I’m going to put aside my differences with the Le Web conference and organizer Loic Le Meur for a moment to address another issue at the event: the complete lack of Internet connectivity, both days.
A good conference has at least three separate connections. One is for the audience and has both wifi coverage and as many ethernet cables as can be managed logistically. A separate ethernet connection should be reserved for the stage to ensure that demos go smoothly. And a final connection should be reserved for the press room so that bloggers and journalists can file reports even if the main audience connection goes down (as an aside, the press room should also have a simulcast of the stage so that press can work from there and cover the event real time). A fourth connection should be dedicated to livestreaming the event (Ustream was doing that at Le Web).
Le Web, which paid €100,000 to Swisscom to ensure lightning fast Internet, had no Internet connectivity. Nothing for the audience, nothing for the stage, nothing in the press room. Ustream had 50% connectivity, and lost some great footage.
Day 1 was a complete writeoff and I left mid day to work from my hotel. On day two there was some connectivity reported by a few people, but I wasn’t able to get access to the Internet until after the event was over.
Le Meur apologized to attendees. Beyond that, there was really nothing he could do. He contracted with Swisscom to take care of Internet access, and Swisscom failed to provide that service. Once the event started, all he could really do was beg them to get it right. They never did.
We had the same problems at TechCrunch50 (day one Internet was a write off, although we had a stage connection). We’ve settled with our provider and agreed not to trash them publicly, so I won’t name the service. But we will never do business with them again.
I was planning on letting this go and not writing about it. But today Swisscom, instead of simply apologizing, denied the problem (translated version here):
Swisscom spokesman Sepp Huber media that the high demands of users and the organizer could not be met. Swisscom is currently analyzing the causes. Huber, however like to stress that contrary to the connectivity different reports about 80% of the two day event was ensured and on the second day of the conference almost worked smoothly.
This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. A complete and total fabrication. And there are 1,700 people who attended the event that can verify this (here’s one!). There was no connectivity during the event, I was not able to blog a word from the conference hall or the press room. There was not 80% coverage. Things most definitely did not “almost work smoothly.” Things didn’t work at all.
In addition to managing the media side of things with outright fictions like the one above, Swisscom will be negotiating with Le Web on the fee. Part of it was undoubtedly paid up front. Whatever Le Web still owes them will be negotiated down.
But forget the €100,000. Swisscom’s actions damaged Le Web considerably. Sponsors and presenters were also damaged because they couldn’t show their content on stage, and press couldn’t cover the news. I wouldn’t be surprised if some sponsors refused to pay their agreed fees.
In a perfect world Swisscom would be writing a check to Le Web for 10x the fee they tried to charge, just to make them whole. But I’m guessing the company included a standard limitation of liability clause in their contract with Le Web. That isn’t bulletproof. Grossly negligent behavior, which is exactly what happened, would likely nullify the limitation. But that would require hiring lawyers and going to court, which is a nightmare and won’t happen.
This is something we think about a lot at TechCrunch, because so many conferences have bad connectivity, and we need to make it perfect at TechCrunch50 next year. There’s a real business here if a large company can get it right and is willing to put a guarantee in place to conference organizers. They can charge almost anything – I’m sure Loic would have paid €200,000 if that’s what it took to get proper Internet for attendees. If they can build a reputation for reliability, and are willing to back up that reputation with a liquidated damages clause for failure in the range of, say, 5x the fee they charge, then I imagine every conference that could would hire them.