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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Roads and Broadband

Each year, we go up to Scotland for a quick razz around on the motorbikes. Part of our route is to Cape Wrath, over Laxford Bridge. Just over a month ago, that bridge suffered major structural damage when an Army transporter fell off it, leaving those who live nearby, deliver goods, go to school etc via that bridge were faced with a 60-100 mile detour. And what, you may ask, has that to do with broadband?

Imagine that Laxford Bridge is a telephone exchange. The closure or 'throttling of traffic' at Laxford Bridge will have caused unnecessary expense, time delays and isolation for the haulage companies, businesses and citizens who use that bridge, including impacting the school kids. There will have been no compensation by the Army to those affected, nor seemingly did the Highlands Council pull their finger out and get the bridge repaired as quickly as possible to limit the impact.

UK broadband is facing similar problems. Some people are finding 'road closed' signs, many others are finding there is only one lane of one way traffic. Far too many are spending countless hours, days and even months attempting to get throttled or broken connections repaired. Those in rural areas are the most heavily affected, because of course, there are less people using those 'routes' to make enough noise to get those whose responsibility it is to solve the problems quickly.

Those who make decisions about the capacity available through an exchange, about the number of customers to put on each tail (often hundreds, increasing the contention massively and slowing down connectivity speeds), where to put investment, deploying fibre etc etc etc, are often incapable of seeing the consequences of their actions to the bigger picture.

Whilst you at BT or Virgin may be thinking purely about your bottom line and shareholders, those who are impacted by your decisions are having their bottom lines threatened, their daily lives disrupted, and their choices reduced. This also affects UK Plc, rendering many incapable of achieving what they could to put this country back in a position of economic fortune, and competing on the global stage in regards to the knowledge and information economy.

For those in government, often far removed in their shiny civil service offices from the reality that their decisions mean for everyday people, it is often seemingly impossible for you to realise how widespread the effects of and potentially devastating some of your ill-informed policies can be. For those of us outside of those offices, we look, often in horror, at the cost of implementing many of these policies, the lack of return on investment from our taxes, and the failure to achieve what is required. (Get Online Day seems to be a prime example of that failure.)

In this country, we seem to be very good at NOT looking at anything holistically. How the actions of one person, department or company have a knock on effect on other, seemingly unrelated people, departments or companies. Those two gunners are probably unaware of the personal lives and businesses they have disrupted, but you can guarantee that their actions have had a negative impact on many of those who live, work and play up at that end of the country. It may have been one diesel bill too many for a haulage company, a loss of footfall too far for shops, cafes, B&Bs etc on that route.

We know that road closure and roadworks adds huge strains to our business community, as well as stress to commuters etc. We know it costs the economy millions and millions of pounds each year through waiting in traffic jams at roadworks and the disruption on our road network. We should be applying similar thinking to just how much the low level of broadband and the jams on the network in this country are costing the economy, not just in pounds sterling lost but also the social capital.

Where there are broadband Laxford Bridges, it is in the interest of all those involved in opening them and keeping two way traffic flowing over them at peak rate to do so. That includes councils and government, telecoms companies, investors, and communities working together to do so. It means thinking holistically about where our money would be best spent and which boxes we are actually trying to tick.

All very well saying how wonderful the Internet is, but not much use if most people can't use it as others can in other countries. And zero point spending oodles of dosh trying to persuade the digitally reluctant to get online if, when they do so, the connectivity is so poor they can't actually do even half of what they have heard about.

Oh, and apparently being grumpy is good for you so I intend to continue as I am - about broadband, anyway!


Cyberdoyle said...

The state of broadband in the UK makes everybody grumpy! There is nothing worse than a stream dying when you are halfway through a conference, as the one at BIS did yesterday. (archive here: ) Unless it is losing your login to the bank when you are trying to pay wages and bills...
...or just missing that bargain on ebay, or the kids giving you a hard time because they can't download their homework, or access their facebook or...
... the list is endless. The roadblocks drive everyone nuts. Its not just you who is grumpy. Keep telling it like it is, and maybe one day the policy makers might finally get IT. The meeting on the link above was the parliament inquiry into broadband.Nobody there seemed to get IT much. Only two sensible witnesses on the panel and one of those didn't know the difference between a bit and a byte.

MB94128 said...

Postscript : Bridge Back In Full Service
Laxford Bridge