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Fit Broadband Policy

Is broadband fit for purpose, writes Lindsey Annison

Some years ago a few of us touted the notion that broadband could become an election issue on the next hustings. And it sort of did, although not to the extent that many of us at grassroots without a connection would have liked. It triggered some hastily written speeches for Party Conferences, though, and some grandiose promises which of course have never been implemented.

As we run up to the next election (<groan> Have the last lot even achieved anything yet?!), perhaps it is time to bite the bullet and consider some of the aspects of broadband that seriously need to be taken on board by those campaigning on the hustings, and also by those who have desks in Whitehall and Westminster, etc. (Could it be they all work from home these days? Doubtful, but it’d be nice to think that at least a few know the difficulties of teleworking in modern day Britain.)

Philip Virgo’s rather canny A Confucian view of UK broadband, spectrum and cybersecurity can be found on his Computer Weekly blog this week, and as we can but hope that the powers-that-be can actually find a free moment to read I would like to expound a little on the piece’s first section, to start educating our potential candidates for those doorstep meetings they shall soon be starting. Last week at TechQT the three considerations Virgo mentions were covered — transmission, capacity and protection — and Martin Geddes finally nailed it (in his inimitable style) to being a simple question that any person can ask and answer:  Is my broadband fit for purpose?

rosetteEven the most non-techie person can assess whether or not the connection that they are paying for (or are using for free in a hotspot) is FIT FOR PURPOSE. It either works to do what you are endeavoring to, or it doesn’t. Simples.

Waiving wayleaves may seem like a simple solution to one problem, and the arguments given by Philip Virgo’s Confucius contributor covers some of the reasons why this is so. However, it goes beyond wayleaves to my old bugbear, fibre tax. We have made it nearly impossible for new entrants to enter a level playing field should they wish to play the fibre game.  Aidan Pauls’ slide show on the UK VOA fibre tax illustrates just how problematic the issue is, and though it may be from 2010, sadly nothing notable has changed since 2000.

As a regulator, Ofcom is over-populated with ex-Telco employees and is toothless. Well, not so much toothless, but it is as if they are putting their dentures back in after a night’s sleep whenever circumstances require they react to current events of the day/week/month or year in a timely fashion. And that needs to change, and fast, if Britain is to catch up with other nations. Plenty of information is out there regarding developments, lessons learnt, what has been tried and tested, etc., so maybe the Ofcom guys and gals just need to get out more?!

Listen to the voters!  Too often our candidates fail to do enough of this simple and essential task, and thus many of those who will be walking the pavements with their pretty rosettes are not sufficiently well-informed. And because they are not well-informed they assume that the constituents are in a similar boat, which is simply not the case. At the very least, the average householder can answer the Is my broadband fit for purpose? question. Enough “No.” responses, offered hand-in-hand with the odd constituent who pipes up to tell a prospective parliamentary candidate exactly how and why this is causing problems with life/work/play, and the message just might make its way back to the Houses in #thatlondon.

Can but hope.  Toodlepip till next time.

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Lindsey Annison

By Lindsey Annison

JFDI Internet marketer, author, Fibre To The Home and rural broadband campaigner, idea merchant

7 replies on “Fit Broadband Policy”

Too often apathy rules, and because so many have less than fit for purpose connection they stay analogue. I don’t know how we will get the people to speak up, the majority have better things to think about such as their day to day existence.
If the government wants its citizens to be digital they have to make it easy. That means ‘fit for purpose’ connections for everyone, so that getting online is simple. Far too many people try it and are so disappointed they just turn off. Rather than struggle with a flakey connection they just continue to go to the post office for their tax disc… How we rally them to raise their voices and declare the ’emperor has no clothes’ I don’t know. If only we had a regulator. If only we had an ASA that did its job. If only we had more journalists who actually reported instead of regurgitating BT press releases… if only…

Here’s a bit more on the history.

To Parliamentary enquiry on 23 Sept 2009:-

Contribution to the Business and Enterprise Committee for their Broadband Speed Enquiry
Reference becpn47 0809 Synopsis
This paper offers the practical experiences of a Surrey village of 1000 properties in attempting to improve broadband performance where the present telephone exchange is too far away at over 3 km. It provides comments on the B & E C questions and additional information
including an outline National remedy. It appears that a nation-wide
communications “rail crash” is upon us which requires similar remedies
and which will not be rectified by commercially competing interests nor
minuscule phone line taxes.

To Surrey County Council 1st August 2011 – acknowledged but never discussed at all:-

Submission for Surrey County Council & Others – An analysis of the likely population coverage of
private sector Broadband deployment plans & the potential danger to SCC’s Broadband project
if these are misunderstood
1. The paper compares data provided by Ofcom and BT’s Fibre-To-The-Cabinet data, together with on-the-ground observations in Surrey.
2. Our analysis suggests that commercially provided superfast Broadband coverage for Surrey is currently projected to be 44% and is unlikely to reach the 80% level on which SCC’s plans have been
3. Therefore the SCC project must deliver adequate Broadband to far more premises than originally envisaged; consequently the project is in danger of failure before it has even begun.

The Government and Europe tell Ofcom what to do, Ofcom then does what it is told. Everything we have, or don’t have, today is ultimately a product of that regulation through the past few decades. Today the market is so complex that making any meaningful change is not a simple matter, with many pros and cons to consider.

There’s no quick fix or golden solution and so that requires a government which can look beyond 5 year terms, beyond 10 and perhaps more towards 15-20 years like with HS2.. only less train and more broadband. But most importantly it would require money and a lot of it, which right now everybody is keen to keep under tight control while the vast majority of our GDP is still debt.

Meanwhile, and overlooking the significant competition issues, the subsidised BT deployment is far from perfect but, despite its complexity, they are going to cover most of the population and deliver better connectivity in a very short space of time and for very little money. But we’ll be back here again with another “upgrade” soon enough, if only there was a clear long-term strategy for 100% coverage.

Agree Mark.
We always seem to be bashing the current ‘superfast’ project, but that isn’t because it isn’t working, its because it is touted as a fix, and it is far from that. It is a marketing exercise, it is full of inaccurate and misleading information, and our politicians and civil servants are either not aware of the laws of physics or are corrupt/stupid/lied to/lazy – whatever.
This country is being left behind, but is believing it is leading just because they have souped up the old phone network to go a bit faster for some.
All we need is the truth. And we aren’t getting it thanks to a multimillion marketing lobby. Even politicians watch tv, where they are bombarded with marketing about ‘fibre broadband’. What they don’t realise is many people’s lines are far too long, and they will still (despite assurances from ED Vaizey that the trail will be audited) be left with rubbish connections.
We need people to let Vaizey knows he has no clothes. We need people to see through the hype. In short, the people paid to look after us should do so. They work for us. Don’t they?

I’ve been reminded this week that I’ve been lobbying government now for 13 years on the fibre tax. It’s not just the fact that we deter new entrants (though that’s bad enough) but also that we make it hard for existing providers to compete with BT due to the differential tax treatment they receive. It’s like forcing B’s rivals to compete with one hand tied behind their backs.

When in opposition ed vaizey was keen on reform. Once in government he was ‘persuaded’ to drop the idea. A cynic might detect the hand of Sir humphrey Appleby at work.

In Scotland the snp were similarly keen, but again officials dissuaded them once they gained power.

I’m not sure quite what’s needed to achieve change in this country when the dead hand of the civil service seems to frustrate change at every turn.

This week I’ve had an inquiry from the treasury asking me to explain the situation (again) so who knows? Hope springs eternal.

Yes its the Sir Humphreys of this world who need sorting, they are making our ministers into fools. The fibre tax is one of the main reasons we haven’t got competition. Good luck, hope does spring eternal.

OK, thanks for all the comments. I needed some time to reflect and for a few things to percolate – bear of little brain, me!

I think we all accept that a short-term government (and who can know without a crystal ball how long the next party/coalition will be in for?) cannot deliver a long-term project. And certainly not when it involves IT of any hue. We have seen it umpteen times in the past across all sectors and citizen needs. If FTTH is anything, it is a long-term solution. It should not even need an upgrade once deployed, if built correctly, for around 30-50 years.

As Peter Cochrane stated last week on Friday’s TechQT, there is never a business case prior to R&D etc for *anything*. In the case of FTTH etc, there should not even need to be a business case. The moment you start discussing ROI, you are talking from a blinkered stance e.g. from the standpoint of the telcos’ accountants and shareholders, rather than taking into account the ROI for every user such a deployment will affect.

So, let’s move the conversation on. We have perfect infrastructure examples from history.

Who of the canal and railway builders could ever possibly have imagined that both those deployments would, in future, generate substantial revenue from a use of time that was almost anathema to the hard-working Victorians – leisure?

There are other examples too of projects which cross generations, and have been built to span decades and centuries rather than just the lifetime of a single government. And also to be adaptable to new uses.

A simple look at the custodianship of land, forests and natural resources by tribes and most (although not all) farmers should show that it is perfectly feasible to grasp what foundations to lay for the future over generations and generations of custodians. It ain’t rocket science after all!

Knowing that we cannot possibly begin to imagine the uses that the infrastructure *may* be put to use for in future, should we not be putting in place the organisation that can act as custodians with the best intentions for the next generations? Can it really be so hard to consider our own children and those who will come once we have passed? Or are we now so “Me, Me, Me” oriented that even that capacity has been lost?

Just to go back to the need (or not) for ROI. I have long argued that if the business case for FTTH was considered for the whole community (and I use that term meaning EVERYONE – emergency services, education, health, all businesses (from waste disposal to insurance companies to chocolatiers, farmers and ropemakers), the old and young, rich and poor, landlords, councils, Post Offices, banks, co-ops and mutuals, vegans and dog owners etc – EVERY single group, organisation or individual which makes up a COMMUNITY), then you would stop asking immediately if FTTH was worth doing now. It is a complete no brainer.

If we cannot put together such an organisation as a country as a whole, then the only way I can see is for each community to JFDI for their own future and to stop waiting on the organisations, quangos and incumbents burdened with past mistakes and cultures that cannot evolve sufficiently quickly to REACT to the requirements of this nation. The associated funds, we now know, are extremely expensive mechanisms to JFDI – that which clearly needs doing.

As for fibre tax: I think that is a whole other article which I will write in the near future! Please feel free to point me to your thoughts on the solution to this dilemma. I first became involved with VOA and property tax way back. It appears that Domhnall also became involved around the same time and I know others have come onboard in the interim so we must have some answers between us all by now worth sharing publicly to achieve a resolution!

(I’m also going to write about the reality in the EU after Mark’s comment about Ofcom. Whilst seemingly correct, I have evidence that it doesn’t stand up on the ground or the UK would not be falling such a very long way behind).

Toodlepip till next time.

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