Monday, September 14, 2009

What can Europe learn from China? – the Internet

CEIBS China Europe International Business SchoolCEIBS in Shanghai via Wikipedia
Former Dutch cabinet minister and current executive director at China’s leading international business school CEIBS in Shanghai, Annet Nijs, publishes on October 1 a book that deals with a question that will upset many people outside China. What can we learn from China, and that approach is very much needed, as I discovered the hard way in the past few months in Europe. (The book is currently only available in Dutch.)
Her effort to do some window shopping for Europe for China’s political system reflects mostly the level of despair of established European politicians in finding an answer for the increased popularity of mostly right-wing movements. But where Europe can find certainly good leads is on innovation. Europe is great in writing great conventions on the industry, but very poor on execution.
China has now around 350 million people online, unprecedented for any developing country, and sees the internet as a utility. Its service providers, just increased from two to three, are able to make a profit too, but getting people online as a political priority is their first task. Making money only a second.
How does that work out? The last time I applied for a broadband connection, I arrived on a Sunday and could apply right away. Indeed, Europeans, when something is defined as a utility, offices are also open on Sundays. The next Tuesday, it could also have been on a Wednesday morning, an engineer of China Telecom arrived at the announced time and needed twenty minutes to fix my internet connection.
I paid 12 euro per month for a basic broadband service, that was not as fast as it should be according to international standards, but still kept me connected with the world. The friendly engineer event left his personal mobile phone number, so I could call him in case of problems.

End August I had to look for a telecom and internet provider in Belgium. Because that is mostly packaged in a deal with TV, it needed some more study, but I initially decided to deal with Belgacom, the former state-owned telecom company. Our first appointment for the installation was three weeks later. Panic started to emerge, since my internet connection would be gone the next week.
My whole business and a big part of my social activities had moved online, I had – hail Google – retired most of the Microsoft software and did all my writing online. Without a connection I could not keep up with my speakers’deals and miss potential lucrative assignments. For my work on the WageIndicator, I had to deal with online operations in 45 countries. Without an internet connection I could as well retire myself too.
Customer service at Belgacom seemed to deal nicely with this despaired customer and promised to speed up the process. Installation was moved and it looked that I would only be offline for a few days and I started to look for local wifi-connection.
At the agreed day – we had to stay at home, since they could not give a time – an engineer arrived to fix a phone line. That was the only thing we still had and we started to make a set of annoyed calls to the Belgacom customer service. After much switching, talking and yelling, we learned that somebody had killed the request for an internet connection. Next appointment we could only have in two weeks time.
We decided to kill the deal, went to the only real competitor of Belgacom, Telenet, and they promised to have us online in less than a week.

Thanks to Telenet I could today resume my online life. Friends, who had to listen all week long to my desperate phone calls, said I was not alone; they knew of Internet companies in South-East Amsterdam who were unceremoniously kicked of their internet connection and were left in the dark for two months.
In between I could get online in the local library of Brasschaat, but apart from their awkward opening hours their internet connections were blessing with a censorship system that made China’s filtering like children’s work (more about that in my next rant). A few times I could use the really excellent wifi-connection at a not-so-local McDonalds restaurant.

Those are two conflicting business models. China, where the internet is seen as a utility and treated in the same way as your electricity and water connections are. And in Europe where making a profit is more important and guaranteeing a fast service. (Although Belgacom would even be more profitable is they would send one engineer in stead of three.)
No surprise, I agree with Annette Nijs that Europe can learn much from China. Getting an internet connection done fast should not be that difficult.
Massive delays on larger infrastructure projects are in Europe often blamed on the democratic process that gives some many stakeholders a say. I feel that often it is just a lame excuse for political and bureaucratic laziness.

(Next: Internet censorshop at the Brasschaat library).
{{nl|Annette Nijs - Afbeelding van een (voorma...Annette Nijs via Wikipedia

Annette Nijs is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Are you interested in having her at your conference or meeting? Do let us know.
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