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Politics

Why the ‘Gigatown’ competition annoys me so much

I know this is possibly a controversial opinion. I know that, in some ways, I should get behind my town’s push to win ‘Gigatown’ – the prize being faster broadband for your city than anyone else, before anyone else can get it. 

The competition, which is also a marketing exercise for Chorus, encourages participants to hashtag all of their social media conversations (not just those that actually refer to the competition) with #gigatown[whateveryourtownis]. Towns with the most social media activity have a higher chance of winning.

The competition is a year long.

At first, it just annoyed me because I started seeing the hashtag everywhere and it got tiresome. I wanted to get on board, I really did. It’s definitely part of my job description to promote Nelson. I love my town, and winning would be a good thing for us. It’d be good publicity, it’d bring more people here, people could do more work from here.

But there are now quite a few more reasons this whole thing irks me.

1. Commitment to “drive the roll-out of a ‘fibre to the home’ ultra-fast broadband network.” to “… 75% of New Zealanders.” was one of election promises made by the National government in  2008. Amy Adams, Minister for Communications and Technology, makes it quite clear in this parliamentary transcript that the government saw a difference between the network being available – and people actually being able to connect to it. What a careful use of words, National – bravo! She admits than, in fact “our expectation for uptake by Kiwi households to the end of the build period in 2019 is in the range of 30 to 37 percent.” (My italics for emphasis).

So, despite making “Ultra-fast Broadband for Everyone” a huge part of the campaign that helped the government into its current position, and despite that Chorus is building this promised network, 63 to 70% of us won’t even be connected to it within the next 5 years.

But that’s ok – the single winning town will get 1 Gigabit-per-second (1Gbps) speeds. While everyone else has to wait minutes or even hours (gasp!) for their movies and music to download, the single winning town will be able to have them in seconds. Those lucky people.

2. Broadband itself is fast. (Anyone else remember dialup or am I too old?) I can download an album in a few minutes. I never have to wait for a page to load. I don’t know if that’s the same for everyone everywhere in New Zealand, but that seems pretty sweet to me. I don’t have any desire or need for “UltraFast” let alone “1Gbps.”

3. My friend Matt coined a great term – “gamifying infrastructure.” That’s exactly what is happening here. Chorus, who by the way hold a complete monopoly on telecommunications infrastructure in New Zealand, are already making millions being paid by our government to sell us this infrastructure. Now, they’ve gone a step further – they want us to compete for them to develop it. They’re pitting us against each other, like a bunch of children fighting over who gets extra lollies. And we’re buying it.

4. This, to me, is about privilege. Yes, access to the internet is becoming, arguably, more of a human right than a privilege, and it’s a vital part of our infrastructure like I say above, but to me it’ll always seem like a privilege. So what I am seeing here is people who already have privilege, competing for more privilege. 

5. This is a massive campaign, with a lot of politics and money tied up in it. I’m not buying it. I’m not going to put my extremely precious energy (which sounds naff and selfish, but when you’ve been sick, you learn) into boosting political and business profile by participating in it – that’s, incidentally, what I get paid to do. Which shows me that the actions of the people who are participating, are worth something. Their participation will be measured as qualitative data for Chorus’s investors, and you bet it’ll come up at the next election. (“Through the “Gigatown” competition, you showed us that UltraFast Broadband matters to you. We’re meeting our election promise by paying Chorus buttloads of money to create it, even if most of you can’t have it because you can’t afford it and you didn’t win it.”)

So yes, participation matters a lot. It can be literally translated into cash, and it shows endorsement of the gamifying of infrastructure development.

Just think about it.

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@writehandedgirl) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

Discussion

22 thoughts on “Why the ‘Gigatown’ competition annoys me so much

  1. Well said. The stupidest thing about the competition is that it totally goes against the whole point of social media – which is not to update your status for the sake of the hashtag, or pressuring or BEGGING other people to RT. Only nine more months to go….

    Posted by KatPickford | January 19, 2014, 6:13 am
  2. Ultimately, I think this money would be better suited to that most of the NZ population needs at some point in their lives: a working health system. Ultrafast broadband that allows you to download something in a second isn’t going to save your life. Yes, we should have reasonably fast internet. It creates opportunities networks and business that New Zealand needs. But we already have broadband, hence the following questions about this government-funded competition.

    1)Why isn’t this money going to working to connect the people in the most remote areas of New Zealand? Those people, likely in business (such as farms, stations, etc) and would likely benefit from internet access that isn’t dialup, or extraordinarily expensive like farmside, which charges $49 a month for 1 gigabite. (ref:http://www.farmside.co.nz/Broadband/Satellite.aspx)

    2)Who’s judging this said “competition”? What is the judging criteria of the “most social activity”? Is that across all platforms? How is “social activity” quantified? It’s certainly not in their faq or terms & condition of the competition.

    3)Chorus FAQ say that larger towns won’t have an advantage ” because the social media and supporters’ points are adjusted for population size before being displayed as ‘Gigapoints’. That means a town of 15,000 has as much chance of winning as a town of 50,000. It’s all about your town’s engagement and determination.Population figures for each ‘town’ are based on Statistics New Zealand 2013 council and electorate data.” Where’s the information that they did this? What how far is the “adjustment”? Interesting that they pick a town of 50,000 and not, oh I don’t know, Auckland.

    The reasons I’m asking this particular question is that a small town “winning” this competition doesn’t make business sense. Why are you going to place a most likely expensive package in a small population? That doesn’t diversify the income of the participants, which may mean lesser uptake of the start up packages than intended. In order for this to make profit, Chorus needs people to sign up with the fibre package The likelihood of the initial packages being expensive is very high (unless government subsidises it, in which they’ll want their money back), therefore you need a level of population that allows for more uptake of said expensive package.

    Why? More population, more diversification of income, more likelihood of a population that can afford the uptake. What overall part of the population that would be able to afford – and benefit – the most from the faster speed? Businesses. Who have the income and money and the ability to expense the high costs in order to make profit, which lets Chorus and the government make profit. Where do most of NZ businesses’ occur? Auckland – which has a 1+ population and thus, a large diversification on income that isn’t possible for a small town. Therefore, who wants to bet the likelihood that of competition “winner” landing somewhere in Auckland?

    So, to sum up: I’d be happy to wrong. SO happy to be wrong if they put this in a smaller town. But from a business perspective that is looking to make profit, it doesn’t make sense. All this competition does is make people suggestively excited about this product as a thing they Must Need, if their town – or their near vicinity is lucky enough to win this government and business packed “competition.”

    Posted by Michelle | January 19, 2014, 6:58 am
  3. You make some very good points and I can’t disagree that the current format of the competition is a far cry from the desired goal of Chorus to “bring out the best ideas for using UFB”. I believe this focus on raw social media numbers must change over time.

    From our small town’s perspective, Gigatown is more than just a chance to attain infrastructure that would transform our local economy for the better (although that would be nice). Those of us behind our campaign see the competition as a catalyst for a community-wide discussion about an inclusive digital future.

    Could that happen without Gigatown? Probably, but it hadn’t until now. That’s our prize, whether or not we win Gigatown.

    I agree it’s a shame every town in NZ couldn’t be having the same discussions about their UFB future right now.

    Posted by John Hart | January 19, 2014, 7:04 am
  4. I agree, almost 100%, which is why it seems nitpicky to point out the one thing that I don’t agree with. But, it’s such a common discourse that is repeated, that I thought it was worthy to comment on.

    I don’t buy the “broadband is fast, why would we need faster” discussion. Yes, there may be any particular need for gigabit internet today, but if there’s one thing that we’ve seen on the net, it’s that developers shift to make use of the speed that is available. More and more of what we need as citizens (in addition to what we want as consumers) is being made available online. As speeds increase, so do the abilities to offer more.

    My biggest issue is that this decision should be being made based on which areas need it most, not based on a competition. Maybe MPs should be making submissions on behalf of their regions as to why they need it the most. Maybe based on the most community projects bringing IT into schools and community groups? Or areas whose current infrastructure is most lacking.

    UFB is important, it is important for communities, it’s important for business, it’s important to keep NZ competing as a first-world country. But the gamification of the rollout is a joke.

    Posted by Mark S | January 19, 2014, 9:14 am
  5. it’s basically a copy of what google did in Kansas City, but a year long. OH my, even 3 months feels excessive

    Posted by Sue Tyler (@styler) | January 19, 2014, 10:32 am
  6. Nice post bashing Chorus and the Govt, rather than the competition itself.

    You have been misled (or you simply don’t know) a bunch of points.

    1) UFB is rolling out too 75% of homes. Chorus has a contract for about 70% of the 75%.
    As for the 30-37% figure – that is for people actually buying the service. Which is largely outside of Chorus’ control. It is up to the public and ISPs to buy/sell the services.

    2) just because you don’t have a use for it, does not mean that others don’t.
    It also doesn’t mean the need is not coming – think AKL motorways built too late, etc.
    I bet you would complain if you wanted it and it wasn’t there yet!!

    3) Chorus is NOT being paid millions by the govt. Chrorus is receiving a long term loan – it all has to be paid back.
    You really do need to investigate the FACTS!!

    4) what!? I don’t even know what to say here, this is just weird.

    5) Gigatown is about showing people what is possible in the future. And again, the Govt is NOT paying money to Chorus.

    Your narrow minded and misinformed view is the kind of thing which damages New Zealand’s economic and technological growth.

    You also say that people are encouraged to hashtag ALL conversations. That’s not true – posts not relevant to gigatown, spam of the hashtags, etc – doesn’t get counted.

    Have you even read the gigatown website?

    Seriously, if you don’t know what you are talking about – don’t comment on it. Headlining the post as an ‘opinion’ doesn’t mean you can simply make everything up.

    Posted by Really? | January 19, 2014, 7:27 pm
  7. It seems this upset you, that was not my intention. I was trying to provide the counter argument/facts.
    Perhaps I can help you understand why UFB and Gigatown are actually good (aside from some annoying hashtags)

    Posted by Really? | January 19, 2014, 7:48 pm
  8. 1) That doesn’t contradict anything she said.
    2) Yawn.
    3) I haven’t read the exact details but tbh I don’t consider a massive loan any better. There are higher priorities for that money right now. Govt is showing where *their* priorities lie and it’s something that will benefit only a few (as this post explains pretty clearly).
    4) To compete, you need to already have internet. People in eg remote/rural areas who don’t have good or any connections can’t compete. The better internet you have, the easier you can compete. People who already have good stuff are competing for better stuff. See, that’s not such a hard concept, is it?
    5) “What is possible in the future” is fractionally faster internet for people who already have fast internet? Yip-de-fucking-doo-dah. I’m so glad we can look forward to that, instead of something silly like saving some native species from extinction or lifting a bunch of people out of poverty or rebuilding Christchurch or all of the above.

    If you reply to me with a bunch of snooty whining about how I don’t understaaaaand, be aware that I probably won’t reply, because I have better things to do than spend a day arguing with someone so invested in acting like a condescending asshole.

    Posted by V (verbscape) | January 19, 2014, 7:51 pm
  9. I think I did express that I see the benefits and considered if I wanted to support the campaign or not.

    Thank you for the sort-of apology, though I think your tone was pretty clearly intended to upset me, which, Yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m sensitive enough that being called out in such a way bothers me.

    Posted by writehandedgirl | January 19, 2014, 7:57 pm
  10. Nice post bashing the author, instead of actually looking at the issues that she raises.

    The government had been very intentionally using language which indicated that 75% would have UFB. Yes, it’s largely out of their control who chooses to sign up, but they were obfuscating that point for a long time, until the Amy Adams quote listed.

    As for the Gigatown website – I’m a regular/heavy user of social media, and I hadn’t even been there until this morning. I had no idea that it existed. Which, to me, is a complete failure of the marketing campaign. Having now visited it, while they note that spam will not be tolerated, they don’t actually suggest that posts need to be relevant to the hashtag, just that attempts to spam the hashtags will not be counted. I have seen the hashtag disrupting numerous conversations on Twitter that had nothing to do with the competition.

    And the author is 100% correct in her assertion that this is an issue of privilege. This is opening up a competition for better access to those who already have access, who have the technology for access, who have the disposable income for internet access. It is also all about disposable time – if you are lucky enough to have the time to read blogs, to tweet, to post to fan pages, then you are automatically in a position of privilege, something we can all afford to be aware of.

    Posted by Mark S | January 19, 2014, 8:01 pm
  11. I like all your points except number two suggesting broadband is fast enough. No it’s not! I rely on a good connection for work (not just downloading movies) and I’m constantly slowed down by Internet speed problems.

    Posted by Hannah | January 19, 2014, 8:05 pm
  12. Weird that you didn’t start with that: pointing out why UFB & Gigatown are good (which you haven’t actually done; your counterargument seems to be ‘no, you’re dumb’) rather than suggesting Sarah didn’t do her research, has made things up, and is narrow minded (you’re surprised she’s upset? Is that how you normally argue your case, with ad hominem?)

    Posted by runningwhio | January 19, 2014, 8:08 pm
  13. To compete, you have to be in a UFB area, so most rural/remote people aren’t part of the competition. I’m not sure if this invalidates your comment or makes the privilege assertion even more true 🙂

    It’s not fractionally faster, it is exponentially faster. which makes a lot of difference to people and businesses. (maybe not you personally, but A LOT of people and businesses – ie its good for the economy.)

    Posted by Really? | January 19, 2014, 8:15 pm
  14. yeah, got carried away and made some snarky remarks, sorry. I’m not good with people.

    A competition of this scale is always going to have a website, etc. its not difficult to find – I realise if you have no interest in the competition, then perhaps that is why you didn’t know about it.

    This competition is absolutely about bringing faster internet where fast-ish internet is already possible
    only Chorus UFB zones can compete. it is about marketing UFB and the possibilities it brings. No doubt about it. Viewing that as a privilege issue is (in my opinion) putting a spin on the exact intentions of the competition.

    UFB – fibre to most of NZ.
    Gigatown – an advance trial of ridiculously fast internet to one of the UFB towns/suburbs/areas.

    Posted by Really? | January 19, 2014, 8:23 pm
  15. If you can’t attach your real name to that sort of response, you need to consider whether you should be replying at all.

    Posted by Hamish Campbell | January 19, 2014, 8:25 pm
  16. yeah, I’m a dick. sorry for the snarky comments.

    I do believe the authors view is a bit narrow minded and some further investigation may have
    1) made her realise UFB and gigatown is good
    2) made a more convincing argument (probably the wrong word) or a more balanced opinion as to why gigtown is bad.

    its just such a negatively toned post and some of the negativity seemed misguided. (much like my own negativity)

    Posted by Really? | January 19, 2014, 8:28 pm
  17. You know what’s extra winning? Responding to other commenters like runningwhio apologising to *them* for being snarky and talking about “the author” as though she isn’t right there replying to you herself.

    Posted by QoT | January 19, 2014, 9:55 pm
  18. I’m sorry that the tone of the post is negative. I felt very negative about this topic, and my blog is a place I use to rant. You must be a first time reader 🙂 I tried to offset this with my introduction, recognising that gigatown would perhaps mean good things. I understand your points, but I don’t think I’m required to “realise that gigatown is good” or even to give a “balanced opinion.” It’s my opinion. It’s going to be skewed one way or another. My aim wasn’t to provide all the for/against points. It was to help people understand why this topic pisses me off. I think I explained that pretty well.
    Kind regards
    “the author” (Sarah)

    Posted by writehandedgirl | January 19, 2014, 11:28 pm
  19. A slightly more measured response:
    The only two real factual corrections here are to do with whether the govt money is a loan or a payment, and hashtags. Neither of those things change the fundamental *nature* of the promotion – that it’s “gamifying infrastructure” (great phrase), rewarding people who are already at an advantage, etc etc. If someone’s opinion is that those fundamental things are bad, the finer details about financing are unlikely to make any difference.

    So, even if you had made your points in a polite, reasonable fashion – opinion is opinion. People who think the premise of “Gigatown” is icky are going to keep on feeling that way and you haven’t actually offered anything to counter that.

    Posted by V | January 20, 2014, 12:42 am
  20. Dude, no. There are so many reasons why someone might not want to attach their real name to internet comments. There’s plenty to criticise in the comment itself without going down that route.

    Posted by V (verbscape) | January 20, 2014, 12:43 am
  21. @Verbscape I should have emphasised “that sort of response”. There was nothing in the comment that could not have been presented as a thoughtful and polite response. If, however, someone posts personal insults anonymously, they’re abusing a privilege gifted by the blog author.

    In other words: I think you have every right to share useful and insightful commentary anonymously, but if you’re going to insult someone, you need to put your own reputation up for ante.

    And I guess it doesn’t have to be your “identity” as such. We all run in different communities, and our persona’s have value to us, even if they’re not always linked to your name and address. It’s enough, I think, to put *something* on the line.

    Posted by Hamish Campbell | January 21, 2014, 1:55 am
  22. Just thought you might be interested in knowing that Nelson schools already have ultra-fast broadband.

    http://www.vln.school.nz/discussion/view/808659

    Posted by Catherine K | January 23, 2014, 2:17 am

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