Saturday, 10 October 2009
For years we have been saying that the Victorian Phone network cannot cope with the demands broadband access places on it, and many rural areas can't get a connection and are still on dial up or on very impoverished connections that other countries would not call 'broadband'. We have JFDI ourselves and built wifi networks to reach remote areas. We have used microwave links and satellites to provide access to the digitally disadvantaged. Now we are laying and lighting fibre. Everyone has called us yoghurt knitters or fibreheads and believed the quangos and telcos who have assured the country and the government that the infrastructure can cope.
Even now Ofcom tells the press that over 99% of the country is connected to DSL enabled exchanges. The reporters are too lazy to check the facts and believe the media spokesperson or just quote press releases. The may be connected for phone access but it can't deliver broadband over distances greater than 7km.
The tables are now turning thanks to a football game. The first IPtv match between Ukraine and England is to be screened exclusively online. The ISPs and telcos are scared. They know their networks can't possibly cope if too many people watch, nor can the company providing the service deliver decent quality to more than a million subscribers. The sad thing is that many fans will pay to watch the game but it won't work. Unless you have a good connection it will buffer, so it won't be real-time and vital goals will be missed. Not a satisfactory experience, and the failure of the telcos to deliver will be exposed.
This fact has become more apparent these last few days since the announcement, and the tone on blogs, forums and twitter has changed. Whereas before everyone was saying the problems were caused by people choosing cheap ISPs, or having faulty equipment and broadband was capable of delivering Egov, now the realisation is dawning that the network can't even deliver a low definition football game. This isn't even an important match. When we host the Olympics the athletes and their entourages will be expecting the nation to have 'Next Generation Superfast Broadband' which is what Gordon Brown professed at TED, on the news and in the papers. There is no way this will be delivered, as the telcos have little intention of replacing the obsolete copper with fibre except where they can make it pay during the event eg the Olympic Village. Meanwhile the rest of the country will be left to struggle with obsolete and ancient technology.
The telco plans to get a connection to the rural areas are by means of BET. Broadband Enabling Technology. This means bonding two or three copper pairs together to send the adsl further. At the most this will deliver a contended 2 meg service. Totally inadequate for next gen access. It will also mean laying further copper cables, as rural areas often have line sharing technology DACs to share a pair for two phone lines. This is not next gen, it is a telco milking revenue from consumer and government ignorance. It appears they also also expect government funding to pay for this meagre and purposeless upgrade to their network.
It is time for the naysayers to be heard. The current network cannot cope with TODAY's demands, and as more and more sporting events are moved online to seek revenue, the deficiencies in the UK network will become ever more obvious. BT will once again seek to grab the low hanging fruit by upgrading to fibre in places where there are multiple subscribers, leaving rural areas ever further behind. We need a network that can not only cater for today's needs eg a single football match, but for every day's needs far into the future
For me, the saddest part of the furore this game has caused is the fact that it has highlighted how digitally backward this country's citizens are, as many seem unaware that they can plug their PC into the TV. Surely this highlights how important the Internet has become for business, sport, government, leisure, etc and how it is essential to educate Britons in the basics of digital citizenship so they can use the network to its full potential?
I personally don't like football so it had never occurred to me that it might be a football match that breaks the network but this Saturday I will be cheering loudly for football, knowing that at long last those of us who have been campaigning for over a decade for Fibre To Every Home will finally be proven to have been talking sense. Three cheers for football!!