The social surplus of broadband initiatives in compulsory education
Keywords:broadband, education, return on investment (ROI), social surplus
In 2010, the New Zealand government embarked upon an ambitious programme of broadband infrastructure investment, a process that will continue until at least 2019. Part of this investment is specifically targeted at compulsory education, with initiatives that include bringing fibre connections to the school gate, supporting on-site network upgrades (including wireless) and providing teaching, learning and support services delivered through these networks. Such investments are not made without some projections of the likely rate of return, but calculating return on investment (ROI) in educational broadband is complex, as it encompasses a range of factors. This article reports on an interview-based study engaging a range of stakeholders in educational broadband provision. The study utilises a research model that considers the various elements of social surplus, namely; producer surplus (savings), producer surplus (profit) and consumer surplus (perceived value over and above cost), to explore the elements of social surplus that have been used to define educational broadband ROI calculations and justify the scale of investment. The results indicate that all three components of social surplus are relevant, though the concept of profit can only be seen in the broader context of long term contributions to the economy. A note of caution is that projections of ROI based only on positive returns fail to acknowledge the potential for some innovations to actually increase costs. Further, purely quantitative models do not properly take into account qualitative components of consumer surplus.
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