$700,000 grant funds network technologies study

As the U.S. government and technology providers grapple with issues of broadband policy, Michigan State University rresearchers are seeking ways to make business and regulatory decisions around such technology more informed.

The MSU researchers have received a National Science Foundation grant to develop a new approach to policy and business decision-making related to information and communication technology infrastructure, which includes information technology, telecommunication, and computer networks.

Professor Johannes Bauer of the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media is the principal investigator of the three-year, $698,000 study. Bauer is working with Kurt DeMaagd, assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, and Erik Goodman, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop the system.

Specifically, the researchers are developing a computer simulation model using insights from engineering, public policy, and economic theory. The model will be used to study the dynamic interactions of government agencies, regulators, technology providers, content delivery providers, advertisers, and consumers. The goal of the research, Bauer says, is to improve policy decision-making that ultimately affects consumers.

Most previous studies have examined only one, or several of these stakeholders in isolation, but not in their interactions and interdependencies, DeMaagd says. “By comparing a large group of many interacting participants in the information and communication technology sector, we can see more of the larger picture to help policymakers and managers make better choices,” he said. “We believe that the research will provide new foundations for the governance and design of information and communications technology infrastructure.”

Bauer says this research comes at a critical juncture for the United States. “In important areas of information and communications technology, we are falling behind peer nations in Asia and Europe,” he says. “The U.S. government is developing many initiatives to close the gap. Our research will help define better and sustainable policies that, we hope, will avoid past failures. The research will also provide tools for managers to make better business decisions, for example, about prices and service packages, in the fast-paced information and communications technology markets.”

Because information and communications technology networks and services are a prerequisite for sustained economic growth, this research is valuable to help advance this important industry, DeMaagd says. “Policymakers and managers are seeking better approaches to support innovation and investment in next-generation networks and services, but they currently lack sufficient tools to develop robust and sustainable strategies.”

One example, DeMaagd says, is the idea of network neutrality. “There is a huge debate about whether a network service provider should be allowed to charge consumers more for higher-priority data, or whether all data is equal. There are competing views on this, and we need ways to make informed decisions on this and other emerging business questions,” DeMaagd said.

Goodman emphasizes that this research is a new approach. “It is far easier to describe the behavior of individual agencies, companies, or persons, and then to calculate how they behave in response to each other, than it is to try to model the behavior of the whole system from the highest level,” he says. “We are looking forward to building a system that could have a big impact on this industry and possibly others.”