Well, at five or six in the morning, sipping my first cup of coffee before being picked up and taken to the set, I tweeted my annoyance at how bad the broadband was. I suspected a throttle, but wasn’t sure, but anyway wanted to say that it was a pity New Zealand didn’t seem to have a better service. I had been here last year in August, in a hotel. I had been in cafés and museums and other public places that offered WiFi and always I had found the uplink and downlink slower than I am used to.
So what? Fast broadband is not a right (although many propose that it should be and internet access has specifically legislated into the condition of a statutory right in France, Spain and a few other countries). Fifteen years ago broadband didn’t exist outside Ethernet connections in universities and governmental institutions. I remember having ISDN installed before ADSL or cable became an option in London. Before that it was good old-fashioned dial-up. So why visit a country and be so rude about their service provision? A) it’s impertinent and B) it’s trivial.
Absolutely. There are more important things. My tweeting about an issue is not meant to suggest that I think that issue to be crucial, critical or of vital importance. Otherwise I would be doing nothing but twittering about Syria, global warming, the Greek financial bail-out, racism in British football, poverty, HIV/AIDS, species extinction, sex-trafficking and the Occupy movement. There’s the darling Avaaz movement for all that – you couldn’t visit anywhere better. I am allowed to tweet about vagina-shaped pimentos or having just met someone called Henrietta Cock.
It’s not a parliament, for fuck’s sake…
Twitter is called, in case you hadn’t noticed Twitter. Not Earnest Debate, not Focus, not Forum or World Crisis. Just Twitter. And that’s what I do, I twitter away. Sometimes sensibly, sometimes not. I am not the Op Ed page of the New Yorker or a Times of London Leader. I am not a Papal Bull or an Imperial Edict. I am not an elected official or a princeling. I am, in Douglas Adams’s immortal words,’ just this guy, you know?’ And Twitter is for twittering on: so I do.
Yes, I know that I should by now have realised that my smallest utterance might have a disproportionate outcome – but I return to the earlier point. I’m me. Self-conscious tweeting isn’t social: what kind of anal no-hoper would come to a dinner party with a typed list of topics of conversation in their pocket? On Twitter, as around a dinner table, one gets caught up in the real cut and thrust of social interaction. I don’t do these things to attract attention or get special service, I just tweet away.
As it happens, I love New Zealand very much, and I genuinely do think they deserve a better digital infrastructure than the one they have. That my (rapidly typed, highly confusing and incoherent) stream of tweets on the subject so swiftly sparked the national debate it did, on NZ TV news, in the papers and, of course, throughout the twittersphere, genuinely surprised me.
I certainly didn’t expect that Telstra, one of TelecomNZ’s few rivals, would take up the opportunity to being out a full page ad.
Mostly I think it fair to say a majority of New Zealanders have agreed with me. Some were put out by my criticizing their country, but most have travelled abroad and know that the standard of broadband you get back here is not exactly up to snuff. It isn’t perfect in Britain of course, but with a regulator ensuring that the old monopoly (BT in our case) doesn’t hog all the copper wire but must allow it as a pipeline to any of the half dozen or so major rivals, there is competition driving down pricing and driving up service. In theory. Hell, it isn’t perfect in that sector any more than it is in electricity or water provision, or any other form of mixed economy capitalism. It’s better than unregulated capitalism (hello, Enron) and better than monopolistic nationalised industry (hello, Britain in the 60s and 70s). No question, the average Brit, mutatis mutandis, gets a better megabyte for his/her money than the average kiwi.