Published: Nov. 12, 2009

NSF grant to improve decision-making about network technologies

Contact(s): Kirsten Khire College of Communication Arts and Sciences office: (517) 432-0013 cell: (517) 944-1148 khirek@msu.edu

EAST LANSING, Mich. — As the U.S. government and technology providers grapple with issues related to broadband policy, Michigan State University researchers are seeking ways to make business and regulatory decisions around such technology more informed.

MSU has received a three-year, $698,000 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.

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, said Kurt DeMaagd, an assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media, and one of the study’s research partners.

“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.”

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 interactions of government agencies, regulators, technology providers, content delivery providers, advertisers and consumers. The goal of the research is to improve policy decision-making that ultimately affects consumers.

Previous studies have examined only one or several of these stakeholders in isolation, but not in their interactions and interdependencies.

“By comparing a large group of many interacting participants in the information and communication technology sector,” DeMaagd said, “we can see more of the larger picture to help policymakers and managers make better choices.”

The research comes at a critical juncture for the United States, said Johannes Bauer, TISM professor and lead investigator of the project.

“In important areas of information and communications technology, we are falling behind peer nations in Asia and Europe,” he said. “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.”

One example, DeMaagd said, 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 are equal,” he said. “There are competing views on this, and we need ways to make informed decisions on this and other emerging business questions.”

“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,” said Erik Goodman, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and one of the team members. “We are looking forward to building a system that could have a big impact on this industry and possibly others.”

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