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Sunday, 6 September 2009

Why UK broadband should be just like our electric utility

At the Colloquium last Thursday, there was an overwhelming vote to have broadband defined, managed and promoted as a utility... and there is an interesting parallel

Electricity is a utility. We all regard it as ubiquitous. It may not always be affordable but you can at least control how much you spend by how many devices you plug into it. However, it reminded me of a recent conversation with an ex-pat in Spain, who pointed out that at least here in the UK, we can pretty much plug as much as we want in, whereas in Spain you can't.

During the colloq, I made a quick call to Spain to get the figures. As far as my ex-pat friend could recall, in Spain each house gets 2.2KW. Here in the UK, each house gets 25KW thrown at it. Therefore, we can keep plugging things in all day long and the power supply can cope - unless we go totally mad and have untold devices all consuming wattage at the same time. However, were you to exceed the need for 25KW regularly, the electricity company would upgrade your system, because you would be paying for it. (Or so I was told on the steps of the Guildhall).

Just for once, in the UK, we seem to have got away from false scarcity. We need to do exactly the same with broadband as we do with electricity.

Throw as much as possible at every home in the UK.

If people don't use it, then that's fine. It doesn't cause any problems if each house is not using the full capacity. They pay for what they consume with electricity. If, however, we were in the same situation as properties in Spain where you can only have a certain number of devices plugged in at once, there would be uproar. Because, of course, we are used to having a fairly sophisticated electricity supply to our homes. OK, it may spike and surge, but it is still 10 times more wattage than a domestic property in Spain can hope for. The uproar about our impoverished broadband is now growing as we compare ourselves with other countries and find the UK seriously wanting.

If you look into the history of the first electricity supplies in the UK, many rural villages had electricity, generated within the community, long before the major towns and cities had moved beyond gas jets. Usually courtesy of a village group or individual who decided that generating electricity for the community from that ubiquitous natural resource (water) would be a great thing to do, so they got on and JFDI. Both the village I was brought up in (mentioned in the link above) and the one I now live in were ahead of Manchester and Teeside in providing their own electricity to local people.

The impact that this had on many communities was astounding, and although the village I now live in could only provide one lightbulb to each house in the village at first in the late 1910/early 1920s, you can imagine how that began to change rural life. The problems for these communities came when electricity was nationalised in the 50s, ditto with water supplies that were also nationalised. We should learn from that. Local is better than national.

If only we could make broadband from water....and weren't reliant on self-serving corporates to get the essential ingredient. Even so, those responsible for holding up the provision of broadband to communities need to change their thinking and look at the parallels from a mere century ago. Electricity enabled untold innovations, changes to people's lives, improvements in health (no more sewing by candlelight etc), and led to the huge assortment of devices we have today that rely on electricity and apparently make life simpler.

The innovation and benefits didn't come from the electricity companies, they came from the consumers of the utility and exactly the same happens with broadband. People need to have enough to do whatever they choose to, and the sooner we get that and start making it feasible, the faster this country will recover.

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Cyberdoyle said...

Excellent comparison, it puts it all into perspective. We are living in the UK with a false scarcity model due to the infrastructure for broadband being so poor.

NGA UK said...

Nice comparison! So Spain suffers from lack of electricity and a poorer telecom infrastructure than the UK... perhaps the grass isn't always greener!

As for those self serving corporates IMO JFDI fibre solutions can be built without significant involvement from any of them. Partnership is crucial but only with the right parnters!

Perhaps more of an issue is those self serving politicians...