Avid followers will remember my disappointment at the fact that the 2020 summit never had a Digital Economy stream. Thursday and Friday last week I got to go to our very own mega forum on Realising or Broadband Future.
This was a worthwhile attempt to get some meaningful discussion on what the benefits of the NBN will be. There were a number of plenary sessions the content of which was highly variable. The Government is lucky it wasn't charging a fee (more on this later) because they would have been open to a complaint for misleading and deceptive conduct as three of the advrtised draw cards weren't there in person, and only one of the three being beemed in did so live. The plenaries were overfilled with speakers (the tendency of conference organisers who seem to hate the white space of silence, or the possibilities of discussion), and so there was no interplay between the speakers.
The forum otherwise ran in five streams - of health, education, business, community and infrastructure. Paul Budde has put up a description suggesting people discussed key "trans-sectoral" issues - but actually they were issues within sectors about how the technology will be used.
Each stream had three sessions, the first to identify possibilities, the second roadblocks and the third next steps (in other words what else apart from the NBN should we be doing now). I participated in e-community (because I have an interest and because I thought it would help me get my invite). Each stream had an "editor" who reported back to the final plenary - and there was a wiki at which ideas were captured.
If Stephen Conroy's goal was to have 400 people go out from the conference and proseltyse the benefits of broadband, he will have got it. But these 400 were probably doing that anyway. If he really wanted an action list then he will probably be disappointed.
In general the forum continued to be made up of people who don't distinguish between "broadband" and "faster internet". It was made p of people who don't get the importance (and challenge of) ubiquity. And finally thre were way too many people just willing to believe all the good stuff, and most of the fluff. As an example the e-community stream heard lots about how broadband is a democratising influence, and how it will help keep people in regional centres.
Phillip Bobbit in "Terror and Consent" makes the point that al Qaeda is really a giant e-community - totally enabled by the same communications technologies that enable global trade and global corporations. He also makes the point of the "communications paradox" that the better we make communications, the more people want to live closer together in big cities.
There is much more to write on the forum. In the meantime just note that there is a new OECD report that will be much quoted telling us all that "High-speed broadband networks are a platform supporting innovation throughout the economy today in much the same way electricity and transportation networks spurred innovation in the past."
I will write a note on e-community tomorrow I hope.