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Thursday, 12 December 2013

Been a while - how is FTTH doing?

Read more! I took a break, nothing wrong in that, eh?!
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

After all, visiting some 20+ US based networks and hearing about many more, worldwide, sorta blew my mind.

Well, it did and then didn't really, as I heard too much of the same old, same old. And the good stuff I am forbidden to talk about.

It might seem wrong to come at this a year later but I was advised to let things percolate before writing.

So, never one to ignore those I respect, I have done as told.

Here's my thunking now. A year later:

Sadly, very little has changed.

Read more!

Monday, 11 March 2013

BT continues to spread FUD

Read more! Definition FUD. Fear,
uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics and propaganda.


Some time ago, we were discussing what purpose BT's Vital Vision programme was a) intended to have and b) was having in actuality in changing the mindset of, in Vital Vision's own words, "...some of the UK’s most influential public sector leaders".

As concerns about the reach of this, cough, marketing programme became more public, promotional material about Vital Vision began to vanish off BT sites and the web. As was noted in an exposé of BTs influence on Suffolk County Council

This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

Disappearing webpages and content from a company such as BT is in itself odd. (Read more about Vital Vision in BTs own words.)

However, it did seem to achieve the desired effect and shove the issue of BTs influence of local government under the carpet. For the mainstream press. Not for those of us involved in trying to listen to, support and report on this matter of continuing and increasing concern.

The growing weight of evidence is hard to ignore any longer, especially in regional and local government. I apologise for the length of this post but this is only a handful of the examples available to illustrate the issues.

As BT expands beyond being a simple telco /incumbent (obviously no money in such things now,eh?) and begins to offer local government services (e.g. Lancashire County Council and One Connect (BT) are not only partnered for the obvious -ICT and telephony, but One Connect also delivers benefits services (in charge of the crisis benefits system no less), HR, Payroll and multiple other non-telco related services), it does rather beg the question whether BT is being permitted rather too much of a foothold within local government and hence too much say in local policy. And local politics.

After all, HR (to pick one example) is not BTs forte. To such an extent that BT appears to have outsourced its own HR to Accenture since 2000. So, why go there? Ah yes, local government contracts are lucrative, even in times of public sector cuts. Especially when sold with the carrot of savings, particularly in efficiency and workforce. However, one should ask as an aside whether having Social Services, Children's Services and Crisis Benefits for the most needy in our society dictated by a telco's contractual targets rather than the needs of the suffering individual human beings needing services is actually following "the principle of ‘the customer at the heart of everything we do’" as stated in One Connect's first year review first paragraph for LCC.

This pattern of BT having fingers in many local government pies is echoed across the country, and a little research eg of Suffolk for starters, reveals definite unease at possible undue influence (and worse) on senior local govt officers at County level.

From the outside, it does appear, on regular occasions, that County Council employees at all levels are rather too vocal in their public support of BT. Often to the (total) exclusion of local businesses and community projects who may be delivering a superior service to the Council's constituents than that proffered currently, or planned.

Why? Are they being brainwashed by the carefully crafted marketing hype and sales spiel? Is it so difficult to look back less than a decade and question whether what has been delivered to date matches previous, paid for, 'promises'? Or is that all they are told? Is this really a sound basis for well-considered, impartial decision making? Or have these vocal advocates perhaps been Vital Visioned or Common Purposed? (FOIs regarding CP to many Councils are revealing: there is a growing reluctance, shall we say, for councils to answer how many of their employees have been on a Common Purpose course).

From here, we could look at BTs influence on Westminster (which concerns very many people and companies) but let's devolve downwards instead.

Parishes.

As a former Parish Councillor from
a family with over 30 years PC involvement, it always concerns me to hear of parish councils under fire. The job is hard and thankless enough as it is.

A reminder about Parish Councils: "As the lowest tier of democratically elected representatives in the country, parish councils have the mandate to speak on behalf of the people they represent. It is important that parish councils learn how to do this with authority and integrity in order to have the optimum effect."

Over the course of more than a year, evidence has begun to emerge of a number of parish councils and individual Councillors targeted by BT and being put under pressure by BT, which now appears to include threats.

Do any of us need to look at the (all too obvious reasons) for BTs behaviour? Not really.  There are far too many column inches and white papers already covering the Whys. It is however worth taking a long hard look at the tactics being deployed. And, worse, the thinly veiled threats being made to PCs and individuals of good standing eg ELECTED Councillors, by BT.

A quick bit of background: for well over a decade, BT has been endeavouring to deliver broadband on the ground. Or into it. That is no secret. 10 years ago ish, with the trigger level campaign highlighting to many, mainly rural areas, that BT was not planning to deliver broadband any time soon to their patch, many set to and embarked on the JFDI DIY path. This, in many instances, upset BT. Publicly voiced support for such initiatives often hid behind the scenes efforts to scupper community plans.

As an example, leased lines needed for community backhaul were delivered late, if at all; trigger levels on tiny non-viable exchanges where community work had begun were magically achieved overnight (on one notable occasion iirc by more people registering than actually lived there!); blanket advertising campaigns offering services which frequently could not physically deliver the services offered (yes, yes, read the small print, thrice, to understand it) appeared on doormats already involved and often committed to local projects; articles appeared in the local and national press attempting to discredit community projects, generally and specifically; and so on. Many of us had inboxes full of requests for help from villages and villagers who were facing what can only be described as bully boy tactics.

And then came that wondrous time where ADSL reached 99% of the country. The job was done. Ministers hailed Britain's success in the global broadband league from the rooftops. Mainstream media proclaimed all was well.

But the facts showed otherwise. As did the growing number of complaints from around the country about what was, loosely, termed "broadband".

The cycle began again. Down the pub, locals discovered their neighbours were in a similar predicament. Again. Fora online began to fill with tales of broadband woe. Again. Communities began to seek solutions. Again. Government realised all was not so rosy and decided, in that inimitable Westminster Village style, to throw an insufficient amount of consideration and money at the problem, and hence only permit at best a quick fix. Again. Which most unsurprisingly did not suit the vast majority of vendors nor, inevitably, the customers across this fair isle. Again.

And so to today. Lengthy, in some cases interminable, discussions ensued at regional level to spend the pot allocated. Many observers, including thousands uninterested in the technology but excited about how it could, finally, improve their lives, began to feel growing disquiet. After all, memories aren't so short. The British population had heard all this before and it was quite clear that little would improve significantly for the very many struggling to exist on so-called 21st century Britain telecommunication provision.

New companies were formed to challenge the duopoly.  After all, it was clear and still is that there is a window of opportunity wide open for agile, fast-moving, grow-organically, non-megalomaniac type FTTH (full fat fibre to the home) providers. Especially into rural areas. Projects such as B4RN began to inspire communities and parishes. "Let's JFDI".

You'd think that a handful of community projects looking to connect in the low hundreds of properties each wouldn't bother a behemoth such as BT. But, oh no. For some reason, once again, these projects scare them. Little itty bitty parishes with less than 400 homes are being targeted with increasingly unpleasant letters. In fact, threats. And threats to named Councillors, as well as FUD, as you will see below. To the point where parishes and Councillors have had to seek legal advice to potentially fight BT for so-called wrongdoing.

The crime? Supporting A N Other company or project to deliver broadband. And stating so, publicly. Which, one would think, is referred to as Freedom of Speech. It is also 100% permissible and breaking no laws WHATSOEVER as long as there is a non-pecuniary interest.

Further to this, it seems that anyone who speaks out against, challenges or even waxes satirical about BT is likely to receive a cease and desist letter. Read more on the Superfarce (yep, you read that right!) Cymru affair on
Broken Telephone. (And go look at the Superfarce Cymru site - it will make you smile all day!)


Note: I am redacting names. Whilst I believe this is pointless as BT know damned well who they are writing to, and applying pressure to, the places involved are already inundated with enquiries from others in a similar boat, journalists, campaigners, pro bono lawyers etc. Which, to my mind, reflects how serious, and potentially widespread, this problem is becoming.

Let's start in the deep South. A county with a history of broadband activity. Recently, an article appeared in the local paper in which a Chair of a Parish Council just connected to a "superfast" (only compared to the dial-up level broadband suffered till then) service was extolling the benefits of the county-wide intervention as regards his Parish.

This resulted in an email dialogue from a concerned member of a neighbouring parish asking (and rightly so) which businesses and homes had actually benefited from the rollout as the article had been very non-specific and was mainly comprised of the Parish Chair's gushing praise of BT.

Cue extremely defensive response from the Chair. To wit, he opens with:

"I cannot and will not discuss any individuals' experience of before/after superfast and I will not be drawn into any technical discussion as to whether the approach applied by [the superfast intervention project]  is the optimum for any particular part of the County."

Interesting. Why not? It is a fair and polite email request.

The writer of the original email raises very valid issues in his reply:

My concern is that [the superfast intervention project], and it would seem you too, believe it is OK to promote a solution that provides service with a very limited life expectancy to the ‘low hanging fruit’ rather than to support, or fight for, a solution that would bring a upgradeable service to everyone who needed it. I suppose it is a case of only pleasing some of the people some of the time. I note your comment that more than 50% of the Parish can now receive the new service, this is one of the issues I hope to discuss with [person im charge of superfast intervention project] as I am concerned that the percentages being quoted may well be higher than areas such as ****** are actually able to achieve, the 80-90% quoted for [the County] as a whole is also of great concern to me."

Parish Chairmen are, in general and in my experience, folk of strong will, strongly held opinions, and are often a force of nature (you need a bloody thick skin to be one for any length of time) so it comes as no surprise to encounter such a bullish response. In fact, it must make it all the easier to get folks onside for a corporate. But the most telling comment came in the cover note which accompanied these emails:

"A good illustration of how BT/[superfast intervention project] are turning those who should be looking to the future for their communities into supporters of the poor current efforts.

I do despair for [county], with attitudes like this it will continue to be a back water…."

Elsewhere, a parish council member with too many pals involved in the BT/county rollout and a seeming desire for a career move up the local government ladder is deliberately obstructing a community plan. (I can't go into details as I think it would identify the chap involved.) The problem is, everyone locally knows what he is doing and can see the impact this is having on their (his too) neighbours and the project which has been wholeheartedly backed by this community. Come next election, he won't be voted back in. BT won't care that his unstinting, presumably voluntary, support for their profit making has resulted in him being shifted out of his community role. But he might come to realise that his life in this place is a little less comfortable now he has alienated the community he purports to serve in favour of a faceless PLC.

Let's move north a little for the next example.

There is a village in another county who, because of the poverty of their broadband and also because of the lack of confidence in the county plan, have decided to seek an alternative solution. All perfectly permissible in a free market. (And you would think BT would welcome the competition and the County Council would be pleased that further companies are also investing in their region).

A couple of individuals in the village decided to investigate the options, and managed to interest one of the FTTH companies. We all know that for a sustainable FTTH business model to succeed, there is a minimum number of properties required to take the service. No more '10 and you're there' as with our satellite-wifi model of a decade ago. The initial capex and ongoing opex increase the minimum properties to somewhere between 100 and 150 homes.

This village fitted the model, and so work began by the individuals to encourage villagers to register an interest. A thankless task, as we all know, especially when undertaken in your own free time and with your own money. To raise awareness the village website, whose annual costs are covered by the Parish Council, added a broadband page to give full and factual details of what was on offer. And, as a comparison, the BT tariffs, speeds etc.

Man the barricades! This brought BT onto the scene via a first, gentle compared to what was to follow, email, offering to help put matters straight where there were material inconsistencies on the site, working with the Parish Clerk. Or, more to the point, rewrite a village website's content so it became what can only be termed "BT propaganda".


Email, 15th Jan 2013 from a General Manager, BT Group to the Parish Council.

".... In addition, I’m surprised to note that there is no mention of the ****shire County Plan, which should result in a contract being awarded by the county council in the next few months in order to invest in enhancing broadband infrastructure in parts of ****shire deemed uneconomic by the industry for purely commercial investment.  I understand that the village is included in the so-called “intervention area” which could result in its inclusion within the plan, although this will no doubt require discussion with the county council. "

The problem with this statement is indicative of the almighty cock-up which is BDUK.

A) "should result...next few months". Yep. Should. And the village COULD be included. When? Who knows. After yet more discussions. Which could take months or even years. Meanwhile, a company is here TODAY, right now, offering to do the job once, and do it right, providing a viable service far into the future. Unlike the County Plan. Which is a small NGA footprint which may or may not include this village.

B) "...parts of ****shire deemed uneconomic by the industry for purely commercial investment". Ah, but you see the village has raised sufficient registrations within the village to have been deemed viable by A N Other company, offering FTTH rather than FTTC, with gigabit rather than megabit speeds today, and multi gigabit tomorrow.

At this point, you would hope BT would say, "Actually, this is one less village we have to do, so we can use the money on over-delivering to our almost-contracted customer, ****shire County Council". Wouldn't you?

Nope. Let's stoop lower.
"I’m sure you will share my concern that the Parish website has content that might not be seen as open and equivalent but that is instead promoting the services of a particular company, in this instance from a company called XYZ, with the recommendation apparently made in the name of a member of the council, Councillor *******, and by implication on behalf of the council.   I’m sure that this endorsement is on the Parish website in error – as you know, any promotion of a private company could be referred to the Standards Committee."

WTF?! Is that a threat perchance to both the Parish Council and one of its members - an individual of good standing within the Parish? An elected Councillor in a tiny village being threatened by BT. Well, well, well.

It gets better. After a kind offer to identify the offending material and remove it from the village website, working with the Parish Clerk, another email arrives two days later. From same chap at BT Group.

"...I would however like to discuss the related point regarding the overt promotion of a company by the council or its members.  You will see from my original email that Councillor ******  has been actively promoting the adoption of services by XYZ, apparently in [the] capacity as a councillor, both within the local community and also further afield.  I now understand that this activity has included both statements made at meetings as well as correspondence with other communities within ****shire and ****shire, in addition to content on the website.

"You’ll see from my earlier comments that I believe that any promotion of a private company by the council or its members in this way should not happen and could be referred to the Standards Committee.  Therefore I’d be grateful if this matter could be addressed at the earliest opportunity and that any recommendations made by Councillor ****** are formally withdrawn. "

You believe wrong, mate. And this is not even a veiled threat to take action, is it? A)This Councillor has a non-pecuniary interest in broadband to the village B) The Standards Board for England was abolished on April 1st 2012, and with the Localism Bill so were many, if not most, Standards Committees. Where you been, Mr BTfella?!

"These new measures, outlined in the Localism Act, will replace the bureaucratic and controversial Standards Board regime, which ministers believe had become a system of nuisance complaints and petty, sometimes malicious, allegations of councillor misconduct that sapped public confidence in local democracy."

So, perhaps a rethink on "engagement" strategies my be required? The Localism Act Code of Conduct appears to have been adopted by county and borough in the above region.

On the other hand, it seems the rules change if said councillor, village website and PC promote BT, huh?

Reading the website changes since this correspondence, it is apparent that the locals involved do not take kindly to BT's approaches. The opening paragraph sets out why and how local people have been involved. In no uncertain terms. BT have not informed the webmaster, despite requests, about the so-called inaccuracies so changes can be considered hence the vast majority of content still stands. As it should. And further down, the comment about BT needing to get off its corporate backside ought to be carved in stone and placed outside an address in Newgate Street IMHO!

Along with this evidence of BT tinkering comes more worrying "hearsay", still landing as I write this (Funny how word has got out about the imminence of this post - an action long overdue, it seems). I haven't time to seek evidence before posting but I'm sure there are whistleblowers with integrity willing to deliver facts of BT "engagement" with local authorities to the mainstream media and real journalists.

As a starter for ten:

One council being threatened by BT that if support were shown for a local broadband scheme then the continuing presence of a call centre in town might need to be revisited.

Another council was told that the removal of a community project's postcodes from the intervention plan would see BT withdrawing from the BDUK tender and refusing to engage with the authority.

There are many more such rumours abounding. All it takes is further evidence from those in the know to blast this can of worms even wider open than it already is. After all, do you want your children and grandchildren's lives further blighted by yet more unnecessary debt, increasingly inappropriate comms, or weak willed governance?

I know how I feel about all of this. It is frustrating, depressing and downright sad that this country cannot hope to have future-proofed, fit for purpose 21st century comms solutions for all whilst such scheming, self-serving, shameful shenanigans are allowed to continue.

If you are one of those elected into office, or paid to serve, please ask yourself whether banging BT's drum is in the best interests of your constituents and could it be considered a dereliction of your statutory or contractual duty?

And as Frank Zappa told his children when educating them about the ways of the world and people's honour, integrity and intentions: Always ask yourself, "Are they being paid to say that?"
Read more!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Bye bye telcos

Read more! Last time here, I visited 16 States and met untold numbers of people who were building FTTh networks (mainly) against all odds. Incumbent odds. This time, the USA seems much more "with it".

This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com
I really must get a job. This drifting around the planet looking at fibre and rural networks quite simply doesn't pay. Well, not in pounds sterling.

In gleeful moments of joy (for which there does not seem to be a currency, yet)....it pays umpteen times over!

I have watched, over the last 8 years visiting America - north and south - certain networks achieve what the telcos will tell you is impossible. Rural communities that the AT &Ts of this world (BT in UK) tell you are impossible for anything above a totally derogatory 2Meg USO are now FLAUNTING 1-10 Gbps affordable Internet access. Not some VPN, but hardcore download/upload this, FAST oooooh *that* fast, Internet.

Even better, I am seeing funding coming in to these projects from the most unexpected quarters because the community networks now have a track record of delivering. Into deeply rural Homes and businesses.

Interestingly, those self-same homes and businesses that the telcos say are impossible to connect. Funny that.

Let us take a really desperate stab in the dark. Do YOU think the telcos might be LYING?? Because all the evidence points to it being feasible. This rural and remote, ultra HyperFast broadband delivered by communities.

Hang on, I need to write this in capitals....

IS IN PLACE & WORKING.

and once again, I am seeing it.

Yeah, you can dismiss me as a hippified broadband evangelist campaigner, but when I can see this in place, talk to the people using it, whose lives it has changed, and where the business plans put paid to the shit that BT et al dole out about broadband to rural areas being unviable, well......what more do I need to do?

I can encourage YOU to get out of the UK and come and see this for yourself. I can publish the detail about the UK etc in the hope you may read it. I can shout, loudly, that you are being lied to over and over again, that YOUR money as a taxpayer is being (right royally) squandered. I can try, desperately, to encourage you to JFDI - we will all help you, even when your fibre is accidentally cut through, your exchange kit is well and truly trashed in a criminal attack when only two companies hold the keys for that site, (allegedly, obv) and when every single "respectable organisation" (cough splutter) tells you, "It ain't possible". We will back you up and prove it really, really is.

I will hazard a guess that every single minister and BT top bod since I started this campaign nigh on 20 years ago is a Freemason and that unless you are, your project will never be funded.

But, you don't need to roll your trouser leg up and stand in a bowl of porridge to deliver seriously good broadband. You just need to JFDI.
Read more!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Vote for FibreGarden and John Colton

Read more! You all know I have been in this game for a while. I do not suffer fools gladly and I am glad to say John Colton is not one of those who has made me suffer. I have enormous respect for this man, both professionally and on a personal level. FibreGarden is worth every penny of our money and should go ahead as soon as possible. Voting for him as a Digital Hero is the least we can do.

This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com


I am getting a bit fed up of discovering "hidden agendas" in this space, and am always relieved when my gut instinct proves to have been right in tracking down the "good folk".

To highlight my respect for John and this project, I am reproducing the FibreGarDen press release in its entirety, below.

For those of you new to this world of community broadband solutions, as a quick intro, John is a fibre optic industry specialist. He may claim to be simply offering training solutions, but his actual involvement in solving the current telecoms crisis in this country goes far deeper. From FIA involvement - that's the industry body btw- to giving up his free time and expertise to solve the problems at grassroots and with the rural fibre pioneers, this man deserves recognition far beyond the industry. And within his own community, there are few who know he is not an offcomedun but actually lives in and works from the home that his family have lived in since 1640 (or so I recall from one chat over coffee in said home).

There are a few videos on YouTube of him and his staff - I prefer "passionate personnel" - going above and beyond the call of duty to get the first fibre to the farm in the ground and working - I hope someone may post the relevant links in the comments section.

Do your bit, please. Vote for John Colton as the Digital Hero for the North West. No-one deserves our respect more than him. And you can guarantee that this man is certainly not in pursuit of a private agenda or a new career or personal advancement - his humility and dedication alone should inspire all of us. FibreGarden should be one of the key projects, along with B4RN, that we all look to over the coming years as "exemplars" who, one suspects, may put the established telcos into a whole new gear in order to keep up!


FibreGarDen PRESS RELEASE

29th October 2012

A VOTE FOR SOUTH LAKELAND AND CUMBRIA – SUPPORT YOUR DIGITAL HERO

TALK TALK DIGITAL HEROES AWARDS 2012

NORTH WEST REGION FINALIST – JOHN COLTON, TECHNICAL DIRECTOR, FIBRE GARDEN

Resident of Garsdale, Cumbria and Fibre Garden’s Technical Director, John Colton has been nominated as North West Region Finalist for the Talk Talk Digital Heroes Awards 2012.

Talk Talk, in association with Citizens Online and the Mirror Newspaper Group, for the fifth year running have sponsored the Awards celebrating inspirational people who use digital technology to benefit their community. The winner is decided by a public vote with an awards ceremony at the House of Commons in London.

Voting for the winner has now opened and South Lakeland and Cumbrian residents are encouraged to support your local “Digital Hero”. The relevant website to vote is here ( talk talk.co.uk/digitalheroes/vote-map.php

ACT QUICKLY - VOTING CLOSES 18th November 2012.

John has been a key member of the Fibre Garden volunteer team, empowered by their respective Parish Councils, that has been working with DEFRA, Broadband UK (BDUK), Cumbria County Council and Tim Farron MP for the last two years. The final outcome will be the delivery of a fully inclusive, future-proofed fibre to the home (FTTH) superfast broadband network to every household in Garsdale and Dentdale.  

This landmark pilot scheme will offer service speeds of 30 Mbps and 100 Mbps, enabling the most advanced business, education, media, healthcare, tourism and agricultural usage and applications. An important element of the offering under evaluation is the proposed delivery of an innovative backhaul internet connection, provided by Network Rail Telecoms, via fibre optic cable along the Settle – Carlisle railway line.  

TIM FARRON,MP said “The Digital Heroes Awards were designed to recognise and reward those who use digital technology to make a difference in their communities. John is the person who best exemplifies that. Having worked with him and others on the broadband scheme I know he is a worthy winner – please support him and help give a local person the national recognition they deserve.”

His Fibre Garden colleagues when nominating him said “John's passion and leadership have been critical in developing the founding principles of a digital network with 100% inclusivity, fully future proofed, and under community ownership. John has worked selflessly with other communities in Cumbria to help explain the benefits of FTTH, producing the business and technical models to support the company's plans and tirelessly attending hours of community meetings and suppliers discussions to ensure the best possible outcomes.”

 

John Colton, Technical Director of Fibre Garden when asked how he felt upon being nominated    commented “ I am humbled that my colleagues put me forward, delighted that Talk Talk is providing this sort of assistance to the digital efforts of communities around the country, and finally, excited that this is the beginning of an exhilarating journey to create the first truly future proofed "digital dale”."  

John Colton further commented “An investment in FTTH is an investment in our future with almost immediate payback in terms of connectivity, livelihoods and services. It represents the only really future proofed solution to deliver internet access, a utility that has become a daily feature of our lives, and will become increasingly all important in our wired digital world.”

 

END

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

FIBRE GARDEN – The “DIGITAL DALES”

Fibre Garden, the not for profit community broadband company for Garsdale and Dentdale, were the first Rural Broadband pilot nationally, and in Cumbria, to be announced by the Secretary of State for DEFRA, The Rt.Hon. Owen Patterson MP, as the recipient of a £157,500 DEFRA grant under the BDUK/Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) scheme.

Fibre GarDen is a community company established to deliver a fully inclusive future-proofed fibre to the home broadband network in Garsdale and Dentdale, two dales located in South-East Cumbria, close to the North Yorkshire and Lancashire boundaries and inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

This has been a joint endeavour as we recognized early on that combining our resources and efforts would be beneficial to the residents and businesses of both dales. It has the approval and support of both Parish Councils and the company has been established with a strong volunteer management team with combined experience in finance, marketing, fibre optic technology, education, health provision, and farming services.

The project is ambitious, as its aim is not simply to increase rural broadband speeds, but to demonstrate how economic disadvantage and social exclusion can be overcome in a rural area by the provision of future-proof Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband. In order to achieve its goals, it will harness community support and action alongside government investment and commercial partnership.

A detailed business plan, supported by extensive evidence, has been developed showing that a 60km network connecting the two dales and 500+ premises will be constructed with a community organisational and digging effort and farmers’ community spirit. This is fully costed to a high technical standard including network installation, fibre cabling and fibre types, installation and fusion splicing, telephony, quality of service, infrastructure services and ongoing management thereof.

The network that is created will:

• provide a 100% fibre optic cable to all properties and businesses, and thus be fully future-proofed;
• be either own brand and open access ISP;
• enable initial broadband speeds of  30Mbps and 100 Mbps, with the option for Gb/s service in the future depending upon need and growth in demand;
• be a significant economic multiplier for businesses and the community as a whole;
• support educational opportunity and social advantage for all as increasingly new forms of learning methods develop;
• provide extra fibre capacity for community and future P2P use;
• be available to supply backhaul for 4G mobile phone coverage;
• provide support to farming enterprises, in areas where the rural economy relies upon a vibrant farming sector and where the national food supply agenda needs to be fully recognized and supported;
• be available to NHS Cumbria for informatics, telemedicine and telehealth research trials;
• be available for use by emergency services, critical in an upland and occasionally remote rural area;
• become a template for the creation of a fibre network, which will be available for other rural communities to use; and
• most importantly, be fit for purpose for accommodating other (unforeseen) technological advances that may transpire in the future
 
Funding of the network will come from a variety of sources including the BDUK/RDPE contribution of £300 per premise, possible further Cumbria County Council assistance from their Performance Related Grant (PRG), vendor finance, a community share issue, loans and work in-kind.

For further information contact:

Stefan Kosciuszko, Director, Marketing & Communications, Fibre Garden – 07811286539 (stefanhenrykosciuszko@hotmail.co.uk)

admin@fibre-garden.co.uk
Blog: http://fibregarden.blogspot.co.uk/

Web: http://www.fibre-garden.co.uk/index.html



Read more!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The superfast slippery slope UK is on

Read more! Oh, here we go! It has taken quite a while for our handful of UK incumbents to decide that all this public money being spent on bringing Britain into the digital age needed stamping on. Legally. Publicly. (Unless it was going into their coffers, of course). We are now seeing the litigious games of US incumbents coming to our shores. Called an "appeal" by BBC. These are spoiling tactics - nowt more 'n nowt less.


This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com



During my trip to USA this year, I heard yet more horror stories of what the big telcos get up to when there is even a hint of competition on their patch. (There's a book in that and it is almost finished!) It is not like this bad boy behaviour is new news, and it is not as though we in the UK, especially at grassroots level, have been unaware of what our own telcos have got up to over the last decade and more when they do not like the encroachment of much-needed competition.

The Superfast Cornwall procurement went one step further with mutual 'helping out' by elected and publicly funded bodies, allegedly, but even when that competition is a new entrant with small yet exciting plans, or a tiny, rural community, the incumbents always show their fizzogs. Especially when citizens and businesses are seeking to obtain a sensible, logical and independent solution to the broadband woes that face far too many in this country due to years of telco inaction and heel-dragging.

In the news over the last few days are two stories which ought to cause those in government to rethink the current strategy of throwing (a pitiful amount of) money at a national, deep-seated (read: historic) and economically damaging problem.

First, we have the total incompetence of telcos (although this malaise is most certainly not limited to the telecoms industry - think 'banking' for starters) to put customer service on the list of business priorities. That link is just one minor example: hang out on any of the forums about consumer rights, broadband, trading standards etc and you enter a murky downward spiral that leaves you to wonder whether this country's businesses are totally clueless, uncaring and/or just plain greedy. And pondering how long before people power kicks in on a national scale where the government and regulators have clearly failed to.

(This ponderance though will leave you realising that consumers actually have very little broadband choice in this country. Unless you have a bottomless bank account to pay for a leased line or dedicated fibre. The first mile, especially in rural areas, is dominated by BT's copper meaning the vast majority of customers need to pay BT for a landline ; most broadband packages are a white label BT product; LLU has never been extended to sub-LLU, meaning BT retains its monopolistic hold at sub-loop level and this limits LLU providers to offering copper-based rather than full fibre products unless they deploy brand new infrastructure into the first mile; mobile broadband is still patchy and slow in many areas; satellite has technical, real-time restrictions in an increasingly real-time world; 4G is not yet a global standard and therefore susceptible to interpretation by the operators etc).

Ask yourself what exactly Ofcom are doing to resolve the consumer-side issues (that is their statutory duty after all: to protect consumer interest) and you may find yourself coming up short with the answer to that particular question. The government should focus its energies on getting the existing telco industry house (telco 1.0) in order. AND fund alternatives and innovation (telco 2.0), rather than lobbing scarce cash for more of the same old, same old.

The reason this problem is not going away in a hurry otherwise is that telcos (and mobile operators) have cut margins to such an extent that something /many things have to give. There is a battle for customers. Telcos resort to all sorts of tactics to encourage churn i.e. customers moving to a new operator. In times of economic recession, for many people, the deciding factor to move to a new service provider is (probably although still unproven) price. However, there have to be other reasons why any customer would reach the point where they are looking to move providers.

These range from:

  • Quality of service (sometimes zero as we hear far too many tales of people who have had no service, broadband or telephone or mobile, often for months)
  • Poor customer service (how long are people being kept on hold to premium rate numbers? These are telcos. If anyone could provide a free number for customer problems, you would think it would be them!)
  • Failure to adopt the required technologies eg symmetrical 100+ Mbps that consumers and businesses need, today and tomorrow
  • Failure to resolve technical issues (or quite simply passing the buck - one of the big problems caused by having only 2 commercial operators running the vast majority of the first mile)

  • and of course, price
Substantial marketing budgets ensure that many of the problems are glossed over, spun, anti-hyped into oblivion, and better still, telcos appear to take great delight in knocking the competition publicly, in places such as Twitter. Not many sectors would permit an MD of a company to use Twitter to speak ill of the competition, or to write unprovable but damaging allegations online, but telcos seem to think they are immune from the normal business and legal practices. Or so it would seem to your average man in the street.

The 'small voices' of the common man are drowned out by marketing £££s, hype, spin, politicians with their own agendas/careers to worry about, and a largely uninformed media. A politician can stand up over and over again and say we are going to be world-beating as far as broadband goes, when all the evidence quite clearly points to a contrary truth. In fact, it's all a bit Lance Armstrong (or, not trivialising the horrors of what he did, Jimmy Savile) TBH. A bloody major cover up of the facts.

The second news item I'd like to reference is the now well-reported decision by BT and Virgin to legally challenge Birmingham's plan to build a decent comms network. It's like the Kansas City debacle - "Unfair, m'lud," shout the telcos who have failed to do anything appropriate prior to this, and whose failure actually triggered the need to act by those voted in to protect the interests of residents.

Across the country, we are seeing BT scooping up the rural broadband pot. Mainly because the government wasted a vast sum of money setting up the BDUK system to work that way (One has to ask why. And keep asking).

The Urban pot has been set up a different way - not so easy for BT to get its hands on as there are far more experienced companies in urban roll-out who can compete in the tenders than in the (deliberately?) stifled rural procurement.

The fact is that there is market failure. If there was NO market failure, UK would be on the FTTH Council league table for FTTH, and list in many of the other surveys, reports, tables etc for a 'decent broadband connection.

In fact, it's worse than market failure. There has been market abuse, in particular by those with SMP (Significant Market Power).

Some of the stories that I have had the misfortune to hear over the years point to more than just dirty tricks; in some cases, it has been difficult to see how criminal or fraudulent activity can be discounted from the equation. For instance, 'magickally' damaged non-BT equipment within exchanges, luxury trips abroad for civil servants on the cusp of making multi-million pound contract decisions, and far, far more litter my notes. How can this any of this be permissible? How can a corporate evade investigation by the police, SFO, ombudsmen etc? Particularly if this 'behaviour' then puts the local authority in a compromising position when it comes to any contracts (paid for by the public purse, remember) that involve said corporate. BT's Vital Vision is one such program and the document includes the following paragraph:
There have been shenanigans surrounding grants and public funding for well over a decade now - one of the most recently well-documented such debacles is Ewhurst in Surrey - a saga which continues to this day with unresolved issues, failure to repair ancient infrastructure, appalling workmanship, constantly moving RFS dates etc.

I guess if BT had delivered, Ewhurst would once again become the Surrey idyll it strives to be. With its celebrity residents. But BT have failed to deliver anything of note. Whilst actively preventing others finding solutions. I hesitate to compare this level of behaviour with that of those who ignored the horrendous crimes against humanity that have been brought about by putting the people in fear of reporting failure at government or corporate level, but where the hell do you draw the line?

Where would much of rural UK be right now - after a summer that was not just soggy but completely sodden for many of our food producers - if they had just had a decent connection to the rest of the world? Why the hell are we permitting an incumbent that has had millions and millions of pounds of public investment and yet cannot be bothered to deal with even that most basic business issue - customer service - why would we let them rule our communications infrastructure? There are little to zero records of most of BT's ducting; yet, we allow PIA to continue on its path knowing that the ones who should know, know nothing.

Genius. Let them sue.

Let us spend years in court debating whether residents of inner city Birmingham deserve the RIGHT to a decent broadband connection that local people with local knowledge have identified as a problem because the telcos (VM and BT in this instance) have done sweet FA to solve, whilst the telcos in their ivory towers bring in the QCs at £1500/hr. And pshfiss our public funds away in court.

JFDI Birmingham. Build it Birmingham.
And show these miserable £££ hunting morons up for what they really are. Don't waste money on lawyers or QCs in expensive shoes and suits- bring in the people to speak up in court. About the reality.
Scared of a few more miles of fibre? Oh dear. As every gigabit community (fibrehood) goes live, you can hit your internal panic buttons as often as you wish. It will not change the fact that you dragged your heels for waaaaaaay too long. And now it could be too late for anyone to save you.
Docsis 3, FTTC, we won't miss thee, when we have FTTP
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Friday, 19 October 2012

B4RN's Blue Pound Goes Round & Round

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Up here in Lancashire, digging is proceeding apace to connect (initially) 1400 homes to gigabit FTTH. I've been watching with growing interest at the blue pounds doing the rounds in the B4RN community, and the increase in social capital as a result of the project.
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

I originally wrote a piece about blue pounds back in 2005, and then reproduced it here again in 2009.

The opening paragraph reads:

"Suppose you paint a pound coin blue and watched where it went. Every time it changed hands within a community, it meant income for a local person. If the blue paint were to come off onto people's fingertips, how many people would have blue fingers before the money finally left the community? The more times it changes hands, the better for that community."

B4RN stated at the outset that it would use local resources for everything it possibly could. There are no other telco projects I know of that even suggest this, and certainly there has been little to no mention of it during the BDUK funding rounds currently pushing out £830M of public money from the BDUK pot and matched by far more public money from local authority coffers.

How is this local spend affecting the B4RN area? Firstly, all the people being paid to dig, whether in cash or shares, are local. None of this drafting in contractors from afar. There is a level of competition between the farmers now which adds to the fun of the new sport Xtreme Digging too! Secondly, the prices being charged are realistic and no-one is seeking to over-inflate the prices artificially (unlike a certain telco who pay £10/hour and then charge it to the customer at £30/hour or more) because this is a community project and everyone involved is as keen as mustard to see it succeed. No need for greed, the end result is far more important.

Once all the core network is in place - a difficult task when today as I write this is the FIRST DAY OF THE YEAR that it has not rained in this sodden county, but there's time yet! - all the revenue generated is being paid not to some distant telco with little interest in the area, but to the community it serves. Yes, there will be some paid out for the backhaul but all other expenses will go to local contractors and employees of the project, who obviously live here. The blue pound is going round and round, see?

In addition to blue pounds, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the social capital B4RN is generating when I went to Arkholme recently. A quick pint in the very friendly and cosy pub, The Bay Horse, revealed that the local digging team - which is made up of as eclectic a bunch of folk you could ever hope to find in a muddy trench - have become regulars.

(I just phoned Arkholme to get a list of the people involved. Off the top of their heads and whilst inspecting a huge rock that is in the way of the duct going in: 2 doctors, the village postmaster, a software system engineer, retired accountants and solicitors, a university professor, the chairman of a retired racehorse charity, and a teacher).

The pub is getting more business, the people involved are getting to know many more of their neighbours, and one heartwarming story I heard was of someone who has just moved in to the area who now knows far more people than you would ever normally expect to meet in the first few weeks of living anywhere, and has been rapidly integrated into this great little community.

On the bar during my visit was the latest copy of Lancashire Life, which features Arkholme and shows what a JFDI place this is. No waiting around for "someone else to do it" here, typical rural community in fact.

One totally unexpected turn for the B4RN project has been the hiring of diggers by local people, using their own cash in return for shares, to speed up the digging. I don't know exactly how many days have now been paid for in this way, but it was an idea proposed by the villagers (who had probably come up with it in the pub!). It's an ingenious way round a problem that has been exacerbated by a truly appalling summer, and the knowledge that there are local farmers in dire straits. Who have diggers and need cash. Those same diggers only a few weeks ago were on standby during silaging etc to tow tractors, balers, foragers etc out of atrocious mud so you can imagine what state the crops are in, and the problems that will bring during the coming winter when livestock need feeding and feed prices are high because the whole country has suffered similar problems.

The landlady works in an estate agent, so we got talking about houses for sale and for rent in the area, and the fact that house prices with a gigabit connection provided by B4RN can be increased by around 5-10%, according to multiple reports. Hopefully, anyone wishing to sell or rent a property in the Lune Valley through the company she works for will now be informed that a B4RN connection is far better value than a new conservatory in increasing the value of your home. It costs the estate agent nothing and helps B4RN towards future profitability, as well as putting a few extra pounds in both the vendor and estate agents' pockets. These things work both ways - you never know, I might finally be able to find a house in the B4RN area, and it was a very good pint of real ale too!

There is no way to actually put a value on social capital in £££s that I know of, but you cannot help but know that the strengthening of the community bonds, the new friendships, the team building, the mutual support, let alone the blue pounds now circulating in the Lune Valley is of far greater value than the community asset and wallet stripping caused when a faceless behemoth comes into the area and makes zero effort to employ blue pound and social capital strategies.

I would like to see county council and local authority insistence that all BDUK bids include a strategy for ensuring that local people will be used where at all possible for deployment and maintenance of next generation solutions, and that any bidder shows exactly how much of the money coming from the public purse will remain in the area, not just during the build etc, but far into the future from the revenue generated by the network.

Right now, B4RN definitely tops the list of broadband projects doing good in the community served, not just today, but for the lifetime of the network, which is a couple of generations down the line because of the technology being deployed and the fact that upgrades during the coming 50 years should be minimal.

Like I keep saying: do it once, and do it right. B4RN are definitely doing that, although some of the outtakes from the digs show that this is one tough, steep, and WET learning curve!

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Monday, 17 September 2012

Cumbrian News & Numbers - and your county too

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As we enter another week where announcements will be made about counties 'fulfilling' their broadband procurements, I'm going to stick 5tth's head right above the parapet and expose some facts.
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

The contents of my inbox and notes from recent meetings clearly show that the (potential, if not actual) trainwreck that is UK broadband aka digital Britain etc is well known to many. In homes, businesses, government and local authority offices, even Number 10. The problem is that transparency during this entire process has been, well, murky to say the least.

As an example, from my own doorstep: Cumbria blame the BDUK framework etc for their decision (note the lack of a link on the CCC page), claiming that the only option was to award funding to a possibly non-compliant bidder (especially with the lack of any competition following Fujitsu's drop out) and hence this is the best possible solution within the (BDUK defined) circumstances.

Ask the hub co-ordinators, a group of broadband champions who were in existence before Cumbria County Council even got engaged with broadband. (Thanks to Rory Stewart MP). How do the HCs feel about this decision? An email doing the rounds this week from the UNPAID but passionate community representatives and pilot project co-ordinators asks:

I note we are a pilot ... there were Battle of Britain pilots and Kamikaze pilots. Which will we be?
The image about BT pilots says it all. (Clue: It's a balloon and about as modern a technology as BT are willing to expose publicly.)

Cornwall has never been fully honest nor transparent about why the Leader 2 funding from the EU (some £750+M as I recall) *had* to be matched by a large infrastructure project with private funding. From BT - the only UK company who could possibly help prevent a need to return the EU funding. (Nigel, please argue this point with me in public!) Currently the 60:40 FTTH: FTTC split in Cornwall appears to stand at 1000:100,000 homes. Either we are being treated to an appalling interpretation of basic Maths:ratios or there is a need to challenge these figures regarding delivery of the contract.

Surrey, Lancashire, North Yorkshire etc (yawn, there are around 45 of these CC decisions to come in total, all with a single company winning the cash since the £1.3M consultancy about the required framework was conducted by consultants who know zilch about telecoms) are all seemingly in thrall to the incumbent, despite the last decade of evidence pointing to why allowing BT to extend its monopoly is almost definitely the wrong decision for all concerned.

Voters and constituents, businesses and home owners, education, health, e-gov etc etc professionals know this. But then, we weren't paid over £1M of public cash to offer advice. Or ensure the right result for UK Plc. Our freely given advice eg through the Digital Britain report seems to have been ignored, wholesale. Perhaps we should invoice the government for our losses directly accruing to the decisions made by the PAID consultants?

Haven't all of our industry and citizen-focused sectors suffered enough at BT's hands since the word 'Broadband" was invented? Lack of symmetry alone (you cannot send a picture or film or document in even 1/10th of the time you can receive one; often it is MUCH slower) should be enough to challenge a private company's hold over the country. The glass ceiling over UK broadband is made of copper. That alone should fill you with dread.

If a hard dose of reality about our failure to even find a place in the modern world beyond the Silicon Roundabout is insufficient, then .... well, now we have numbers.

Real hard facts that will not get lost in the next election, reshuffle etc. Because the numbers are out there in the public domain. Through Twitter and blogs (this is the most minor of those exposing the ongoing 'fraud' aimed at cashing in at the Treasury's expense, from BBC licence fee money etc). But mass media are running scared of exposing what is going on because potentially at least £5Million of annual advertising revenue could walk out of the doors of papers such as The Guardian, Telegraph etc. Let me spell it out: from BT. Blogs such as this have nothing to lose, and certainly not that level of funding, by exposing the truth.

And however hard the spin doctors work, there are waaaaay too many emails, FOI requests etc to hide this away and protect the decision makers, incumbents, advertisers etc.

So, let's JFDI. Here we go. The first in a series of posts about the reality of Broadband Britain. If you have a vote, have a house, have a child, have a business, live in a community, use a computer, or have a health issue, you need to read this. It affects YOU. Just replace the County name with that of where you live. Look up the detail of your own county's procurement.

If you are none of the above, it affects you too. If you can't work out how, comment. The concerned community will help you to find the answers you require to stop a continuance of this haemorrhaging of limited public funds into private coffers.

During a time of extensive and required cuts to our budgets, it would seem we all have a responsibility to protect the national treasury from abuse by corporates.

Start now.

This money could be far better spent than by extending the incumbent monopoly. Especially when the incumbent telco BT has still not been held to account for its abject failure to deliver last time we faced this problem a decade ago with ADSL. And when it, BT, was given huge pots of public money to resolve the dial up/notspot issue, all it managed to do, seemingly, was to return to the public purse, hands outstretched, some 10 years later and 'demand' more cash due to market failure. Oh right? BT's failure to deliver, you mean??

Just because Ministers, ministries and policies change, it does not mean that the reality of yesterday goes away. Change MAFF to DEFRA. It will never change what happened during Foot and Mouth (FMD). Ditto DTI, BIS etc and broadband.


Read this Vitally important text about the Cumbria Superfast procurement if nothing else today
and please forward it.
I will if possible reproduce the entire post here if permitted because it affects EVERYONE in the UK. If your County is being slammed/knobbled/etc by BT for cash that is already in short supply, your County, District, Parish Councillors for starters deserve to know.

In the meantime, please share this link : On a PC: Right click, open in new window, ctrl c to copy the link, tweet, blog, email etc etc. You can JFDI. We should not be "mugged" in this way, as a country, by a PRIVATE COMPANY.
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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The tip of the iceberg of FTTH economics - the telcos

Read more! I am so bored of hearing that FTTH, particularly in rural areas, is not economically viable. It is simply not true and even incumbents are learning to accept the inescapable evidence around the world. So to hear it constantly being spouted as fact has led me to this post about where and how the money flows when you deploy FTTH. And in year 1, 2, 3 and beyond.
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

It is not all about ARPU, as the many fibre networks who have climbed out of that particularly restrictive box have discovered. It is also not about what occurs on the provider's balance sheets, P & L or bank statements to prove or disprove economic viability.
In fact, much of the money generated and saved may well be invisible to the actual fibre provider. This does not mean that ergo it is not economically viable to deploy; it means that the accounts for the provider alone do not show the whole picture of wealth generation, profitability, new jobs created etc when FTTH is deployed in an area.
And it is vitally important to understand the big picture in order to make sure that the investment is successfully deployed where it will bring most bang for the buck. In fact, if all you look at is what the telco says it is worth, to them, you would miss far too much of the picture to make an informed decision about deployment. Instead of full fat fibre, or pure glass, and the long-term gains, you might be tempted to go for a cheaper option, with limited short-term gains and few, if any, long-term ones. Because that is all the telco will tell you it can afford to do with your money, innit? And any half decent accountant or Finance Officer would tell you not to waste your (taxpayers') money.
So, for instance, a telco in Minnesota who deployed to 1400 premises gave me the figures for telecom savings for those 1400 properties since the fibre was deployed 9 months ago. $250,000. The money has not flowed into the telco account, it has stayed within the community for those 1400 properties to decide how to spend it themselves. And most importantly, the local provider had not deployed predatory pricing to give the local people cheaper packages so the sustainability of the local network was not threatened in any way, shape or form whilst saving the community all that money.
The local council have been connected to the fibre - offices, fire department, police, locally owned utility infrastructure etc thereby saving the council several million dollars over the next 5 years. But that money is not in the telco's account either.
In Chattanooga, EPB's chief fibre engineer, Colman Keane, took me into the bowels of the EPB set up - and boy was it exciting getting to the heart of the ChooChooGig, and very, very cold! After seeing the extraordinarily secure medical records set-up that has been rented out (as a surprise benefit of the gigabit fat pipe and the secure space available when your central office is re-used to best purpose), we came upon the racks and racks of colo servers. EPB had never planned to do any colo and it does not figure on the business plan for Chattanooga's fibre deployment, but they can barely get new racks fitted quickly enough to meet demand.
Each server is labelled and I was scanning down the racks asking questions about the different customers, who ranged from toy shops to community TV to the more usual hosting and software companies. The toy store was a goodie. Less footfall in shop so they had expanded online and were now running at least 2 servers out of the data centre to manage the e-commerce side of the business. And had presumably upskilled the toy store staff to take on the ICT side of it too as it was colo. Nice.
I'm a bit bored of ranting on about the need for local data centres, in particular in rural areas, for on-net savings e.g. focussing on the savings when Bit Miles (data transit, like food miles etc) are reduced, but for any community network (whether municipal, incumbent or community-owned, like B4RN) the colo and hosting side of the business needs to also go in the business plan. It really had been a surprise to Chattanooga how much revenue it was generating and I found that elsewhere too.
Aside from racks, cooling, fire suppressants (hell, they were truly scary - less than 0 seconds to get out of the server rooms if fire breaks out as all the oxygen is removed from the room instantly), billing, and all the other nuances of running a business, colo is a very cheap earner once you have a central office set up on a fat fibre. And tie that in to affordable back-ups for homes (photos, videos, laptops etc) as well as Software as a Service packages for SMEs, homes, community organisations etc and well, you're on to a winner.
The network does not need to even run this side of it; it could easily be a whole new start-up triggered by the FTTH existence. In fact, most of the examples can be run as stand-alone businesses and that is worth bearing in mind when BT come along and try to chuck a cabinet in your street or fleece your council of millions of pounds through the BDUK debacle - can they offer this level of income generation for you, with anywhere close to similar benefits to the wider community?
All these are the added extras to put in the income side for any community deploying FTTH who can think beyond the b0rked telco 1.0 models so I'll keep mentioning a few.
TV stations - saw a few of these and even got to sit in on the live broadcast of the lunchtime news at TV25 in Winona, MN. The budget at TV25 went a very, very long way because of joined up thinking. First, find an existing under-used asset in the community - the media studio at the local college which was looking to become an ICT College of Excellence. Second, work in partnership with the local community, the institution, the broadband company and the local businesses to define what is required and set up affordable ad space to fund it. $75 a slot for any local business means that it is a no brainer for local companies to advertise on the channel, so they do. The students and media professionals work together not just to make ads, but also content. Genius!
Super-local content means that it is a must watch channel for the news - 30 mins made at lunchtime and re-aired 4 times till closedown at 8pm. All the local sports matches, parades, shows, and events are attended by the OB vans and the students get to learn on the job. No leaving college without practical experience here; these are hardened media professionals by the time they graduate. And this includes building sets in the studio for their own schools' programmes etc too.
Not only does this all provide a community service with programmes, but also the college get a second to none course to offer, local businesses reach their target market in an affordable manner, and it saves the community broadband company an absolute fortune in advertising and branding in the give and take way of things within communities. Their ads appeared in every ad break!
Whilst in Winona, I sat in on a marketing meeting which was fascinating in itself having seen their TV offerings and the billboards around the city. Watching how an established community fibre company does marketing highlighted the importance of professionalism and these guys (actually, nearly all girls) had it in spades. Monitoring, testing, evaluating every step of the way means that the budget is eked out to its full potential, therefore costs cut = profit margins increased, sustainability improved, jobs created, community benefits returned in both monetary and social ways. And from all of this had come the Wizards.
I loved the Wizards! Such a perfectly obvious and brilliant solution to a global problem - tech support. My computer is bust, my router won't work, how do you use this mobile phone, how do I do xyz? Every community network I visited had a foyer/lobby/reception area that was a) welcoming and professional, even the tiniest networks and b) staffed by helpful people solving billing, connection and general IT and mobile problems. Hiawatha had identified that because of their successful marketing and the fab fibre network they have built, the footfall to the general office had increased with people looking for answers not directly related to their package. Answer? Bring in the Wizards! And make it a stand-alone business. Simples. And a huge thank you to Gary Evans and everyone else in Winona who spared their time to let me in to the heart of the Hiawatha machine.
Hot desking and shared office space was another great revenue stream. Got a fat pipe into your building (well, you would have as it is the CO!) and spare floorspace - you rented a much bigger building than you needed, didn't you, because you knew this would put money in the coffers?! Rent out hotdesks to passing broadband tourists, or rent out office space to companies looking for that connectivity and the buzz that invariably comes with it. Then, you create a cluster of companies all bouncing off each other and inevitably that attracts more so grab that next door building when it comes up for sale too. This can only get bigger and works even better in rural areas than urban ones as office space and networking opportunities are more limited outside of towns so it has a far bigger knock on effect out in the sticks.
Oh look, more money that doesn't necessarily go into the telco's account (you did rent that office next door to them, didn't you, when you realised the business opportunity?!) - business rates to the local authority and income tax to the Treasury. New cafes and eateries pop up around such spaces too as there are two things that people in any online business need - coffee and food! That's yet more non-telco money - do you still believe the argument it is not economically viable?!!
Farmers, who in case you have forgotten, provide the food for the UK table, are beginning to explore the many benefits of true connectivity over fibre (not that half-assed copper Semi Fast Broadband stuff, which is just like that milk with a green lid compared to real milk). We talked about 3D print shops based in rural areas so farmers can source and manufacture parts, especially rare ones, locally, thereby creating a valuable farm diversifiction opportunity (as well as bringing back manufacturing to Britain), time and cash-savings for time and cash-strapped farmers, and a neat new business to bolt on to the fibre. We discussed and saw GPS-enhanced crops and fertilising techniques, which can help to improve harvest yields and land use considerably. We looked at farm and rural security that the fibre can provide - diesel thefts are not as prevalent in the USA as here, nor is sheep rustling, but the loss of both stock and machinery is a common bane for all farmers, whether the causes are crime, nasty weather or lack of human resource as the kids have moved away.
I was a tad freaked by the stories of parking your snow mobile on the roof during an average Minnnesota winter (19feet of snow is not uncommon in the north of North America), and that led in to dealing with crises and emergencies when you live miles from a hospital and the helicopter cannot land. This prompted discussions about smart grids and the fact that one network is so resilient it has been down for 17 seconds in 7 years, even with power cuts, huge storms and the supposed (and also untrue) non-maturity of FTTH networks.
The astronomical cost-savings from deploying fibre rather than copper, or a smart grid instead of just smart meters, need adding in to the business plan for FTTH deployment because those numbers affect every aspect of every community. Within a few miles of every single one of you, dear readers, will be a company who stand to lose anywhere up to millions of pounds if the phone system, internet or electricity are out for minutes, sometimes only for seconds. It may be a manufacturing business, a bank (notwithstanding RBS software upgrade failures), a farmer, an e-commerce trader, a health provider, an insurance company, a bookie, or any one of those pesky teenagers setting up businesses in their bedrooms. 4 9s simply ain't good enough any more. It must be 5 9s and it must be across all the utiities. You can ONLY ONLY ONLY do that with fibre. Then there is the Broadband Tourism aspect of it. B4RN is already discovering this - people come to visit. And they need places to stay, and meals, and fuel. All money in the local pot, whether it is to visit a broadband project, as I was in USA and many have already to Lancashire, or because of a business visit to a company located on a fat pipe, such as Chattanooga, Lafayette and others are finding. And that's without counting the re-location factor - estate agents, office refurbs, electricians, signwriters etc etc, all needed when youur fat pipe attracts new businesses into the area. Yet more non-telco money...getting the picture yet? And I haven't even started on healthcare, public sector and education, when phenomenal savings from non-telco accounts really starts to get in to big numbers once the pure glass is in place, and especially when it is community or locally owned....that's a double whammy then.
I hope someone is keeping this spreadsheet up to date with all these invisible numbers.......
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Monday, 25 June 2012

Why your community needs more than superfast

Read more! As I am still trying to assimilate all I saw, heard and discussed in USA, plus the many thoughts that have come from the Digital Agenda Assembly this last week in Brussels, I have decided to write about practical uses of a decent connection. As ever, this has been prompted by something fairly unrelated - the local weekly newspaper for this area. So, here is my free fall through the weekly paper with a true broadband spin.
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

Front page - death of a local man in an accident. Reminds me about a story I read in the US press about funeral homes and undertakers now offering a streaming service so remote mourners can attend and take part in the funeral e.g. with a reading from a family member in Australia. It would need to be a very robust connection, unlike much of the flaky DSL and asymmetric options currently on offer in the UK.
Visit by Olympic torch - recently I tweeted about tourist boards needing to produce wifi maps for visitors now access to the Net whilst on holiday or travelling for meetings etc is so important. Not only mapping wifi but there should be more tourist webcams so people can take part in such events fom afar. These could also double up as the CCTV and security systems for town centres and tourist honeypots. Ooh, dual purpose, hence good value, is that allowed?!
Carer steals from elderly lady. This is easy. Camera mounted on lapel of carer that sends video and audio stream to all those involved with the care of the individual. For instance, this could go to any doctor or consultant, the care company, relatives who want to check on the wellbeing of the patient, and so on. Medical advice, or even basic treament, could be given directly into the home via the carer who can beam in the consultant using the video device. The logical expansion to this is the telehealth app I saw in development in partnership with the Mayo Clinic but more on that another day.
Rush hour chaos - traffic cams would be so simple to set up for public log in as well as monitoring the state of the roads by Highways Agency, police etc. Why are the cameras currently monitoring roads unavailable to the general public?
Local sports centre loses money and must develop joint working initiatives with neighbouring councils. The Nuenen example should crop up here where their sports centre is fibred straight into the local doctors as well as certain departments in the hospital. So, for instance, the cardiology department receives all heart data from patients who have been advised to exercise for prevention as well as cure, and video cameras allow the physiotherapists to check in on and remotely instruct patients who are exercising in addition to receiving physio in hospital.
City councillors expenses turnaround to prevent councillors who are University students (the mind boggles) being able to claim expenses for travelling from outside the district to attend meetings, particularly during the summer hols. Um, video conferencing?
Bus timetables having to be re-introduced because of complaints at the withdrawal of the paper version. In an attempt to save money, the Council have angered bus users, particularly older people, by saying send a text, ring this premium rate number or log on to find bus times. Interestingly, according to the article a bus timetable costs £2500 per bus stop if 4000 timetables costs the council £100k. If I were a ratepayer I would query whether these are gold plated timetables, or ask whether £2500 could be better spent on newer technology than plastic and paper. Imagine if you ran fibre to each of these 4000 bus stops (as part of your county-wide network obviously) and then it would be a simple matter to put a webcam and a touch screen to provide info, as well as a ticker like the Dutch bus stops which tell you when the next bus is due so you can go for a coffee at the nearby cafe, or walk to the next stop. A bus stop would also seem to be a very handy place to stick a wifi access point and antenna to create a substantial proportion of a wireless cloud at the same time.
£4M to be spent on a temporary medical unit to house beds and an assessment unit to decide if patients need to be admitted. This solution will be in place for 1-2 years and the unit is merely being rented so is not an asset owned by the health service. One of the reasons for this new unit is to overcome a problem caused by the distance between facilities within the hospital which means diagnostis can take a long time. High quality video links plus connected devices eg stethoscopes, heart monitors, etc etc were all part of one of the telehealth apps I saw in the USA so this is now all possible, with more and more devices becoming connectable precisely to permit this type of time and cost saving in larger hospitals and remote areas.
Housing association advert for the elderly - full list of benefits, no mention of broadband. Looking at the website, the alarm/secuirty system is a primitive one using that ancient device called a telephone. Add fibre into the property and suddenly your elderly accommodation will set itself apart from the rest with the services it can offer - health, safety, security, communication options, leisure choices etc.
Ah, news from the villages. Plenty of scope here to use fibre. Churches should be streaming christenings, funerals, services etc etc. Illustrated talks, open gardens, sports matches, kitchen garden talks, village fairs (including welly wanging!), civic parades, WI meetings, orchestras, choirs, fundraising events, quizzes, gun clubs, pothole watch, jumble sales, etc - all could benefit with an intake of fibre connectivity and online activity.
Then we have a story about a new design and print company, but no mention of 3D printing which is going to revolutionise living and working in rural areas. Not only in increased efficiencies and productivity but also in economic and environmental terms when travel is reduced to find that spare part for an ailing tractor, for example. The blueprints required for many engineering parts will need to be high definition and will need to be downloaded and uploaded, so symmetry will be essential for 3D printing's full advantages to be explored. However, even emailing a large file to a print and design company can be a nightmare for many, even in this day and age. Easier to get in the car.....
There's more as well that could do with a touch of true broadband, but I'm sure you get the picture. Many of our communities, particularly rural ones, are facing tough times, and lack of connectivity is definitely high on the list of priorities to be sorted out. However, unless we start to realise just how many places in our lives the level of connectivity heralded by at least two zeros ie 100+MBps symmetrical will affect, we are going to continue setting the bar far too low. And we will be left behind, our communities will continue running on 1 pot instead of 4, and we will continue to exclude far too many from contributing to community life and hence the social and economic well being of this country will continue to suffer.
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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Wow, we are sooo far behind

Read more! I went to the USA because I knew there were things happening in the States that the UK and EU needed to be aware of. What I had not realised was a) how little the information sharing is happening between States let alone US and the Rest of the World and b) how far ahead some networks are, especially rural community driven projects. And the winners? No stimulus funding. Overlooked by the equivalent of BDUK, the best projects have JFDI without federal or state interventio, or with full co-operation of the City Fathers and community but little ouside money. Take note.
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

Before I set off for the Broadband Communities Summit in Dallas back in April, I had already made contact with many broadband networks in the USA over the previous decade. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to visit UTOPIA, and for all the bad press you may have seen, you can only know what is actually occurring by going to see for yourself and meeting Todd and his team. I had been to Lafayette, and I had been lucky enough, back in 2004, to be a guest and speaker at Dave Isenberg's WTF prototype of Freedom to Connect F2C, which I was also lucky enough to attend a month ago in Washington DC. However, I could have had no idea when I left these shores just how many fibre networks I would be fortunate enough to visit in 7 weeks travelling around 16 States. I have been incredibly privileged in being welcomed into networks from north to south, large and small, new and established, shown into more central offices and head ends than I could ever have imagined, seen behind the scenes, shared business plans and brainstormed the future developments, as well as meeting many consumers, businesses and public sector bodies who benefit from the existence of the fibre networks that have been built on their doorsteps. Even when those doorsteps can be 600+ miles wide and 300 miles deep! I am just acclimatising to Brtish Summer Time, and accompanying weather, so please bear with me if blog posts are sporadic and disjointed for now, as I am dragged around to be quizzed about what I found. I feel I should share some of it more publicly so the JFDIUSA 2012 book will be out shortly and will cover many of the discoveries that I was fortunate enough to be permitted access to and can share. Many thanks to the sponsors who made JFDIUSA possible: Broadband Properties, Gigaclear, Calix, Jaguar Communications, Abacus Marketing, ECFiber, and my uber tolerant friends and family.
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Saturday, 16 June 2012

broadband networks play the incumbents at the contract game

Read more! One of the ways in which the incumbents endeavour to beat new entrants, including community networks, is with predatory pricing. Special offes etc lure the unaware into deals with the incumbents whenever a new provider pops their head over the parapet. But there is a great solution to this I discovered in USA on my trip....
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

It is so beautifully simple and is unmatchable by the incumbents, especially in cases of networks such as B4RN.org.uk who are offering a service that the incumbent simply cannot match because of the continued BT failure to build out FTTH. Whenever a new potential customer has been tempted by the incumbent fliers on their doorstep, offer to match the incumbent or other ISP pricing throughout the contract term the incumbent is proposing. So, if BT offer a 25Mbps service for a fraction of the price (difficult with B4RN but easier in the standard tariff range for the other ISPs), you offer to price match the incumbent all the way through that contract period. So, if BT are offering to undercut all the competition (usually only for 3-6 months and then the small print gets smaller), offer your new customers the exact same contract. You should point out that over the contractual period it will cost the customer far more but point out it is entirely their choice to have the same contract. And you may choose to mention that there is no need to phone India every time someething is wwrong with their phone or Internet. At the end of the 18 or 24 month period, offer them the choice again to go back to your offer and point out that had they gone with that in the first place, it would have saved xyz squids for the exact same connection package, but now they can have 1Gbps and local service instead.... and spend the cash that stays in their pockets as they choose. Simples.
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Monday, 7 May 2012

JFDI USA Update

Read more! Been here two weeks tomorrow and I think I have more to say than time to write, but here goes....
This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com

Today has been one of those days where certain thoughts distil themselves clearly. So, I have tonight, after cleaning the boat (including the head), sat in on an EC Fiber Exec Committee meeting, held over the phone. Having been party to many of this type of community broadband governance calls/meetings previously, but never as an observer to such an extent, certain parallels begin to emerge. In my simplistic way, I am going to try to categorise them. My thoughts obviously will include much I have heard over the previous 17 years or more, as well as that heard most recently in Dallas, TX, Lafayette and New Orleans, LA, and here in Vermont, as well as during my journeys since leaving UK. Tomorrow, I am going to Massachusetts (I think this will be state 6 on my trip) for a community broadband meeting, and then on Wednesday I set sail south again, so I will endeavour to complete this series of blog posts whilst the thoughts, opinions, ideas etc are still fresh. That may need to be tonight with all that is planned in the coming hours, days and weeks! This will be an Alphabet Soup Post and this is the intro. For the sake of future searches, I am going to give each letter its own post. If you remind me, at the end, I will put the whole lot into a book available on Lulu.com for you to buy to fund further mileage.......! Or you could just sponsor me through my Paypal account to maximise what I can learn on this trip on your behalf. I've already blown my kids' inheritance, made myself and them homeless, and am living on broken shoestrings to do this so what's a tenner out of your pocket to stretch this trip out a wee while longer?!! Let me know if you fancy a punt.
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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Does the UK need a CTO?

Read more! During this visit, one name keeps cropping up - Todd Park. Who is he? He is the US Department of Health and Human Services CTO. He was here in Lafayette at Cajun Code Fest this weekend, one of a large number of codathons currently running across the States. He, and rightly so, fully enjoyed the Cajun Code Fest, partly because it was aimed at getting coders together to solve a now near global health problem - childhood obesity. And partly because this is Lafayette and the Lafayette/Geoff Daily way of doing this type of event is quite simply fabulous. He was joined by the likes of the CEO of Priceline.com, top health executives from within Microsoft (developers of Health Vault) and other enormous companies, and the winning apps, as you will see will undoubtedly make their way into mainstream adoption. Todd made an interesting observation - Lafayette is small enough (population 120k =tiny in US!) to behave in the same entrepreneurial, flexible, agile manner as a start up, but large enough that anything achieved here can be of national importance. It strikes me that this thinking applies equally in the UK, for instance in communities such as B4RN, and that some community broadband and technologically aware communities may be missing a trick here - more on that in another post as it was a subject of some fascinating debate and ideas in Dallas at #bbcsum12 and I am still getting my head around a proposal from that to bring back to the UK. Back to Todd - his remit is within the Department of Health, and looking at his bio it is quite obvious why this entrepreneur with a background in health related businesses would be chosen. It set me to wondering what the UK requires in the form of a CTO. After all, even from this side of the Pond it has been near impossible to miss the furore about the Minister ostensibly in charge of broadband, Jeremy Hunt, which of course comes from the DCMS having far too wide a remit to focus on technology, and being in charge of Culture, Media and Sport - all so distantly related that the weekly emails from the DCMS range across a vast array of 'disassociated' topics. Also, a CTO needs to be fully cognisant of his role in the economic well-being of the company -it's all very well saying, "No-one got fired for not buying IBM (pick any well known tech co and replace)" but the truth is if you adopt enterprise level equipment when there is a superior and free open source alternative that your competitors all use....well, we know how it ends don't we? The necessity for experience within a commercial environment is essential, although one wonders how many of those in charge of making fiscal decisions within government even have that experience? (Being a paid member of a Board does not count; having lost your shirt and learnt how not to do it again does). So, should we have a CTO of each of our departments, agencies and the assortment of quangos in charge of our daily lives? I feel not as it only adds complexity, bureaucracy and a lack of appreciation of the big picture, but others may differ in their opinions. I do feel the UK urgently needs a CTO - please, not with the title of technology tsar -someone who behaves as though she/he has precisely the same responsibilities as the CTO of any company - to get maximum bang for the buck, best return on investment, improve efficiency, use the right technology for each job, aggregate demand, save our money, encourage innovation etc so that our company -UK Plc - becomes a world leader in technology. Not to win votes, but because this country MUST seek to be competitive or, as Blair Levin put it so succinctly at the Dallas Broadband Community Summit last week, we will join the US in being on the wrong side of economic history. (He was actually speaking about having a strategy for bandwidth abundance, but without said strategy, most of the required technological advances will fail either at the first hurdle -research - or any of those following: development, deployment, adoption, sales etc. Britain has a dreadful reputation for IT projects. Take, for example, NHSIT (affectionately known by the cognoscenti as NHsh*t). An appalling waste of money that demands (one would think) a comprehensive review of how the UK approaches techie projects forever more. However, we keep doing it. I have spoken to people about BTOP last week and this. It is a similar program to Race Online 2012 and UK Online, and it sounds as though many of the same lessons have been learned on both sides of the Pond by those involved at the coal front, but few if any feel that those lessons have successfully been reported 'upwards' to policy makers and funders to ensure that similar mistakes are not made again. And whilst Helen and Martha may both feel that their campaigns/projects have been successful, sadly, they are missing the point of where the race actually needs to get to, and hence what is required to do so. This is not in providing cheap computers, courses in surfing, or access in learning centres, but in training everyone, and I mean everyone, so that the skillset required over the next 10-15 years in order to have a booming digital economy is present through out our society. And being able to surf just ain't it. That is setting the bar so low as to be almost derisory to the general public who will need the skills to survive the changes we have been given a glimpse of with the developments of the past decade. Here is where a CTO could come in most handy - in assessing the skills which will be required to drive UK PLC into a competitive position and ensuring that every single program, campaign, university course etc is designed to do precisely that. UK Online would have failed the acid test, and as one who has had to deliver their courses to many, I could tell them precisely why, how, when (now), etc as could many of the others who have actually met the people coming through the doors of Online Centrres such as Cyberbarn whilst being an active part of both the local, regional, national and global community and economy. Being a successful digital economy does not mean that more people buy online, or download premium content. And it should be the task of a CTO to not let sales or shareholders lead the decisions in all other departments eg training, accounts, R&D etc. We have managed to trash the vast majority of our manufacturing sector through some spectacularly poor policy over the years, and it is time for the Board in Westminster to find an advisor to prevent such happening again. The Industrial Revolution (during which we were quite successful as a nation) did not have the advantages of the communications we do now. Once again, a CTO would come in useful in understanding how all the different areas of our plant could be working together, sharing technological advances, cutting costs etc and communicating those to the appropriate parties for nationwide success. It's fairly clear that we have developed an island mentality to such an extent that we think there is not much to learn from beyond our shores, but as a frequent traveller, I can only disagree with that notion. Which is why one of my souvenirs from USA is the idea of a national CTO. Your thoughts? Read more!