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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I have a dream....of rural connectivity

15 years after I was first given a modem in a field at an eco-festival, and then discovered that dial up was a pile of poo, I am still without a connection that allows me to do my job, run my internet-based business, video conference with friends and family (down the road let alone abroad), watch iPlayer, enjoy health, wealth and learning opportunities that others in rural areas around the world take for granted, etc. And yet....

This time one month ago, I was connected into a very, very, very fat pipe. In America, courtesy of my now good friends at Utopia. I went there to see how you could make FTTH happen in rural Britain. I nearly didn't come back purely because of the experience of being on a fat pipe, except that I know it's possible here too.

I read about FTTH all the time and have been reading about FTTH for at least 10 of the last 15 years. I met people there, and elsewhere in USA, who gave me answers I have been seeking for far too long.

Today, I spoke to someone British who I last saw about 10 years ago. We still share the same dream - connecting rural communities in the UK to fibre and disproving the ridiculous hype about why it isn't possible. That dream really, really matters to me. And him. And many, many others who loiter in my inbox, on Twitter, at colloquia, at other events, in forums etc. There will be a group of us meeting in Lisbon next week. If you are going to be there, get in touch....

In the last few days, I have been quizzed (or rather, interrogated!) about what exactly it is that I have developed over the last 3 months (read: 15 years) to achieve that dream. I know that there are aspects of this ... this....hmm, let's call it a project....about which I am vague. It is not deliberate. It's generally because I am a bear of little brain and I seem to know "a man who does". You don't play in this sector for 15 years without meeting a few people who know their stuff.

I do not need to know every answer to every question about this project. Whether it is a technical or fiscal question - why bark when you have a dog? I do not mean that in any way condescendingly or patronisingly. I mean, if you know a man who can, then make use of that expertise instead of endeavouring to become an expert in something you don't need to be. This has to be about team building. Working together. Learning from each other. Co-operating.

I have my own skillset. It has been finely honed over the years so that I can contribute something of value to this type of project. (Or so I hope!) One of my skills is collecting people in my address book who have the answers, gained over YEARS in the business. Years that I don't have, nor do you, to make the dream of rural fibre happen by becoming that expert. My address book is a team of people now who can deliver, I believe, something quite extraordinary. Disruptive? I guess. World changing? Potentially, in the UK at least. Profitable? Definitely.

This post is about COLLABORATION and CO-OPERATION. I know that in my circle of fibre friends there are a multitude of people who if I could just get them in one room for a weekend would make some very serious things happen for FTTH. Who could make #digitalbritain happen before the telcos will, before regulation can be put in place to overcome untold difficulties created mainly by commercial pressures, before most of this country even understands what the world beyond bog standard broadband looks like.

FTTH could be here very soon. It is not about talking shops or yet more reviews, consultations, lobbying etc. It is about JFDI. I know I keep saying this, and have even written books on the subject (thanks to whoever it was who bought a substantial number of my books today!!), but it really is about getting together and making it happen.

My reward will not be fiscal on past evidence (!), although any money for what this 'battle' has cost to date would probably keep the accountant and bank manager happier. My reward will be to know that we, the team behind this project, have actually JFDI and broken the ground (literally) to show others it CAN BE DONE.

So, to finalise, I know it can be done. You know it can. None of us can do it alone, or it would have happened a decade ago.

Who is in your address book who you should be ringing to talk about actually doing it? If you are missing people with specific skills, come to the colloquia (next week, May/June and Oct). Tell us you need a colloquium on a specific topic, and we will endeavour to get those people in a room for a few hours to discuss coalface issues with you. Join the COTS group and make a difference there and meet the people you need to make this happen. Go to the CLA meeting on 2nd March and collaborate with others on the Final Third issues.

If we all focus on solving this problem once and for all, it can be done. There are communities across the UK with hard-working champions doing much of the leg work without support from those who can resolve their problems, easily. If you are a funder, make funding available for those who are JFDI across this country in rural communities galore. Make a strenuous effort to find out who is on your manor who you have missed and who could deliver your tickboxes far easier than Business Link ever will.

On a commercial basis, this is your market share, your end users, the consumers you want.

Connect with those people.

Come and meet them at the colloquia.

Talk to them.

Work with them.

Collaborate and co-operate.

Make it happen.

I honestly believe that there is a slice of the FiWi Pie for everyone if you do.


Cybersavvy UK said...

One of the things I have omitted from this post is my total embarrassment that after 15 years campaigning for this, and after visits to various countries, there still isn't a single hamlet, housing estate, village, town or project to take foreign or even British visitors to show off FTTH.

If 2010 sees nothing else, it should be a FTTH 'show home'. And I don't mean that literally. One house does not universal FTTH make....

MB94128 said...

How about RNLI Humber ?

ISPreview article 15 Aug. 2009
FibreStream blog post search
RNLI Humber
Spurn Point Reserve

The station may be too hard to visit physically but it does illustrate the benefits of serving a remote location.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Here's a YouTube search for a JFDI project in Wray Village, Lancashire.

YouTube search - JFDI fibre wennetvideo
Wray Village, Lancashire, UK
Wray Village blog

MB94128 said...

Here's a couple more links on Wray Village. The first starts off in Hull then "CyberDoyle" ignites something of a flame war. The second makes it quite clear that their FttH is currently serving as an extension to a 2Mbps wireless network. Let's hope they get a better backhaul that doesn't break the bank (UK£76K / US$120K per year, no mention of installation charges).

Detractors weigh in
Notspot to Gotspot

P.S. Google currency converter used on 17 Feb.2010.

Cyberdoyle said...

M94128, you have done well finding all those links! I had forgotten they existed. How fast blogs and comments, tweets and websites spring up and are lost. One good thing is that they remain, as a testament to our perseverance. I don't know if you are in the UK or USA or where you are, but I can speak for the UK and for Cybersavvy when I say that we have been working for years to get where we are today, and if we don't JfDI then nobody else will. It is only the passionate who will get off their arses and try things. The incumbents here are happy just to milk the copper goose, little realising that it is ceasing to lay. The current government doesn't understand that they have been taken for suckers by Ofcom who is supposed to be a regulator and supposed to check stuff. If it was doing its job it would have stopped BT openretch claiming that 99.6% of the Uk is connected to a 'DSL enabled exchange' which in the goverment's eyes means they have broadband. They don't. They have a phone line and many are on dial up. Anyway, daren't get on another rant today, but well done for finding the old stuff and hope you have more success wherever you live.
Interesting to see those old photos again, that fibre link has never given us a minute's trouble, it is rock solid and so good. It gives me a lot of hope for the future work we want to do to know just how good it is at first hand. seeing is believing.

MB94128 said...

1) I'm a database and network techie based on the San Francisco Peninsula (hence the "94128" in my handle).

2) I've spent a few double sawbucks (US$20 bills) on various gadgets to see how they work. One gadget was a mesh Wi-Fi module from Meraki. One of these days I should stop by their office near San Jose with my modules and get some fresh software from them.

3) I've dealt with Ma Bell's (AT+T mk.I's) foot dragging in the past and understand how calcified an old telco can be.

4) Like our host, I've been building a portfolio of site links, asstd. documents (HTML, PDF, etc.), and videos that will help me get across that there are alternatives to the commo robber barons (e.g. AT+T, Verizon, Comcast, RCN/Astound, etc.).

5) The problem with a putative "DSL enabled exchange" is that [a] distance can prevent any decent service and [b] the flaming pongos charge too BLEEPing much for rotten service. Thus most customers don't bother with DSL. The CATV / co-ax guys make it a bit simpler with their SHARED service but they too want to put a tap into your jugular (what would you expect from a vampire ?).

Cyberdoyle said...

wow. Not having travelled I don't know much about the US, unlike the author of this blog. How far is Utah and Utopia away from SF? Sounds like you need to get a holiday booked around there, they seem to be an amazing bunch from the sound of it. Can't wait to hear all about it at the colloquium. There is talk of a livestream, fancy staying up all night and seeing us all? LOL. We will know a lot more after that day... Do you have community groups around your area or are you working alone?

MB94128 said...

Unfortunately Utah is a respectable mountain range (the Sierra Nevadas) and a major desert (Great Salt Lake Desert) away. The San Francisco Bay area is more into wireless than FttH. The community FttH project in Palo Alto keeps getting strangled.

The two biggest Wi-Fi nets are Google's in Mountain View and Meraki's demonstration project. There are hot spots all over the place with quite a few free (e.g. public libraries and some stores).

If someone mentions a chimera called "Silicon Valley Metro Connect" (more hot air than kit and NO WEBSITE !) their demonstration project in San Carlos seems to have sunk without a trace. The website (aka "Silicon Valley Network" as in businessman's club) seems to be all chimney and no drive wheels.

Strangely enough this area is an Internet 2 hotbed both directly and through CENIC. And commercial users of fiber (e.g. Lucasfilm in S.F.'s Presidio) tend to be humongous / Brobdingnagian. The incumbent telcos (AT+T mk.II and Comcast) seem to be venomous and a major DSL provider (RCN/Astound) appears to be following in their footsteps.

In short, one hell of a mess. Did some bozo import and upscale those witches and their cauldron from that blasted moor ?