In France, wine is a better way to riches than the internet. According to latest Challenges magazine, which ranks the 500 richest people in France, the first telecom fortune appears 15th on the list but the first purely internet fortune doesn’t appear until 233rd place. Thirty-one of the fortunes, by contrast, came from wine including nine of the top 100.
Couple underperformance in this powerful medium with a potential restructuring of the wine industry that could result in large job losses and there may be a winning idea: a blog in every pot.
There’s no excuse for the lamentable state of internet access today in (particularly rural) France. One good thing about the internet is that it empowers people in rural areas. Whether you’re buying an airplane ticket or selling hand-made ceramics, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Boston or Bergerac are as long as you’re online. Since part of the reason that the EU has subsidized low-end winegrowers is to prevent rural depopulation, introducing a national plan for broadband access would mean that, through some retraining, people–particularly young people–could stick around in the countryside. Skip manufacturing, which sucks people to factories and cities, and jump right to information technology. Graft a vitis vinifera onto American rootstock, as it were.
So here’s my proposal: take a fraction of the budget for rural development and run broadband wires into the countryside. In fact, don’t even run wires and just go straight for wi-fi. Have it free or low cost for people in their homes. It will be liberating to think about being online all the time for a fixed price instead of being charged by the minute as with phone service.
Need help or training local people? How about an internet training facility next to every tourist office with free access for locals and everybody else pays 3 euros an hour. Any country with 75 million tourists a year should have internet cafes at every turn.
Granted, visiting a room full of active eBay PowerSellers hunched over computers has no value for tourists–even if it were in Provence. But the project is more about getting at bounty of France on line, be it artisanal goods or even information (doing research on France can often dissolve into a dizzying spiral of frustrated google searches, followed by phone calls, and ultimately visits during the appropriate hours). In wine, since many appellation rules prevent the listing of grape varieties on the label, the web is a likely place to turn for such information–and it is the very rare AOC that has a comprehensive web site. Further, a small vigneron could take orders through a web site and relieve the burden on supply staff who are limited to 35 hour work weeks.
But my plan assumes too much of an “old-school” perspective in thinking of redirecting government funds. Really I should be more entrepreneurial. Maybe this idea would catapult me into the top 500 richest people of France? Excuse me while I go talk to venture capitalists…