When Clio began attending conferences in 2008, the availability of WiFi was a legitimate afterthought. Laptops were common but not ubiquitous, tablets were non-existent and the age of the smartphone had just begun with the launch of the iPhone. Since then, the technology landscape has been changed by a plethora of web-enabled devices, and the availability of free Internet access has transitioned from exception to expectation.
Granted, many conference goers now sport go-anywhere connectivity via cellular carriers, but the remote locations of conferences, bunker-like facilities and device collisions often conspire to force those seeking a reliable connection to look elsewhere. This search is often stumped by paywall Internet options that range from exorbitant to outrageous.
Why then, is conference-provided Internet still such a rarity?
Price is inevitably a factor. Many conferences aim to keep costs low and returns high for both organizers and attendees, and adding a several thousand dollar Internet package to the conference tab can materially change the economics of such an event. A value disconnect is another likely cause: as organizers struggle to control the costs they need to absorb or pass along to attendees, perceptions are skewed by the assumption that Internet will be self-provided, or that it is an unnecessary luxury for the conference propellerheads.
Although the former is arguably fair reasoning, the latter underestimates the technical profile of the average conference attendee nowadays. Herein lies the problem: Despite more than four years of ever-increasing pervasiveness elsewhere, the availability of Internet connectivity at legal conferences has stagnated. Free, high performance wireless Internet remains as rare at legal conferences today as four years ago.
As a cloud computing vendor, Clio has a vested interest in advocating unfettered connectivity, but so too do most conference organizers – whether they realize it or not. Buzz begets attendance, and each foregone tweet is a marketing opportunity lost. Convenience also begets repeat attendance. Attendees who can’t blog, check their email, manage their practice or exercise their usual freedom of mobility may think twice about paying the high tax of a lost opportunity to multitask.
Sure, it’s easy to throw stones, and oversimplify the realities of budgeting costs for a conference, but the time has come for organizers to chalk up Internet along side power and light as conference essentials. However that happens, the era of Internet-as-a-Given (IaaG) is already here, and conference relevance, convenience, and success will be increasingly linked to the reality that free WiFi is no longer just a nice-to-have.