GWI was recently certified by B Labs as a B Corporation. B Corporations “are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” It was an interesting process, worthwhile but not to be undertaken lightly. One aspect that made it interesting was that we were the first broadband carrier to become a B Corp and there were no B Corporation specific criteria for carriers like there are for other industry groups. B Corp criteria for the broadband industry would be incredibly powerful. Criteria could promote the profound alignment between what infrastructure companies do and what B Corporations are: B Corporations place “serving the public good” as their central purpose equivalent with making a profit. Providing quality infrastructure is a vital public good and broadband carriers supply the network infrastructure communities depend on. Infrastructure is so important because part of its fundamental definition is the ability to multiply positive effects.
If you build a bridge, everyone can easily get from one side of the river to the other for any purpose. They could be visiting family, seeing a doctor, commuting to a job, going to market, going to school. They could be people from the other side of the river coming to buy your products. The same is true for roads. Society depends on electricity supplied by the grid for many uses. We share hospitals, schools, and libraries. The best infrastructure can be used by everyone for a multitude of purposes. The very definition of infrastructure is “a shared input that results in multiple outputs.”
To maximize public benefit B Corp broadband criteria should include technical aspects, digital inclusion, digital literacy, privacy, security. The topic of monopoly should also be addressed.
A broadband carrier should provide a network that is technically good enough so that it does not put the community it is serving at a disadvantage. Rural communities compete, sometimes at a disadvantage, with their urban neighbors for businesses and residents. To stay on the right side of the Digital Divide, a rural community’s network needs to be as reliable, as fast, and as low latency as their well-served urban community counterparts.
It is also vital that the network serve everyone (Digital Inclusion). There is a tendency for networks to be built only in more lucrative areas; this is not in the public interest. It is of great advantage to a community that all its residents have access to a quality network: jobs, telehealth, distance learning, government services, entertainment, and social interaction. If a school can’t educate all its students via the network, then its value to the community is greatly reduced. Likewise for telehealth: all patients need access for it to be truly effective. Inclusion must include affordability and carriers have to be a significant part of the affordability equation. carriers must work with governments and communities to ensure everyone can afford network access.
Broadband also needs to have a significant role in Digital Literacy. It is not enough to just supply the network, people need to know how to use it to their advantage. Because technology always advances, digital literacy initiatives will need to be ongoing for the lifetime of the network. Here, again, the carriers must work with communities to ensure their citizens are digitally literate.
Today, all data flows through the internet. Broadband carriers have a unique ability to monitor and collect enormous amounts of personal data. Carriers have an enhanced and unique responsibility for ensuring that data is kept private.
Security is a major component both of privacy and reliability. Not only do broadband carriers have access to a rich trove of personal data, but penetrating the network allows a significant number of new attack vectors such as “man in the middle” attacks. These attacks are so dangerous to society that they pose a significant national security threat. Our networks are under attack by both private and state actors. Carriers must be constantly vigilant and work closely with local, state and federal governments to insure the security of the network.
One thing that is not in the public’s interest is to have a monopoly network provider; choice is good. Competitiveness lowers cost and increases network quality and features.
All of the above are simply measured and reportable. Technical measures such as speed, latency, and reliability are easy to measure for a carrier, but very few carriers are transparent and forthcoming with this data. Security can be measured and breaches reported. Privacy can be transparently explained and reported. Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion are more interesting measures because they are both a quality of the community and a quality of the carrier. Measuring begins with understanding the community and its unique challenges and shortfalls in its digital infrastructure. Each community is made up with subcommunities that have different digital goals and needs. So measures of digital literacy and inclusion should measure what steps the carrier takes to meet those goals and needs, but also the progress the communities make. Such an assessment needs to be updated regularly. We are going through this process now and will report back when completed.
1 It required significant time: competitive research, data collation, departmental coordination, process, workflow, and metric identification, and corporate governance review. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Fiona Wilson and her team at the Sustainability Institute of the University of New Hampshire for their help.
2 Everyone: “All members of a community regardless of geographic location, socio-economic and demographic status, and historical/legacy biases.”