Sowing the Seeds of Prosperity

There is no doubt whatsoever that the prosperity of most communities is a direct function of their access to the world’s communication networks. In order to serve its customers effectively, a community must be able to communicate at least as well as those communities against which it competes. This includes the ability to communicate both internally and externally, and involves such attributes as speed, capacity, reliability and access to multiple networks.

The critical economic importance of these communication networks is based on a simple, brutal fact: if you can’t talk, you can’t trade. Whether the “talk” is voice or computer to computer is irrelevant to this principle.

However, the “talk” is necessary to do more than close the sale; communication is vital for the entire process of marketing. Failure to see these two functions accounts for much of the confusion surrounding e-commerce. The marketing potential of the Internet almost certainly overshadows its more narrow ability to execute certain kinds of transactions.

However, an equally important function of talk is the role it plays in economic adaptation. Abiding prosperity and the foundation of

economic development rests not on the ability to serve today’s customer well, not to sell more of today’s products. Rather, a community and its businesses must look beyond the marketplace concerns of the moment to the demands of tomorrow’s customers. The customers, as well as the products, can quickly change. The speed and effectiveness with which a community adapts is the ultimate basis for economic success and competitive advantage.

The need to adapt, becomes more urgent each day as competitive pressures continue to mount without cessation. The great irony of the Internet is that it increases competition, as much as it is a tool to facilitate

adaptation. But the Internet makes the adaptation even more urgent as it fuels every manner of change. If you can talk more (faster and cheaper) on the Internet, you can compete more aggressively with more competitors in more places. And they with you. The result is that we all work harder and, as Adam Smith argued, we therefore contribute to the general prosperity.

Therefore, programs to improve the communication infrastructure of communities are both urgent and highly appropriate. Unfortunately, there is a critical element missing from these initiatives to create “smart” communities. Indeed, it is a blind-spot common to much of information technology. This is the rather na