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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Next gen broadband education has to reach all sectors of society

Letter printed by The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald (15/08/09) in response to a letter from the Eden Local Strategic Partnership saying that, as it seemed that networks such as Alston Cybermoor were unlikely to be sustainable or replicable in other Eden villages, the LSP were advising adding your postcode to ThinkBroadband's notspot site and the LSP would lobby so we and our kids could get on the Net in our spare time....

Dear Sir,

In Letters this week (Improving broadband coverage a priority for partnership), the LSP seems to have entirely missed the point about why broadband is needed, and, in particular, in rural areas such as Eden. This is no longer about accessing the Internet in your spare time, nor working from home. Broadband provides access to Health, Wealth and Learning opportunities, for instance, telehealth, education, business opportunity, and access to government services, but additionally, it has been proven that Fibre To The Home (FTTH) and hence superfast broadband (100Mbps+ symmetrical) regenerates communities, stimulates new business and innovation, is environmentally superior to ADSL, and improves the quality of life across all sectors. In the very near future, broadband will become the fourth utility. The changes that will bring will be equivalent to those felt when electricity or piped water first entered our communities.

The assertion that FTTH is too costly for rural areas comes only from those telcos unwilling to invest against shareholder interests, and government offices unwilling to fund it, not from fact. Whilst the LSP may be interested only in lobbying, I respectfully suggest that we would do better to adopt the approach of our neighbours, both here and abroad, and just get on with dealing with the problem.(JFDI)

Just down the road in rural Lancashire, and in many other communities, both urban and rural, across the UK, local people have taken control of digging in their own fibre optics and combining these with the latest wireless technologies (FiWi) to address the issue of next generation access for themselves. The costings for such digs now show that the figures which commercial companies, such as BT, quote for such work seem to be up to 100 times more than the reality when the community gets involved, as has happened across Sweden, Holland, Estonia and so on already.
The payback for every community is in social capital, community well-being, economic regeneration, new business, reduced cost services, and so on. This is not about investing to give the telcos a cut, but to revive our communities, invigorate them, make substantial cost savings across the county as a whole, reduce environmental pollution, and much, much more.

FACT: Digital Britain (Fibre To EVERY Home) could be delivered at less than a third (worst case scenario £28bn) of the money which has been used to prop up the banks.

FACT: FTTH equipment requires substantially less electricity than ADSL broadband equipment, and hence FTTH is the greener option.

FACT: The savings to our public service providers through use of broadband would be immense and we would, for once see Return on Investment for spend of public monies.

FACT: The telcos are operating to make a commercial return by creating "false scarcity from abundance". Bits are not rare, and they are not expensive in these days where data transport costs are approaching zero.

FACT: The telecommunications companies, such as BT, Virgin et al do not need to own the network. It can belong to the consumers of that network using a co-operative model eg Industrial Provident Society, or a Community Interest Company. This is particularly important if we want to protect next generation networks for our next generations.

FACT: Community ownership models keep the money within the community (the "blue pound" scenario) rather than giving it to national or international companies to spend outside the region.

FACT: £19.5million has already been spent by NWDA on supposedly equipping Cumbria with broadband through Project Access. Here in Eden, many people are still unable to get a connection that even with a stretch of the imagination could be called "broadband", which will allow iPlayer, Youtube and so on to work.

FACT: Approximately 20+% nationally will be unable to get even close to the USO of 2Mbps by 2012, proposed by the current government. In rural and remote areas, such as Eden, the figure is likely to approach or even pass 50% unable to get that speed.

FACT: Korea is intending to deliver a USO of 1Gbps in the same timeframe. The UK government are attempting to set the bar so low that we as a nation are almost inevitably destined to become a third world player in the global knowledge and information economy unless we take appropriate action for ourselves.

There are long term broadband campaigners, such as myself (14 years) and others who live and work in this and neighbouring counties, who are delighted to read that the issue of broadband is being addressed by the LSP. However, having been there, done that, and got the tshirts, we know that the solution is not to lobby, but to start digging. Should the LSP wish to host a public meeting on this issue, we would be happy to invite on their behalf many of those (including from some of the world's largest companies and smallest communities) who know precisely how this could be achieved, and thus share this information with other residents of Eden suffering on the wrong side of the digital chasm.

Yours etc

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