After a week of traveling, I have a pocketful of business cards, a stack of taxi receipts, and a hissy fit to throw about conference facility Internet infrastructure.
I spent the early part of this week the DevConnections conference, held at the Mandalay Bay conference center. Then I spent a day at the BlogWorld conference at the Las Vegas conference center (LVCC). In the former case, the wired and wireless Internet connections went up and down more often than- well, after a week in Las Vegas, my analogies are Not Safe For Work. At the LVCC, getting my laptop connected to the WiFi network required 20 minutes, one-on-one tech support from an on-site technician, and a manual server setting on their network.
I wish this were atypical. Unfortunately, it's the common scenario, no matter which hotel or conference center I visit. (And, since I have a moral objection to paying US$12.99 a day for Internet access in my hotel room, I expect the press room and general conference facilities to include this for free.) It's simply stupid; this infrastructure should not be that hard.
I'm not alone. I quizzed other people: have you ever, ever attended a conference with trouble-free Internet access? Few could identify any. (The exceptions, at least for me, were tech conferences where the techies themselves set up the network.) Yet, here we were attending conferences about blogging (the most "connected" activity I can think of) and discussing techniques in developing Web applications. Everything we do, or plan for, tacitly assumes always-on connections... yet I couldn't check my e-mail.
Somehow, the hotels and conference centers get away with this. Maybe the solution is simply for the conference organizers to include an SLA clause in their hotel contracts. If the Internet access falls below some metric, the client doesn't pay. That's feasible, I suspect, except that most conference organizers could generously be described as "not tech savvy." They'are adept at choices between rubber-chicken lunches and at negotiating hotel rates, but I think most hotels only list Internet access as a checkbox on a form. (For which, mind you, they charge a frightening and unreasonable amount of money; in my checkered past, I've been the volunteer chair for several Computer Fairs and suchlike. I've made my own rubber-chicken decisions.)
What will it take to get these facilities to get it right? I'd like to tie up this blog post with a bow and a brilliant "why of course!" solution, but I don't know the answer. What have you seen work - or fail?
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