalizes on the blazing speed of Internet time that has propelled us so far, so fast, and so impactfully to date.

Author

Stuart N. Brotman

Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Communication - University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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