Broadband connectivity provides a "highway" that carries IP video conferencing, IP telephony and IP data traffic within a managed environment. These IP services work great when everyone understands the limitations and conditions being placed on that highway. Some call these the "rules of the road" – in this case, the ‘digital highway’.
On Monday, April 14, I was suppose to do a presentation to an audience attending theNative Investment and Trade Association’s Nexus Tech 2003 conference, entitled "Aboriginal High Technology & Telecommunications" in Vancouver (the conference event brochure is available online). The plan was to deliver the presentation entitled, "Supporting First Nation Residents to Invest in their Communities" by video-conference from our office in Sioux Lookout. My presentation addressed the need to keep available dollars in the local economy as long as possible through local capacity building using ICTs instead of paying outside agencies for items such as consulting, travel, etc. I hoped to share the success stories surrounding the Kuh-ke-nah Network of Smart First Nations that we are developing using these ICTs and broadband connectivity.
During the early planning stages for this conference event, K-Net staff recommended that ISDN lines be installed at the conference site and a video conferencing unit be borrowed to facilitate the video conference session. This is the usual way to ensure we have a dedicated connection for the presentation and a way to provide some Quality of Service for the video session. The conference organizers placed the responsibility for the connections in the hands of a firm that wanted to use an IP connection for the video session.
The connection tests were done from another site the week before the event. Everything worked as well as can be expected when one uses the public internet for the connection. Unfortunately the day of the event it was discovered that the folks providing the high speed connection to the conference site had a firewall that would not support the receipt of audio and video traffic over their internet service. So another planned video-conference connection did not take place, even though this session and connection had been advertised. Before the event, a few people wrote and phoned me about this presentation so I was anxious to see everything work the way it should have.
Does this failed attempt to demonstrate the importance of video conferencing mean that we should not be using these communication tools for these types of events? Does this type of experience set back the efforts of people to develop broadband opportunities in First Nations? I hope not!
I would suggest that there are lots of lessons learned from these types of experiences. The challenge is to ensure that everyone is getting the correct information whenever these types of situations occur. This is the third time that I have worked with different events where the "video conference" solution failed to provide the type of connection required for true two-way interactive video communication. Even with the ordering of ISDN lines, we have found problems with the local service in some locations. There is no fail-safe solution to avoid every problem BUT there are steps that should be taken to ensure a successful for everyone, especially the audience.
Some of the lessons, I take from these experiences include:
I do hope everyone is able to gain from these experiences, even when they do not work completely as intended. I was able to meet some new people through this experience and learn about some products and resources that I never knew about before. Therefore I feel I learned some more things and that is important.