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Policy

Broadband Can Enable 'Saver’ Apps

10/11/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Panelists at an Federal Communications Commission field hearing on mobile broadband in San Diego last Thursday were concerned about taking care of the three L’s: the least, last and lost.

And rather than “killer applications,” much of the focus was on “saver apps” that could provide life-saving or life-enhancing services like housing or medical monitoring.

The least are people with low or modest income, the last are those beyond the reach or in the outer limits of new technology and the lost are people who don’t understand the relevance of broadband adoption to their lives.

Rey Ramsey of One Economy — a nonprofit group working on getting broadband to low-income citizens, including minorities — said that one of the keys to reach those three L’s is by developing “life-enhancing” applications.

Those would include applications related to important government services such as housing or utility-assistance programs, he said.

To that end, he said One Economy would soon announce the creation of a social-innovations lab, tasked with designing applications specifically targeted to assist low-income households.

Some applications that could be used to help fight heart disease and diabetes — which often hit minority populations harder than other groups — are already out there, he said.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski talked about walking the floor of the CTIA-The Wireless Association mobile-industry convention in San Diego — where he spoke Wednesday — and seeing health-care applications that make it easier to monitor patients.

At the hearing, which included a panel devoted to applications, Genachowski and his co-moderator, commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, got the lowdown on a range of applications.

They ranged from mobile air-quality monitors for tracking greenhouse gasses to interactive health monitoring.

And, as with recent discussions about the speeds the FCC should be looking at for its broadband plan, one of the biggest issues — both explicitly and as running subtext — was how much bandwidth it would take to support all the killer or “saver” apps.

Darrel Drinan, CEO of wireless diagnostics firm PhiloMetron, said that the spectrum requirements were increasing rapidly. He also said that, while he did not want to get into the issue of network neutrality, there was also an issue of prioritizing. “Is grandma’s ECG going to be delayed because Billy is watching a YouTube video?” Drinan asked.

Drinan had one possible approach to the spectrum-capacity problem, at least in terms of health monitoring: Use spectrum set aside for first responders, who would share the benefit of remote monitors by using them in mass-casualty situations.

September