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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Rural broadband fiasco

The front page article on my local paper, The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, this week says far too much about the reality of rural broadband in the UK. Broadband? That'll be £45,000 then.

What this rural business is seeking is not what most businesses in the world today would even call broadband. The issues the article (and multiple blog posts here) raise about BT's first mile network beg a heap of questions about where BT is investing its money, e.g. with the recent notices about FTTC to specific areas of the country. Most of the places BT intends to go already have choices about their connectivity. The places that need decent connectivity are stuck on old-fashioned and limited plant that urgently needs upgrading or opening up so others with an interest can access street cabs and first mile copper and replace all of this Victorian plant with modern equivalents eg fibre.

What should anyone in a rural community when faced with this dilemma? What should companies such as The Phone Co-op be advising their customers when this problem arises? How should the media be reporting on these issues?

Firstly, any customer who believes their only choice is to deal with BT Open Reach to solve the problem created by BT (the digital chasm) needs to understand that there are other options. In particular, building your own community-owned network so this incumbent monopoly issue is resolved once and for all for our generation and the next generations.

You do not need to physically construct the network yourself, but it will substantially reduce your costs if you do at least part of it yourself, as has been proven in Sweden, Netherlands and elsewhere. There are companies who can design, build, operate and maintain your network on behalf of your community so the learning curve required by a community does not need to be as steep. It will however mean the network asset belongs to YOU and is open so that any provider can bring you a choice of services over that network. This is key to sustainability and future-proofing.

Every community facing these problems should seek expert advice and luckily this is now available through this blog, and the Fibrevolution forum. We are also creating a set of resources and guides based on real-world practical experience to assist communities. As ever, all of these resources are being created without any assistance from the UK government who have shown an abject failure to understand the importance of community-owned rural FTTH projects and sadly, seem likely to continue to do so in 2010.

If your community has any questions about rural broadband, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We have been helping communities for a decade with broadband issues, and I was the first person in the country to hold a rural broadband event. I and many others in our "fibre gang" are happy to help real people get connected to true broadband.

What should companies such as the Phone Co-op do? Become far more aware of the activity that is now in full swing within rural communities. Start to seek alternatives to the olde schoole thinking of dealing with BT. Broadband does not equal BT. Offer customers links to resources and help on rural broadband.

The Regional Development Agencies need to take a lead in gathering together all those interested in helping communities out, and presenting this information to help rebuild rural areas. There will never be a single organisation capable of offering all the advice required to rural communities (and I say that advisedly) so find all those suppliers, consultants, technicians, and community groups able to help and put them in touch with those in need in your region.

What should the media do? Stop taking the information from a limited number of resources and press releases. Start finding out about how others have solved broadband issues such as these and report accurately on the problems and solutions. Take responsibility for co-ordinating regional efforts by publishing broadband supplements that show the full picture. Highlight the affordable and future-proofed solutions to this problem so people understand the solutions are in their own hands. Do not mention BET as a solution - it never will be. It cannot ever be construed as accurate reporting if BET is mentioned in the same sentence, paragraph or article about Next generation access or FTTH without the word 'NOT' in close proximity!!

And MPs - be warned. This is going to become an election issue so get yourself up to date fast on the latest technologies and FTTH. FTTC is NOT the solution, however many press releases Virgin and BT put out about it. Attend the FTTH Council conference in Lisbon next month, read the news from other countries about FTTH, and protect your constituencies from substandard offerings, now and in the future.


Cyberdoyle said...

Great post, and every word is true...
... I would have written it if I was a writer.
great stuff, now we just need policy makers to know what we know instead of listening to corporate spin AKA bullshit.

Pauline Rigby said...

Can you DACS more than 2 lines into 1? Because if not, then something doesn't add up. The B&B couple had two lines coming into their property - put together that could equal one line without DACS. Maybe they're DACSed with other properties instead of with themselves, but even that sounds solvable to me.

Maybe Openreach aren't that interested in giving the Post Office a new customer - wonder what they'd have said if the request came from BT retail? Cynical, moi?

Back in 2000 I had a new phone line put in, and BT had to string up over a km of cable from the bottom of the hill to the farmhouse I was living in because all the exiting pairs were in use. And I only paid the standard connection fee, in fact, I think new lines were on special offer at the time, and I got it for under £100. Times change.

Cyberdoyle said...

they were probably DACsed with someone else. so the remaining line would be snapped up right away to provide the voice USO to another. I remember being on a party line and even though they ran a new copper line to me i was still DACSed cos further down the route back to the exchange was congested. The victorian infrastructure is just not up to IT any more, but unless we can get our voice heard we will continue to be ignored. Any suggestions welcome...
Openretch are the pits, and they don't try any harder for BT the ISP from what I have heard. There is no communication between OR, BT or BT wholesale from all accounts. Ticket system, no calls or emails answered. Silo thinking. No innovation or care. Talk to any of the workers from either of those orgs and they will tell you the same. They have to deal with the customers and fend off the angry enquiries. They are trying to provide a service with their hands tied. It is all a scam of the highest order, openretch and wholesale are run by eejits for the benefit of shareholders and not the people or the employees. The BT engineers are great, but they can't work miracles.

zoe.smith said...

I'm new to the issue of rural broadband access but was prompted to investigate further when Gordon Brown addressed the issue of extending access at Prime Minister's Question Time this week.

He claimed that "95% of the population of the country will be guaranteed broadband and fast broadband very soon”.

It turns out this figure is in correct -

Cyberdoyle said...

hi Zoe, it certainly is incorrect, it is very wrong in fact. Half the country will never get fast broadband, they may get 'up to 2meg' by using the Crap BET solution but that is only narrowband, it can never be classed as real broadband these days.