"I’m a huge proponent against expensive conferences, as I feel that the point of these conferences in the first place is to get the community together to learn and meet each other."
As The Dude once famously said, "Well, that's just like, your opinion, man."
I don't think that at all; I think a conference that I pay for should be a learning experience. I think that, for $1000 or $2000 that I should be able to get vicarious experiences from attending the sessions/demos/labs that I would either (a) not have been able to receive elsewhere, or (b) not been exposed to. It should replace my time at a training class, for example, except that it should be broader experiences.
Networking is fine but dude - you simply have it wrong if that's what you think programming conferences are all about. And you have it wrong if you think that tech conference attendance fees are paid for by the individual programmers/devs who attend. Oh sure, there are some folks who pay for these huge costs out of their own pocket but, by and large, this is a "job perk" or a "job training" event that is, thus, paid for by their company.
Sorry but, for most companies, there is no "networking" budget for the programmers/devs.