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Monday, 9 November 2009

Trains, canals and wayleaves

Thanks to MB94128 and his comments, this post is ever more timely, which I guess is more than can be said for our trains! It is about railways and FTTx. One particular railway at this moment, who don't get broadband....but it's bigger than that.

As some may be aware, I have an unhealthy interest in railways and canals. (Blame the parents). F'rinstance, Wensleydale Railway PLC is about moving people in rural areas, I want to move data in rural areas.

Technological revolution compared to industrial. The railways often cropped up in our first Access to Broadband Conferences, with many likening the new fibre and outdated copper networks with the advent of the railways leaving the canals to die off. (Luckily, just as the canals have found new life with the leisure trade, so copper can be similarly jewellery, kettles etc!).

The railways stand to play an important part in the next generation network, being obvious and logical conduits to connect up the country with longhaul. More so than that though, when you look at where railways run, even those which Beeching closed, many of which Sustrans have breathed new life into (leisure again), there are correlations between the rail network and notspots and / or the digitally excluded. Railways and fibre go together remarkably well, seeking to go as straight as possible to work properly.

Ditto canals, so let's not exclude them from this picture too. When I lived in London, I discovered canals in the most unexpected of places on the numerous occasions I missed the bus. For those with time to spare and a chance to get out of the city, there are canals galore in this fair land of ours, wending their way through the countryside, past otherwise disconnected homes, farms and businesses.

So, not just longhaul, but backhaul and first inch connectivity too.

However, as we all keep alluding to, there is still a major lack of co-operation between the required players for the next generation game. (Nick that phrase and I'll sue you! I have plans for it!) Perhaps it is purely that so many people still haven't got it.....and cannot grasp just what broadband can do to lives, businesses, communities, etc?

This week's tale comes from a deeply rural area, where it has to be said, some of the necessary players really have got it eg councils, communities etc. Running through this rural area is an heritage railway line. When approached about laying fibre up the line to reach a couple of distant parishes, enthusiasm was expressed, in particular because the benefits of the existence of this fibre along their line were clearly laid out to them - future signalling requirements, superfast wi-fi hotspots in stations, PR, corporate & social responsibility angle, etc etc. As Churchill says, "Oh yes."

Over the intervening period since the initial approach though, things have taken a turn for the worse. It now appears that, having sought advice, the original wayleave offer is insufficient and the railway want more. The amount being asked by said railway per metre for wayleave actually equates to more per person in one of the parishes to be connected than the CPE!

It is easy to see where the advice has come from - those who run railways between major urban centres eg London and Edinburgh, as the figure is similar - negotiable between £2-3 per metre. However, this amount would mean the project hits an instant stalemate and could not proceed to connect people over the coming 3-6 months as intended.

In essence, and particularly considering the additional revenue this heritage railway could make from station hotspots etc, the wayleave being asked is either greedy or ill-informed.

I could go further, and point out the negatives. Those in the affected parishes will have to be informed about the railway's response - it affects the scope and complexity of the project, and the community have been involved from the outset. This can only be negative PR for the railway. Blimey, you know us English, we can hold grudges for years. There may be grandchildren of the 'afflicted' who never ever use the railway, even though the detail of "Why" is lost in the annals of time.

Lost revenue - not just from the grandchildren, but this is a heritage railway. It relies on tourists and visitors. It needs to add value to its services at every turn. Being able to upload your photos from the train over a £1 day pass for wi-fi could be a winner. Love where you are? Want to stay? Want to find a hotel or B&B for the night? Hey, just check it out as you travel between A and B on the train.

Virgin want to provide HD TV etc to the communities the train passes? Let's start talking about you using our fibre, Mr B. If that fibre starts to generate further revenue, it can only be good for the railway, who would be within their rights to up the wayleave.

What is going to happen though is that the fibre won't be laid because it is not COMMERCIALLY VIABLE at that rate. Hence, the railway gets a big fat zero. No revenue, no benefits, no added value services, no future exciting developments.

This needs to be a reminder also to all those of you who insist on charging by the metre for rural back and longhaul. You are currently getting the same big fat zero income. We cannot buy backhaul from you if it is so expensive that it is beyond our pockets.

Work together. With us, the users, the communities, the consumers - at the end of your network but the beginning of ours. OK, it may not seem much now in revenue, but we all know what happens when you build it. The users do come, they do use it (or there wouldn't be a single FUP in place in this country), and they do pay.

For any other railway, BWB, landowner, telco, etc, it's be nice to think this may be a salutory lesson for you too. "Better summat than nowt"


MB94128 said...

Two models :

Upfront + Greedy
Access charge - Dollars / pounds per yard / meter;
Revenue - Zilch / Nada.

Co-op / PESI
Access charge - Compensatory fiber pair (w/ premises restriction) for the ROW owner's use;
Benefit - Reduced cost signal upgrade for command + control (lights, semaphores, wi-fi phones, etc.);
Revenue - Wi-fi access charges for patrons, VOIP and data charges for tenants of the ROW owner's adjacent properties, etc.

PESI - Principle of Enlightened Self-Interest (see E.E."Doc" Smith's "Subspace ..." series for an example)

VOIPMEN said...
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