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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Come in, Hull.....

When a town as historically important as Hull falls off the internet for a weekend, you realise how badly wrong we have it in the UK.

Let's do a little bit of history.

Once upon a time, communities across the UK set up their own utilities. In fact, galvanised individuals and innovators set up utilities. Not large corporates. They came much later.

My village, which is tiny, is the subject of a book by Ted Short I Knew My Place (wireless experimenter, Marconi, Postmaster General, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Leader of the House of Commons and now Lord Glenamara) and he tells of the village digging a route for water to provide electricity to the village in 1918-20, before Manchester had such a service as I understand it, amongst many other fascinating tales.

Each house had one light bulb (hell, that was a major luxury), and this is a tale from a man who did wireless comms experiments in the house 2 doors down from me in 1920ish. We had a full mill race dug and mill wheel built and set up by the village craftsmen. Then these amazing folk sourced and dug in the piping for a sweet water supply after a smallpox epidemic killed too many local people, especially children. This amazing local service was sadly absorbed into the national water board in the 60s (I think), and the water in our village has been nowhere near as good since because it isn't local.

Every village I have lived in has similar tales. Once upon a time, rural (and urban) Britain was fairly self-sufficient in basic utilities. And one feels that given half a chance, these villages would be now too, in 21st century utilities.

Hull was a ground breaking city. If you only know a couple of facts about Hull, it is probably that they had unlimited local calls for a long time (which put them way ahead of FRIACO on cheapy internet access) and on a par with the US who had free local calls. Or that they have grey/white phone boxes. Either way, Hull was the envy of many for a very long time for its telecoms services.

No longer. I was there a fortnight ago. Ask for a costing on a 10Mbps leased line type service (£8-10k a year in London) and you are looking at something like £84k. No wonder businesses don't locate there. In fact, businesses are leaving, in droves, as the comms costs drive them away.

Worse though are the consumer problems of getting on the Net. If Karoo goes down, as it did this weekend, there is no alternative ISP. Anyone who runs a small business elsewhere in the country will (should!) have 2 broadband ISPs. None of us understand why one ISP can keep going through a BT exchange when another can't, but occasionally one network can fall over when another doesn't. Or you can use 3G, or mobile data access (ouch!!), but even having an ancient dial up modem can keep you online these days.

But, let's face it, that is pretty extreme and crap. In Hull though, you can't even take those precautions. Kcom. Or nowt.

This weekend even the hospitals comms in Hull fell over. And to me, this signals the problems loud and clear that we have in Britain. If BT's network fell over (and it really shouldn't, but has in the past - burning wheelie bins down manholes in Manchester etc), then we have all our eggs in one (copper) basket, we have no resilience.

We have allowed monopolies to dictate how we communicate. Where is freedom of speech when you have no phone line or internet, as happened this weekend in Hull? This time, so they say, it was down to some major issues whilst they upgrade the network to adsl 2 (sweating the copper asset rather than upgrading). This will probably not be a one off, but I can't see the Hull Daily Mail reporting it every time a borough gets knocked off over the coming months, so assume this is going to be an(other) hidden issue of disconnected folk.

We need to see more alt nets springing up. SYMsip, 3G and other services need to be widely promoted so that consumers understand they have CHOICE.

Ofcom need to take their statutory duties more clearly. Stop the telcos from lying for starters.

Co-ax is not fibre.

ADSL is not broadband.

FTTC is not NGA or FTTH.

And let's see some real competition out there. I know we have fibre less than 1km on one side of our village, and about 4km on the other down the Settle-Carlisle railway. Get me off the monopoly network, allow this village (and many others) to return to the edge of the network independence that saw the start of ALL these utilities, and then let's see some real competition. Not in the ownership of the network infrastructure, but in providing services. Let the community run the network.

Because in this village, we ran exceptional water and electrics services without central involvement, way before Manchester or other cities had electricity and sweet running water. We can do the same now. But you, who want to play on our networks, and take money from our residents, you can offer services: IPTV, HDTV, e-gov, access to telemedicine etc etc. But let us supply our connectivity, because I hate to say it, but we really do know best and have proven it, nationwide for years.

There are two fine examples of community -provisioned networks, beyond those already given from my village, that no longer deliver even close to their original intentions, to the detriment of their consumers I BELIEVE. And this is a very personal opinion. One is local to Hull, and the other is national. It is time to give the power back to the communities, and -provide what is required by those communities, and let it be owned by those communities.



Cybersavvy UK said...

Other links to Hull offline,350.0.html

Chris said...


A lot of people got peeved when the lights went out (metaphorically speaking)!