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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Using existing infrastructure

This country is littered with ducts, poles and masts. All of them can be shared. There is no reason not to do so. However, there are some bloody stupid games going on to prevent it. It is your turn to tell me why that may be so and how we stop it....

I'll give you a few starters for ten about the games being played.

NB: I could write this post for three days and not cover the half of it. Feel free to comment below, or email me ldotannisonatgmaildotcom, if you wish to see more added. I haven't attributed some of it as a matter of respect. You can guess who said it if you wish...and I'll bet you will be wrong!

BT have left old copper in the ducts to block them.

Really? Why? (Ho hum). Questions were asked and as we pay these guys, I'm not anonymising this response from BIS (formerly known as the Department of Trade and Industry). It doesn't answer the question but it raised plenty more:

It is worth pointing out that duct and pole access on its own would not provide straightforward options to deliver NGA, and there are limitations which will need to be overcome before this option is achievable. For example, in a survey carried out as part of Ofcom’s work on NGA, of 31 paths between the metro node and the exchange, Ofcom found that all had at least one section where there was very little unoccupied space. This means that, even with duct access, communications providers would probably need to build new duct in at least some locations. However, on the other hand, duct and pole access could reduce the cost of market entry, be deployed quickly and make good use of existing infrastructure, which is why Ofcom is currently assessing its viability.

Who assesses what is currently in ducts, or on poles and masts, and, when it belongs to a private company (e.g.BT) but is in a duct/pole/mast laid/installed with public money way back when, who decides whether or not that existing plant is actually a) doing anything e.g. live b) of any value or c) blocking progress? Or do Ofcom just rely on the answers given without looking/digging for the actuality?

For us this last set of questions raised a huge issue. Do Ofcom take everything they are told at face value? Or do our taxes fund decent research and evaluation to generate the required evidence for regulation and decision making? We'll leave you to decide for yourselves, but if you want a clue, visit your local planning office and ask key questions about a 'controversial' planning application.

85% of UK is within 1km of BT fibre.
This was said too many times at our ABC conferences for you not to know that Peter Cochrane said this! PC has never really defined the fibre connectivity available to 85% of the UK - dark, lit - but it makes you wonder how much of the figures 'claimed' for FTTC in the latest BT announcements are based on money spent a long time ago, not recently.

As an example, at the very first broadband event I organised in 2001/2, in Hawes, Wensleydale, we caught BT laying fibre in ducts a few miles away, literally hours before the event where a BT keynote speaker was due. (Bear in mind, this was possibly the very first national broadband event in Britain and our BT speaker was coming from Cornwall - think ActNow etc.)

I phoned the CEO of BT at the time for answers. He was quite nice though utterly fed up with me, I think. A nice chap. Pierre Danon (like the yogurt) I think it was. It was a long time ago, so I will not quote him, but the answer in simple terms was, "Yes, we have been laying fibre to exchanges recently, even in remote places like the Yorkshire Dales e.g Cotterdale, Hawes, and the guys you saw near Bainbridge. I can't imagine why the engineers told you they were cleaning grit from the ducts....."

When I asked for access to that fibre in the middle mile, I received a non-committal answer (i.e "no") which I reported at the event - it is on video, and I have it here. Sadly, in 2010, accessing the middle mile is no easier, though my parents and grandparents paid for it and if the upgrades were viable at the very beginning of this century, well, no-one can tell me that money hasn't already been recouped. Again.

Every switch has a fibre feed and many mobile masts do too.

In 2005, a senior exec from O2, whilst sitting next to someone who became a BT OpenRetch Board member, at one of our DTI events in London, queried my question about whether his network would be interested in sharing excess backhaul from rural masts for community networks. "Do we have fibre backhaul to masts?" I think my look of surprised anguish at his ignorance was the prompt for the BT guy to respond, "Um yes. She is right, you know. You could consider it."

What else is going on in this space? Well, if you really need to know how bad it is, read the BT Pole Dancing info or read the lunacies of the proposed pole sharing agreements from BT for NGA which would permit BT to put any community network using their plant on a 3 month death sentence, even weeks into a 20-50year project.

When people such as Cyberdoyle talk about joined up thinking, solving simple problems such as this is what we mean. Whoever you are, reading this, and I know now just how many and varied are the readers of this blog, then please take 2 mins to contemplate how you could add to the joined up thinking model that will make the UK a digital nation rather than the Digital Grand Canyon.

Please allow me to finish on a high note. There *are* ways to do this right.

I spent quite a lot of time with the Scottish Exec earlier in this decade. Scotland, sadly, hides its light under a bushel much of the time in the tech and broadband arena. This is why, after hearing a SE speaker at the Ally Pally "Need for Speed" event who was onstage just before me, the Scottish ABC Conference in Aviemore happened in 2004, as well as the Dumfries & Galloway events etc.

This is my version of the story I was told all those years ago. For me, it highlights collaboration, co-operation, vision, as well as use of existing infrastructure. Despite it being Burns Night, I will resist writing the following in dialect!

The Highlands & Islands were suffering from a lack of mobile coverage. No-one wanted lots of mobile masts over what is undeniably an amazing and beautiful landscape - I know it well, now. And there are of course only a few people at the end of that particular connection.

HIE (the 'Regional Development Agency' for that area of Scotland) summoned the mobile operators to a round table meeting.

HIE offered assistance to get planning permission etc fast tracked and masts part-funded and installed, as well as adjudicate any issues where there were blackspots if the operators would co-operate and share masts, infrastructure etc in order to deliver choice to those in the Highlands and Islands.

I was never present at those meetings but I was told this story by someone who was. His opinion was along the lines of 'If only it was this bloody simple everywhere.' The operators chatted, site share agreements were dealt with in double fast time, (they all had to get on board or it was a lost market to them), and the HIE watched their community connected with the widest choice of services and providers, at least cost, without destroying the landscape.

It is that bloody simple.

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NGA UK said...

You know, I have been quiet for some time now - very busy with other issues - but this is right, as are many of your other comments. Without the desire for people & companies to work together to deliver a truly Digital Britain and stop protecting assets that have been paid off long ago we will get nowhere. I feel incensed now... I'll actually write more on my blog.

GuyJ said...

Excellent summary of frustrations post and NGA-UK makes the key point - mass desire for change, that is what is lacking.

A huge handicap in the UK is the feeling of powerlessness that comes from over-reliance on "big others" - be that government welfare or big business.

The sense that so many people have that they are insignificant and unable to effect change.

Yup suitably incensed to now - I feel a blog post coming on!

MB94128 said...

The topic of full ducts popped up at another blog. The guess I posted was that some of the cables are broken and abandoned-in-place (AIP). Pulling dead cables out of a duct is very risky. The strain on a working cable could break it. Maybe BT should hire some techs with a fondness for leather and lube ;-).