To summarise the event in one sentence: We all want fibre-like broadband and we want it everywhere but we’re fucked infrastructure wise.
And now follows a longer summary:
I previously wrote about how Eamon Ryan put a half-day open forum together on Next Generation Broadband. He even went on Boards.ie to announce it. I got to go along, along with Damien Callan from Bleep.ie and a few other folks including general consumers and people from Boards.ie. The structure was a room with 14 tables and around each table were civil servants, telco people, people from the EU, consumers/campaigners and other interested parties. In other words, a very good mix, though it all depended on who was at your table. Some fantastic minds happened to be at mine.
It was almost table-quiz in structure as we were given table questions to consider and give answers to over a number of rounds. Each table had someone that would then communicate what the table had decided. Some were good and feedback from people after told me some had their agenda already set and gave that.
Mostly the topics dealt with state assets, future trends, the best way to get everyone broadband, the digital divide etc. Some of the questions were stupid though such as asking to decide on a max and minimum speed by 2010, 2015 and further. Really! Jesus. Targets once set have most energy around them dedicated to rigging them as I happily pointed out to the Dept of Comms rep at the table. (big fan of you by the way dude, love your memos that I got under FOI.) The rep’s Department have lied for years about broadband levels and every Minister with them. Whatever someone wants was my answer and our aim should not be a speed because every prediction has been beyong wrong, it should be whatever the person or business wants. 100Mb, no problem, a gig, no problem. I argued strongly for that.
Then came a typically backwards-thinking question and one that gets my brainblood boiling: What is the killer app for broadband? Dedicating time to figuring out a “killer app” for a medium is wasteful and isn’t addressing the issue. What’s the killer app for water? What’s the killer app for electricity? See, they’re utilities, they don’t need killer apps. (David Isenberg points to a Jupiter survey that shows people will stop going to the movies and paying for movie channels well before giving up their Net) “The killer app” for broadband (were it to exist) is broadband. A free and open pipe and have the world build things in, on and around it.
After the tablequizims, there were breakout sessions to discuss various things and then we all came back together to discuss the results of them. And then something odd happened, despite the whole general feeling of the day about needing of more speeds and better connections the Assistant Secretary General of the Department of Communications stood up and summarised the day and the state of Ireland and said that from the day we see people don’t need or use fast broadband connections and sure all they do is send emails anyway. Planet Nothere called and want their spacer back. Maybe he’s a nice guy, I hear he is but stating that nobody uses their 20mb connection for anything more than email is devoid of reality or just a plain fucking lie and it’s obvious that the Department can do that very well.
So was it just a talking shop? some of the Boards.ie people think so. I don’t. It made the Civil Service do something new: Meet reality and the people that exist there. Not the telco people either but real Joe and Joanna Soaps. Happily ignoring people from an Ivory Tower and only interacting via highly controlled paper consultations didn’t happen. Real people spoke and shared.
What needed to happen though was that everyone there agreed on a todo list for the Department and the Department had to go off and carry some of them out and report back in 3 months. Reality-based todos that can be done, so at least it’s better than nothing at all. Action points were needed. Let’s hope if there is a next time it will have them.