Internet Empowerment and Government Involvement

Fr_dp Last year, I was invited by the APDC to speak at their annual conference. The theme was Power to the People and I spoke about what I saw as the potential implications of connectivity on citizen empowerment. It was also a great excuse to show one of my favourite examples of internet acting as a substitute to media worried about irritating the government.

As you are no doubt aware since this got workdwide coverage, there's been a lot of uproar in France about the planned "election" of Jean Sarkozy as the head of EPAD, the public structure that manages La Défense, the largest business park in France (and, in fact, in Europe). As of last night, Jean Sarkozy is no longer candidate (although he was elected to the board of EPAD at lunchtime today…)

Beyond the political issue – which I won't bore you with and would not be appropriate for this blog anyway – it's interesting to me to look at the role internet played in this turn of events. What's interesting is that, while the professional media did cover the event, it looked like it would be a short-lived coverage until internet started going crazy with the story:

  • nearly 100.000 people signed an online petition asking Jean Sarkozy to withdraw his candidacy. The servers were saturated for several days so that email confirmations took up to 24 hours to reach signees.
  • dozens of websites started tracking every news and mention of the scandal in the national and international press
  • dozens of cynical, critical and most importantly funny videos started buzzing about on the issue
  • twitter went ablaze with a chuck norris-esque meme under the hashtag #jeansarkozypartout

Originally, I thought that what might get the president and his son to cave in would be dreadful popularity poll results. That didn't happen, at least not in Sarkozy's traditional electorate. But the internet pressure kept the traditional media on track for nearly daily coverage of the issue (including several fairly strong front pages like that of Libération or Marianne) for the last three weeks.

That, it seems, did the trick and a large part of it is thanks to the power of the internet. It's hard not to find that elating in many ways. Turns out internet is transforming our societies in more ways than we perhaps originally anticipated. It's reducing the power of democratically elected governments to spin the message. It's also starting to look like the emergence of a more direct democracy model which might or might not be a better deal than what we currently get.

But back on track, how is this relevant to FTTH? Well strangely enough it is, at least here in France. I was on a panel at the Odébit salon in La Défense late last month and someone asked the panel if there was a chance of seeing national level public investment in FTTx in France. The context of the question is a large public loan that is in the works in France. My answer was that you just need to look at how the current government speaks about the internet to understand that they are not fans – and that's an understatement.

Hadopi (which was finally voted in yesterday) is just the tip of the iceberg, and there have been numerous stories ever since this presidency started that were shunned by the traditional media and became so big on the internet that it could no longer be ignored. I suspect that this latest illustration of the "power to the people" phenomenon will do nothing to endear them to bigger internet pipes and wider internet availability…