The European Union’s “Digital Agenda” calls for 100 percent coverage of member state households with 30 Mbps broaband access by 2020, with an additional goal of 100 Mbps coverage of half of households by 2020.
That might not be the most interesting aspect of the Digital Agenda. The plan also specifies application targets. The plan calls for 50 percent of citizens buying online, 20 percent buying cross-border and 33 percent of small and medium businesses buying or selling online.
The plan also calls for 50 percent of citizens using e-government and 25 percent using e-government forms. Progress toward these goals is much more advanced than the connectivity goals, with five of the target behaviors already over 80 percent usage levels, says Chris Nicoll, Yankee Group analyst.
Only 33 percent of SMBs are buying and selling online, though. It is probably a reflection of the different thinking about government-lead initiatives in Europe and North America that specific application targets are thought useful.
It probably is useful to measure adoption of a variety of broadband-supported applications that presumably have some direct relationship to economic efficiency. It is likely helpful to have targets for such application behaviors, as a goal and to provide a measurement yardstick.
It might be harder to assess the value of such targets. What is amenable to measurement sometimes is not a reasonable gauge of progress, for example. Users frequently have shown an ability to take a technology originally believed to be important for some specific reason, and use it in some other way.
That is very likely to be the case as basic connectivity, new devices and applications are developed n the coming decade. At the end of that period, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that direct economic and social benefits will have accrued that are outside the present sense of important goals.
Some will argue that the application targets are more significant than the broadband performance targets. Others will argue that it is the broadband targets which are more important, since it is hard to predict what innovations will develop.
Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO, famously admitted that he missed the importance of the Internet. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt now says he didn’t move Google fast enough, or resolutely enough, to embrace social software.
Some might argue that will continue to happen in the Internet space. So targets might be helpful in some ways, but are unlikely to reliably measure all that is most important.