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Labour has Upped Broadband Universal Service Commitment in Manifesto #ge2010 #digitalbritain

I know I keep going on about the lack of understanding of technology and the internet amongst the establishment. Another classic faux pas in this space has happened in the Labour Party Manifesto:

Labour Part Manifesto promises 2megabytes USC
Labour Part Manifesto promises 2megabytes USC

where they talk about a minimum broadband Universal Service Commitment of 2megabytes per second.

Most readers of this blog will be savvy enough to know the difference between megabytes and megabits. The latter is what they really mean, the former is 8 x the speed of the latter.

The point is that this is such a basic mistake that it just serves to highlight the total lack of understanding of technology. It also highlights why many MPs voted in favour of the Digital Economy Bill.

Traditionally telcos such as BT have provided the civil service with staff on secondment so that they could contribute to the general understanding of all things telecom. These days people with knowledge of the internet don’t want to spend time in what is essentially a slow moving old fashioned environment.

And don’t get me wrong I have met many highly competent civil servants. There just aren’t enough of them who are technically competent to advise Government.

I also realise that it’s easy to make a mistake with something such as megabits and megabytes. No civil servant will have helped with the generation of the copy so it doesn’t matter how many technically competent bods there are in BIS (pick an acronym – any department will do).

It is however symptomatic of the wider problem and lack of understanding in people who want to control our lives. Lets be realistic career politicians will not necessarily have had the exposure to tech issues – clearly not in fact based on recent events.

If someone can suggest how we change this please feel free to leave a comment. I’d be willing to spare an afteroon to help the next Government whichever party gets in.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

5 replies on “Labour has Upped Broadband Universal Service Commitment in Manifesto #ge2010 #digitalbritain”

maybe we should make it compulsory for all mps to complete the myguide lessons on ukonline site? haha.
seriously though, it was twitter which exposed the megabyte story, and everyone got the pdf and screenshot before they changed it, so we have evidence it happened. The fact that the press didn’t do anything about the blunder simply proves they don’t understand it either.
Today I used the tweeted link to email all the party candidates for my postcode with one email. I asked them what they would do about the debill if they were elected, and what they would do about the lack of broadband in their rural constituency. I have only had one reply back so far, I won’t tell you which party because I think that is irellevent, they are all the same regarding tech, but this is what he said…

“Dear Chris

Thank you for your email.

I won’t try and pretend that I know all the details of the DEB, because I don’t. However from what I do know I would have probably opposed the bill for two reasons, firstly, that I do not think that it should have been pushed through without giving it sufficient time for consultation and debate, and secondly, whilst the DEB was undoubtedly seeking to address the legitimate concerns of the holders of ‘copyright’ material, that is published on the net, in doing so it may lead to internet service providers blocking websites of anyone suspected of using such material.

In essence it appears to be a blunt instrument, however well intentioned, whose main beneficiaries will probably be lawyers!

Re: Rural Broadband. Broadband is becoming ever more essential for business and personal use. To ensure that broadband is expanded into rural areas (the areas where it is not commercially viable for the broadband providers) the Labour government have proposed a new broadband levy on fixed phone lines. This is contained within the Labour manifesto.
I hope this helps?
Kind regards”
Needless to say I replied and put him right… 😉
“Dear Chris

Sorry about the ‘duff’ information! I was using the latest policy information that had been provided for me – which clearly hadn’t been updated!

Please contact me again after the election (assuming, of course, that I’m elected!) and I will see what I can do to lobby for rural broadband?

Kind regards”
All good stuff, raising awareness, but so time consuming… If anyone comes up with an answer to your question they deserve a medal. I think it will take you longer than an afternoon Tref.

Maybe you should get them to switch over to a different unit – minutes per CD or minutes per DVD. The USC of 2Mbps would be roughly 47 mpCD (700MB) which is lame. A Linux ISO (e.g. Fedora 9’s of 3.3GB) would be roughly 220 mpDVD (more if fully packed – 4.6GB at USC yields 307mpDVD) which is even lamer.

You would also have to explain that music and movies are not the only uses for optical storage. Photos, parts catalogs, operating systems for computers, archaeological dig notes with site plans (e.g. the latest interpretation of Salisbury Plain), etc.

This reminds me in part of the old datacomm lesson about why bps is better than baud rate. For the non-technical reader a 1200 baud modem could through encoding tricks deliver 4800 bps of peak speed (due to overhead, divide by ten to get bytes / characters). [Modems and muxes down at 4800 bps and 9600 bps were what I worked with back in 1980.] So that drove home the need to pick one’s units with care due to potential confusion.

The neat thing about mpCD is what happens at 100Mbps (Hekta-Mega). A CD’s worth of data can be downloaded in a minute (one mpCD) or less.

Also, Tref, I suggest you cut some jumper wire into thirty centimeter (30 cm) lengths. You may want to have them as hand-outs illustrating concreteness. Why that length ? Because those are Hopper Nanoseconds.

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