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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

12 point broadband FTTH manifesto!

We have no choice but to pursue true broadband as a nation. However, to date (25 years and counting), we have failed to really get to grips with what is required. As the country becomes ever more aware of just what a mess it is in, broadband is actually one of the few investments we could make that stands a chance of turning things round. But do we really know what to do as a country? Or are we going to let a few civil servants and businesses dictate what happens next?

It has been a very long decade plus, often shouting into a lonely emptiness about broadband being as vital as air. However, the tide appears to have turned, and there is more noise now about true broadband than ever before, from so many different voices. At last - we have Fibrevolution!

Are we clear what is required though for UK Plc? Are there too many factions trying to pull in too many directions? Is there a lack of cohesive, joined up thinking on the matter? Are we actually allowing all the voices to be heard, particularly those at grassroots who have broken many barriers and destroyed many of the telecom myths over the last decade, whilst finding and implementing solutions?

Here are some thoughts on the manifesto! Vote LA ;o)

1) There has to be a patchwork of solutions eg FTTH and FiWi. We cannot get FTTH to every single house and business, but we should try that first, starting in the most difficult areas so we learn the hardest lessons which we can them apply in the easy areas. The trick will be ensuring that these solutions connect all the 'islands/lilypads' together and leave no-one in the dark without next gen connectivity because of a lack of standards or advance planning. The Wi in FiWi may well have to be mobile wireless tech in some places for the primary connection but those places should be absolutely minimal in number. However, mobile and wifi and Wimax etc should be ubiquitous for the wireless cloud over the top of the country, not patchy. What we are implying here is that the smallest percentage of the population possible should only have a single choice (eg mobile) for connectivity, not that we should rely on mobile to infill just because the incumbent doesn't want to play. (This is what the DB report is implying and it is a scenario which should be avoided at all costs).

2) The network asset should belong to the people who use it. Not to the country per se as we have cocked up this nationalisation lark far too many times, nor wholesale to the telcos. There is no reason why we can't decentralise, regionalise and localise for effective community ownership. Mutuals have survived the financial crisis far better than private companies and we should learn from that model. Telcos must be prevented from further holding this nation over a barrel with monopolies, or even duopolies, and mutual ownership does that, whilst protecting a level of the telco revenue stream through maintenance etc contracts. And they can become more imaginative about their offerings to consumers in a truly competitive marketplace!

3) Rural areas are the hard bits, where costs will inevitably be higher. However, I have been saying for a decade that demand in such places is higher. If we adopt a sensible approach to ensuring that the return on investment is maximised, rural areas may prove the key to turning around this nation's engagement with the glocal knowledge economy. Why? There are more SMEs in rural areas than urban. Distance from services automatically isolates rural businesses and dwellers who then will use the Net to resolve some of those issues. The positive environmental impact of FTTH etc (deployment and usage) is now proven to be so high that if we see reduced energy and fuel consumption in rural areas (where extra resources are required just to transport electricity, goods and people about), we may start to hit eco targets by changing behaviour. Rural people are used to being self-sufficient and ingenious and we will undoubtedly see innovation and exciting developments across all sectors. (Check out the barrow mole as an example!)

4) It is not about technology. None of this is about what tech is used, how much it costs etc. It is all about connecting people so they can communicate. We must deploy a strategy for internet and IT education that reaches every home and every user, young, old, rural, urban etc. Prime time TV, schools, night classes, etc are required to ensure that everyone can use the Internet and IT efficiently and effectively. This is not about niche geeky programmes showing the latest electronic gadgets. This is about 5 min TV slots or video clips or 1 page of a newspaper which show how to upload a Youtube video, how to search for a website, how to backup your data, how to keep safe online, how to troubleshoot your PC problems. We need an IT equivalent of NHS Direct, manned by skilled staff around the country who can keep this nation online.

5) We have to bin the false scarcity model. Immediately. Bits are not scarce, they are not expensive any more. Scaring people into non-use, or charging them prohibitive amounts to use bits does not work except for the bank balances of the telcos. There should be an international league table of bit usage by nation. The countries using the most bits have obviously engaged more directly with the digital economy. In fact, it should probably be an Olympic event!

6) We should use the digital dividend immediately for broadband into rural and remote areas. We need to comprehend clearly that there need to be different solutions for rural and urban areas, and we need to look at our existing resources and re-use them where possible - ducts, poles, masts, spectrum etc. The HIE method of sitting all the mobile operators around one table to work out which masts could be used and shared saw mobile coverage brought to the Highlands & Islands with minimum disruption and maximum resource sharing. (Kudos to HIE!)

7) The property rating on fibre should be waived for a minimum 10 year period to allow new build, use of existing resource, new entrants and so on to benefit. The Treasury will lose far less by waiving it and letting the infrastructure build-out take place and be used, than it is gaining by attempting to charge it and stymying the development of next generation networks.

8) All planning departments and Highways should be forced to adopt new regulations about FTTH, wayleaves, permissions etc. No business or residential property should be constructed from now on without FTTH (wiring, media kits etc etc) in place, and should an application be made to cross a road with fibre etc, it should be granted unless there is existing resource which could be used instead.

9) Dig where you live should be actively encouraged. UK Plc is footing the bill for this infrastructure build, and the last thing we need is yet another stupidly expensive government IT project. (Which, judging by recent history of such grandiose plans, will fail anyway and undermine confidence yet further.) Want to get to know your neighbours? What better way than digging through to their garden and discussing all you need to create a community network? If the Scandinavians can do it, we can too!

10) Smart meters must be an integral part of next gen and FTTH and the ubiquitous wireless cloud. If I, as a single mum living in the middle of nowhere, found out 4 years ago that you can get smart meters that can create an intelligent local wireless mesh network for broadband connectivity, then people in the utility industries must be more than aware of it. If we install smart meters that are only good for remote meter reading, we have not just wasted an opportunity, we are wasting MONEY.

11) The 2Mbps USO falls into the underachievement, lack of aspiration post from before. It is simply not enough. It is not enough today and it won't be in 2012 and beyond. because what keeps getting forgotten is that once that USO is set at 'up to 2Mbps' there it will likely stay for another decade or more. If Korea can go for 1Gbps by 2012, we need to increase our own ambitions and get real. 2Mbps is pathetic. It may be all the telcos and mobile operators want to invest in, but we have to raise the bar and think about the actuality. Educate our Internet users (see point 4) and they will be as dissatisfied with 2Mbps as they should be. The problem is, as I saw this morning illustrated far too clearly when the BBC were in Caroline and David's house, anyone who has been stuck on dial up has no idea what is now available to do on the Internet, so a reasonable proportion of the country still has NO IDEA what they can do on 2Mbps, let alone 10 or 100Mbps SYMMETRICAL. Let's not keep these people in the dark forever by only offering 2Mbps.

12) FTTC - if we have to, let's go Fibre To The Cabinet in some places to get the creative juices flowing, but let's do it right. There has to be urgent talks about unbundling those street cabs and the first mile/inches of copper cables. BT should not be given that on a plate. We need a competitive marketplace and to be realistic, that needs to include local communities in that competition. Nearly every community I have been to in the UK (and that is _many_) has a local champion or IT specialist or computer fixer who has ideas about local content, local delivery of network resource etc. Don't just keep it for the telcos.


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Mark P said...

My points for discussion:

1. Patchwork yes, mish-mash no. Everything must be built responsibly to work together.

2. Isolated networks will serve no purpose and will be totally underused. Content will drive uptake and content will come from media, internet and government & council. Negotiating rights to content is not an easy job therefore if you are going to put in your own fibre (and I'm all in favour of that) then you need somehow to involve local resources and also the large content providers.

3. Rural is not as hard to deliver (technically) as we are led to believe. Wireless solutions will deliver a reasonable broadband speed and the cost will have to be underwritten by the profits from the urban networks. However you will always get higher speed on a wired network so if you live in the country and can't live without broadband either change your job, your house or your outlook.

4. Take a look at the Japanese model: . We must really learn from that and other examples in Asia (remember India and China are starting on this path too) before we get left so far behind we can never catch up.

5. Another way government could take some of the cost out of deployment is to allow for some (and it should be limited) arial deployment of fibre.

6. FTTC is a starting point but don't expect BT to work with small network owners. As larger groups are finding it takes a big subscriber base before BT have any interest in connecting with you. Our hopes rest on other groups including government and private equity - BT will not deliver FTTH in the next 10 years (IMO).

Overall JFDI will fill gaps for small communities. UK PLC has much wider issues to solve that could be stimulated by local projects but ultimately not solved by them. We can learn from the small communities in Sweden but a larger effort has to be made to ensure the UK does not fall into being a third world telecom country.

That said I will do anything required to get an FTTH connection and will support and help anyone else to do the same!!!

Cyberdoyle said...

I can't believe you said all this a year ago and now government are starting to listen at last... others are calling for a rural ftth manifesto to be written and not realising it is already wrote lol.

PEN said...

Any attempt to pull a manifesto of ideas together is to be welcomed and I subscribe wholeheartedly to these. While the devil will always be in the detail there is not reason at all why this manifesto should not be adopted wholesale and work - except for the final battle with incumbent commercial interests that must take place first, for even though they are unwilling to deliver they will also be unwilling to accept delivery by another entitiy. Such in the nature of the world.

I would only change one thing and that is the taxing of fibre. This is an obscene tax which stands as a major barrier to the roll out of fibre in communities. It has to go.

Cyberdoyle said...

totally agree PEN, the VOA tax is obscene, and would have taken the full £6 phone levy to service it. Far better to scrap both, and make a level playing field.