The public benefits of information and communication networks are mostly thought of in terms of what they promise (bridge the digital divide, promote commerce…), what technology is best (e.g. Wi-Fi, fiber, hybrids of these…) and who should own (and perhaps build) them (e.g. private sector, public sector, or a partnership of these…). In 2007 there were no widely used assessment tools that systematically categorized the most important aspects of a network – the benefits to its users.
I worked as part of the Community Wireless Infrastructure Research Project team to develop an analytic framework and a checklist of principles for building and operating broadband networks vis-a-vis their benefits to users. The checklist draws from familiar criteria for communications infrastructures (e.g. ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ from longstanding US public utility law, ‘universal and affordable’ from telecommunications legislation in the US, Canada, and elsewhere), and the framework refines and expands these in light of contemporary internet initiatives. The framework was presented at the 2007 Telecommunications Policy Research Conference in Washington, DC.