I’m a little behind in my BusinessWeek reading, so I only recent read their September 8th commentary on “How To Get Broadband Up To Speed.” I suspect reading it requires a subscription, so I’ll excerpt the bit that bugs me:
The final piece of the puzzle is content. Relatively few U.S. consumers will buy broadband simply because it’s fast. They need compelling applications. One of the most promising, the ability to download and swap music, video, and other forms of entertainment, has been bogged down by legal controversy and questions about whether people will pay for digital music.
The final piece is not “content,” at least not how they mean. Folks at BusinessWeek, and others interested in the business of broadband, would be wise to read Andrew Odlyzko’s articles on communication networks. I first appreciated his work when I read Content Is Not King, which put the lie to the idea that “content” drives internet usage, which had been a common fallacy in the everything-Web era.
Andrew’s most recent essay, The Many Paradoxes of Broadband, is an essential overview to what is happening in that space. And, again, suggests the that the focus from the likes commentators at BusinessWeek is misplaced. More bandwidth does not mean the internet will turn into a couch-potato paradise. If you look at the trends, it’s much more likely that more bandwidth will mean better communications–clearer signals, maybe more group interactions, maybe video, etc.
This is not to say that content won’t play a role — clearly, content played a role on the Web, just not the lead role. But it is to say that we shouldn’t look to content to drive broadband adoption.
Now, there’s one place where there’s a big exception to this: among the drivers of broadband adoption, file-sharing of music is huge. Music, though, is not your typical “content.” I would argue that recorded music consumption is as much about identity, and, thus, about communication, as it is about listening to the music itself. And that the trends you see in music swapping you won’t see in film swapping, even when films are as easy to download. Think about audiobooks — the audiobook industry isn’t freaking out over people sharing audiobooks through KaZaA. Because, basically, people don’t. (Yes, you can find audiobooks through KaZaA, but that’s clearly not driving broadband acquisition). So, what’s driving broadband here is still less about “content” and more about identity, communication, source material for playlists, mix CDs, etc. etc.
Oh. And games. I almost forgot to mention games. Games will stimulate broadband adoption. But not for the “game” aspect (naturally), but for massively-multiplayer aspect. Which is, natch, another form of communication.