The Old Spice Man, the FCC’s 706 and Broadband

I was oblivious to the Old Spice Man YouTube buzz for days before seeing a tweet by a friend swooning over this guy. So I checked out several vids. When I stopped laughing, three thoughts hit me.

Holy midlife crisis, Batman! I gotta start getting to the gym earlier now to beat the rush. Then my subconscious kicked in with: business communication is being seriously transformed and a lot of people are going to miss this boat. Finally, a familiar theme rolled up. We’ll soon see once again that the incumbent emperors don’t have any clothes, for I truly doubt they’re ready for the looming transformation.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this week’s FCC 706 Report on broadband in the U.S. delivered to Congress slaps down again a lot of the industry’s b.s. about the “perfect competitive world” of broadband. The Old Spice dude fits into this discussion, how? His rise to icon status and what that rise portends ties directly to one of the key findings in the FCC’s report: less than half of broadband connections in the U.S. are capable of receiving a high definition video stream and less than 2% can send such a stream.

This is not your father’s Old Spice marketing

The Old Spice Man campaign is trying to save a 73-year old product from the rest home of consumer brands by 1) creating a buff, near-nekked spokesperson, 2) infusing him with narcissism topped by Barry White-smooth and 3) writing new tactics for Internet viral video. Perhaps the most significant new tactic has been the rapid-response, custom video. The OSM filmed and fired off numerous new YouTube videos daily answering tweets and Facebook posts, reaching millions of eyeballs and generating phenomenal press.

Success breeds success, so you can bet your sweet body wash that a marketing success this big will drive a flood of video and graphics traffic that puts the Net under incredible strain.

Businesses everywhere inspired by OSM’s marketing triumph will take Internet video use to new heights not only for brand building, but for bolder direct sales, customer support, training and a host of other tasks. Colleges will push the envelope further, faster. For schoolwork? Maybe. Dating – or attempts thereof? Most definitely.

Within the year, expect healthcare and professional service firms to make great strides using live and recorded video as primary service-delivery vehicles. Video house calls for basic medical advice. Legal questions asked and answered within minutes, digital face to digital face. The application of social media laced with video for political gain will accelerate as 2011 dissolves into 2012.

This is our gigabit-intensive future, yet we stand today on the cusp of this transformation with less than half of the broadband-using public able to take advantage of Internet video’s full force. 24 million Americans can’t even get to the cusp because they have no access. Truth be told, from the many meetings I’ve had with people who deal with broadband inadequacy day in and day out, I believe the number’s higher than that.

And still the incumbent emperors fight the FCC tooth and nail, claiming all is well.

Acknowledging the problem – the first step to recovery

Last week we saw a break with the practice by past FCCs of rubberstamping the incumbents’ propaganda that all is well. It’s about damn time. The emperors need a reality check – badly.

This report boldly (by D.C. standards) states that the industry has failed to deliver on the promise. “Universal broadband does not mean ‘some’ or ‘most’ Americans, it means ALL Americans.” We finally have a definition of broadband from the FCC that takes us out of the Dark Ages (though we need to bump that baseline up quickly), and one dot per zip code does not mean that area has broadband access.

Ok, we’ve made strides forward last week, but what happens next week? Look in the mirror. Communities United for Broadband, an organization founded to rally small towns and big cities into a national drive for faster, better networks believes that “if broadband is to be, it is up to communities.” Community, at its core, means you coming together with others who share your goals. If your goal is better broadband, you can’t wait for the Feds to deliver it. They facilitate. You deliver!

The FCC has thrown a spotlight of reality onto the shortcomings of our broadband condition. Businesses and entrepreneurs are poised for the right opportunities, ready to leverage the openings that social media and various technologies enable them to deliver 21st Century Internet innovation. Google has lit a fire under communities nationwide by showing people what’s possible with real broadband, and asking them to come up with strategies for making “the possible” reality. But the heavy lifting has to be done locally.

Last week I took the position that “The Future of Broadband is Now – And You’re Going to Miss It.” But obviously the story doesn’t have to end that way. There are as many potential paths to broadband as there are inspired constituents, motivated stakeholders and enlightened service providers willing to leverage the FCC’s actions to facilitate local action.

The 4 Mbps as a definition of rural broadband is lacking. Your community can and should consider this just a baseline to get started, but while fighting for higher limits also plan to build speedier networks, as I advise here.

Incumbents are threatening the FCC and muscling out the voices of communities, the “market” that incumbents claim to want driving broadband issues. So that means you (via your representatives) have to fight for a seat at the table.

Some of broadband’s stronger allies in Congress have declared the Universal Service Fund to be broken, which it is. So now is another opportunity to jump into the game. USF reform must embrace communities as part of the decision-making regarding where USF money for broadband goes. AT&T and Verizon can’t be allowed to continue to guzzle billions from USF, and then screw the very communities USF is supposed to help.

Even though the Old Spice Man may be riding his horse backwards to drive up Internet Web traffic, driving Internet policy backwards – as incumbents oft want to do – is not acceptable. Are you still in the fight?

If you’re not already, come follow me on Twitter to keep up with community broadband developments.

And in case you haven’t seen Old Spice dude work his viral magic, check him out here.

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