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.