Monday, October 17, 2005

The Beginning............and PacINET 2005

Bula and welcome to Singh-a-Blog!

This is where I will ramble on all sorts of stuff. All views, opinions, commentary, etc. etc. are my own and do not necessarily represent PICISOC and/or the Organisation(s) I work for.

Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way......its ramble time!

OK, so PacINET 2005 is over and done with. Many trials and tribulations, issues high and low in getting it up and running, but smiles all around at the end and in typical Pacific fashion, it all worked out in the end (with a lot of screaming and jumping up and down before and during).

The welcome by the Kiribati Committee for delegates arriving off the plane was well received. There is nothing like a fresh chilled coconut being thrust in your hands shortly after the heat off the tarmac hits you. Of course a dash of vodka or gin would have made it more interesting ;)

We noticed just about half the plane were PacINET delegates - nice of Air Nauru and its hard-working agent Karea to finally come through with the discounted fares. But sadly, there is no free beer on Air day ma'afatu.........or BYO?! :(

For those who had not visited Kiribati before, a bit of a shock - no hills mountains, jungle vegetation, rivers, etc. - that's why its called a coral atoll!

Off the plane, check into Hotel and hit the Parliament Buildings (well not exactly - there was the couple of XXXX for lunch with my new friend Ian Thompson, who I discovered was an Aussie living in NZ - huh?! - its typically the other way around!). So once a liquid lunch was out of the way, it was off to Parliament we go and into the Kiribati ICT Policy Workshop.

Full marks for the Kiribati ICT Policy Workshop - what came out at the end actually made sense with timelines and clearly identified goals and objectives. This is unlike other such efforts which essentially amount to vapourware and free drinks and chow for the participants. I hope the policy document is endorsed by the Kiribati Govt and then implemented - it would put some of its larger, "ICT focused" neighbours to shame......

PacINET proper kicked off on the Monday with a full room and a comment directed to yours truly that his opening speech was so short - I figure why bore people to half-life with long, drawn out speeches - thats what Blogs like these are for :)

We had an interesting mix of presentations through the week. Many thanks to Kenji-san for filling in some of the dead time in-between with his presentations - Aari gato! We also had some local participation in the Open Mic sessions, which was good to see - its no use the foreigners just rambling on - PacINET is about taking ICT to the locals and we want to see locals interact, not just sit and listen, nod their heads, smile and then slowly slip out the door when no one is watching!

Friday was Vint's arrival. We cruised through the AGM in the morning. No real dramas here. Several earlier Board resolutions were endorsed, which was pleasing. I look forward to some progress on some of the initiatives that were brought up - SIGs (Special Interest Groups) will, I hope, one day develop into an important and integral part of PICISOCs activities. We also brought up the issue of doing something concrete (as opposed to the usual lip service) for ICT development - how about a Wireless Network for schools in Kiribati - why not? Put it in, then pressure the service providers to support, if not let's kick up a stink about it - maybe the smell wil reach someone who will give a damn and do something about it. Let's see how this goes....

So to Vint Cerf, Father of the Internet (he does not like that title too much, he reckons there were more than a few fathers, but too bad - it sounds damned good!). Franck and I drove (sped?) to the Airport, I got dumped at the VIP Lounge and went through the door, and there he was, as often decribed, immaculately dressed in his trademark 3pc suit, the true gentleman! I walked up in my Bermuda Shorts, Bula Shirt, Loafers and a big smile and introduced myself, the traditional Japanese hand-shake followed and we sat down to have a chat. Also with Vint on the flight was Jimmie Rodgers of the SPC - nice of him to come to Kiribati and participate - we need to see more of this from other leaders of the Pacific Island NGOs - you need to be in touch with the locals and people at the grassroot level, and not just move in your high-end social circle and whisper and moan about how bad things are and how much you are doing. Kudos to Jimmie, we certainly need more like him. And yes, for those who must be wondering - he should get the top job at SPC - enough said!

Moving on, it was back to the hotel for Vint and Jimmie to check-in and then the afternoon session.

This year we introduced the PacINET Forum - something I had been thinking of doing for quite a while. I hope to make this a regular feature of PacINET, and once they kick me out as Chairman, I hope the Forum continues - it has much to give and add to PacINET and the region. We discussed Natural Disasters and how can ICT help? - a relevant theme in light of the Asian Tsunami - the Pacific is so very vulnerable to events like this and I would hate to even think what
would happen to some of the Pacific Island countries. :(

Vint's Keynote Address was first up, and he presented some interesting statistics and observations. We also found out that Vint is a citric surgeon........

For the Forum we had a live video link-up with Harry McConnell? and his team at JTAI Brisbane and Prita Chathoth and her Team from World Bank/WHO in Sri Lanka. The video link worked perfectly during the tests earlier, but as Murphy always dictates, it screwed up during the Forum. After some creative engineering, we had it going albeit a bit delayed and not as perfect as I would have liked it, but I guess somethings are just beyond our control - we had issues with bandwidth (Kiribati only has 1024/512k for the whole country). We had Harry and his team discuss the experiences in Asia and various efforts they were involved in, and we then launched into the local Forum panel and their views. We had Vint, Jimmie, Wolf and myself in the local panel and some interesting discussions ensued particularly on infrastructure limitations and what we can about it. Next year we may have to lengthen the time allocated to the Forum so we can have more audience participation.

Saturday were more presentations and Sunday was a picnic. Vint, Jimmie, my better half and I elected to go on a tour of the Tarawa battlefields - the sea ran red with blood when the Americans tried to take Tarawa from the Japanese Imeprial Army. The tour was very good - recommended for anyone going to Kiribati who has an interest in War History. I also found out that, much like myself, Vint has a keen interest in War History.

Monday morning was a visit to Telecom Kiribati where Vint and I preached the merits of IP and why they should embrace it now - I do hope they do - there is much to be gained by adopting IP in the Telecommunications infrastructure - I know - that's why I am called the "Reformed Telco".

Shortly after it was a mad race to the Airport and back to Fiji!

Before I finish this piece, I should mention that Samoa is hosting PacINET 2006. For the first time we had 3 formal bids for hosting PacINET which was great to see. I look forward to seeing more delegates (we had 100+ this year) in Samoa. It went to a vote between New Caledonia and Samoa as Fiji withdrew its bid in the morning prior to the AGM. I must add that Fiji still got votes during the AGM..... :)

Thanks to all those who made PacINET 2005 possible, Pacific Internet Partners - Don and the team, thank you for your kind assistance in getting delegates to PacINET and I hope you can increase the scope of countries you offer assistance to, our corporate sponsors - thank you for parting with your hard-earned cash (and in kind contributions). The Local Organising Committee also worked hard to deliver a fine experience for all and Korabwa for your efforts. We hope to see you all again in Samoa if not sooner!

Next post, maybe I tackle some issues closer to home.....