Catherine Middleton holds a Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society. Her research focuses on the development and use of new communication technologies, with specific interests in mobile devices and fixed and wireless broadband networks. She is also interested in how Canadians use (or don’t use) the internet in their daily lives.
Differential Networks: Does it Matter How We Provision Broadband and Mobile Infrastructure to Enable Mobility?
Access to communications infrastructure underpins and enables mobilities of all sorts. Regardless of who or what is moving (e.g. humans or objects or machines), connectivity — to fixed and mobile actors — is becoming increasingly necessary. It is often the case that connectivity just works, providing seamless functionality to allow tracking of mobile goods and services, and to support access to information and communication while on the move. But it is the instances where it does not work that constrain mobilities, excluding actors and activities and privileging those with access to ‘good’ infrastructure over those with ‘poor’ infrastructure.
While terms like good and poor are subjective and assessments can be impacted by context, this paper will offer some insights into different approaches to provisioning the broadband and mobile (cellular) networks that provide connectivity to support mobilities. Specifically, it will describe different types of connectivity, differentiating between fixed networks that support nomadic activities, and mobile networks that enable communication and information access from (almost) anywhere, while on the move or stationary.
Building on the differences between fixed and mobile networks, it will explore the business models of infrastructure providers, highlighting the ways in which some approaches can create barriers to access and questioning whether we need more choice and variety in business models. There have been many successful efforts to develop community-centric fixed broadband networks, designed to reduce barriers and provide reliable, affordable high quality network access. These principles are often embedded in national broadband plans, but these plans typically exclude or ignore the provision of mobile services. As such, the principles of equity and inclusion are not always embedded in the offerings from mobile service providers (typically large corporate entities). The contribution of this paper is to articulate these differences and provide the foundation for a considered discussion as to the sorts of attributes that are desirable in all forms of fixed and mobile communications networks, and to offer some reflection on how to raise awareness of these issues at the level of national policy making.