Building a Gig community is 10 percent technology and 90 percent sociology.
With Chorus’ going on the offensive and the government kicking for touch over broadband pricing in the past week, a quote in my recent reading struck a chord with me.

“Building a Gig community is 10 percent technology and 90 percent sociology.”

This is so true in the case of our urban Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout.

Chorus have the technology to build the network but with the take-up of fibre services running at just over 3% of properties passed, people are not buying in to it.

So sociology is now playing a role in how the issues play out.

Which may be a concern.

In their course prospectus, Auckland University describes sociology as an interest “in how the individual relates to society and how societies change across time.”

This definition is a double edged sword.  It can wreak havoc which ever way it is swung.

That individuals do not relate to an ultra-fast broadband society is evident in their uptake of UFB services.  This is the problem that led Chorus to look to the government for relief from the Commerce Commission’s determination on copper broadband pricing.

Amy Adams’ autocratic solution, to force non-fibre users to pay fibre prices for an inferior quality of service, has resulted in a huge media backlash.  If she had instead taken a people-centric, sociological approach, then she may have made more progress in achieving an acceptable solution.

Which is the solution path Chorus are taking with their Gigatown competition.

The Gigatown winner will be the first town in the Southern hemisphere to have access to one gigabit per second (1Gbps) internet connections.

It will not be Chorus that picks the winning Gigatown.  People will.  And they will do it through social media hashtags.

Over the 12 months of the competition, Chorus will be looking for and counting #Gigatown[your town] hashtags for each competing town.   Hashtags are used on social media websites like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Flickr.  Tags on public pages on blog sites like WordPress and Tumblr will also count.  The more #hashtags, the more votes will accrue to the winning town.

This approach works at the sociological level, much like the Top Town competitions of years past.

gigatown-by-chorusWhether it succeeds only time will tell but from the number of #hashtags noted on the www.gigatown.co.nz website – 635,000 – it looks promising.

The other edge of that sociology sword, how societies change across time, is concerning some.

After several years of studies, researchers at Stanford University came to some disturbing conclusions about the societal changes occurring from the use of technology.

They found that people who use technology to multitask were “…terrible at various cognitive chores like organizing information, switching between tasks and discerning significance.”

Two of the findings were that “Everything distracts them” and that they “… had a tougher time concentrating on just one thing even when they weren’t multitasking.”

“We could essentially be undermining the thinking ability of our society,” one researcher said. “We could essentially be dumbing down the world.”

So whilst I am a strong advocate for fast broadband networks, when they are sold using sociological approaches, problems will occur.

We are already familiar with the issues of individual privacy and security of personal information that are rife at the moment.  Even if we have no solutions to those issues yet, we do at least recognise them.  Which is not the case for how we use technology in our daily tasks.