A systems engineering approach to broadband

One of the biggest challenges when crafting a request for proposals is to define the problem in terms of requirements instead of solutions. An RFP should give vendors the opportunity to propose creative solutions to your problem. It is much tougher to evaluate responses, because each bidder may approach the solution space differently, but this approach, giving bidders the greatest number of degrees of freedom, will result in more opportunities.

Most people define problems in terms of solutions. Many people say that they need nails when what they really need is to hold two pieces of wood together. The difference between defining problems in terms of requirements versus preordaining a solution.

I was concerned when I read that Susan Crawford, President Obama’s special assistant for science, technology and innovation policy said:

Simply put, a digital economy requires fiber, and Australia is making the determination that for that to work it will require a utility approach.

A digital economy doesn’t need fibre any more than I need a new car. I need a method of on-demand urban transportation. I’d like a new car, but there are other solutions that could fit the real statement of requirements.

We may end up with a lot of fibre in the solution for broadband, but the kind of statement from a presidential advisor that defines a specific solution is dangerous. It makes people think that solutions other than fibre are not quite up to the presidential standard. It ignores the reality that Australia recognized when it estimated that at least 10% of their population cannot be reached economically without wireless and satellite.

The statement diminishes the value of technology and innovation to deliver ultra-high speed options that leverage the vast capital assets that are already in the ground. People don’t require fibre service; they want the applications that are delivered over high speed internet. An important subtlety.

I’d really like a new car, though.

Building Broadband is the theme of one of the sessions at The 2009 Canadian Telecom Summit, which begins two weeks from today. Have you registered yet?

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