Search This Blog

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Brown's speech yesterday

[It was yesterday when I wrote this]

Am reading the transcript of Building Britain's Digital Future speech as Gordon Brown was delivering it at such a speed that I think some of the nuances require a re-read.

I want Britain to be the world leader in the digital economy which will create over a quarter of a million skilled jobs by 2020;

Evidence and research from other countries indicate that just putting FTTH in nationwide* could easily create that number of skilled jobs, and bring with it the associated rise in tax to the Treasury etc. Therefore, why wait till 2020? Why not start the process today?

Underpinning the digital transformation that we are likely to see over the coming decade is the creation of the next generation of the web - what is called the semantic web, or the web of linked data.

Actually, underpinning the transformation will be the appropriate infrastructure. Whilst we all know that Tim Berners-Lee has been advising Brown extensively recently, this is a bit cart before the horse. Again. Yes, open data is hugely important and there have already been steps taken in this direction. Tim's recent presentation showed off some of the great uses to which people have already put open government data.

But without the infrastructure to access and share this data, as well as the need for everyone to become digitally literate and not drown in the information overload we are already seeing, these fantastic opportunities become slightly meaningless for your everyday consumer.

First to digitalise - to make Britain the leading superfast broadband digital power creating 100 per cent access to every home;

Ah yes, the headline everyone jumped to write. BUT, and this is a very big BUT, neither of the main parties, nor the telcos themselves, know how to do this where 'superfast' is a term which makes 100% sense when looking at the levels of connectivity other nations offer today, or plan to within that same timeframe. As a cynic, "100 per cent [sic] access" could mean that 100% of homes have access to the level of access that is available to many in the UK today, which is only debatably eligible to be called "broadband". ....And then, Ofcom today defined "superfast" as meaning 24Mbps. No mention of symmetrical. Even setting the bar that low, I would suggest, leaves us out in the cold.

The problem is that Andorra, for instance, is on track to beat that ambition THIS YEAR with 100Mbps symmetrical to everyone. There are many other nations who are also more than likely to do so long before Britain can. Even if everyone in the country who was currently doing nothing set to with the right equipment, mapping on the fly, etc etc, we'd be hard pushed to beat other nations to that goal. So, pinch of salt, flung over shoulder.

Third to economise - in the Pre-Budget Report we set out our determination to find £11 billion of savings by driving up operational efficiency, much of it enabled by the increased transparency and reduced costs made available by new technology.

One could argue that these savings could be substantially INCREASED by deploying the infrastructure first which would allow every citizen to interact with government services NOW, not in 2012, 15, 17 or 20. (Whilst no figures are given in this article about the savings made by a Maryland Council, one can immediately see the benefits if councils interact with their constituencies in this way).

The other day I heard how one of Britain’s leading musicians, who spends most of his time abroad, reads his young son a bedtime story from thousands of miles away using Skype. And millions of us can now spend more time with our families because technology allows people to work easily from home.

For many, it is not possible to use Skype (I still cannot make a call to my clients in Canada without using my landline), nor to 'easily work from home'. Listen to Ted's audio clip here for evidence of the problems still faced in so-called broadband Britain for those who want to work from home.

However, Skype was first sold to Ebay in 2005, and is um sort of old hat as an app.

The next stage will be radical expansion and enhancement of two-way communication between service providers and homes that new superfast broadband is beginning to make possible.

As long as we hold clearly in our heads that 2Mbps asymmetrical cannot make that happen.... up the bar if this is the vision you have, GB.

Britain is uniquely equipped to lead the digital age.
Because we have no concrete plan to do so?

This country has always been at its best when it has led the world in its pursuit of creativity and innovation and in the promotion of fairness and liberty. And in so many ways these issues have come together in the extraordinary development of the world wide web.

Allow me to paraphrase: "This country has always been at its best when...our backs are against the wall, like now." I could add to that: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Next para: The UK can hardly hold its head up and say we are developing the most fantabulous web apps nor using even the Web, let alone bandwidth to irs full potential. Actually, I think, without a doubt, that honour has to go to the eastern Bloc and Russia, Korea and China from whence many ideas and workable apps have come. Our digital literacy is astoundingly low, however high our take up of "broadband" has been.

And then we go into people who haven't accessed the Net.

Spot the telco blame??? Nowhere in sight. Spot the blame for Labour policy to allow the competitive market to dictate where we are today?

We can allow unbridled market forces to provide a solution on its own terms and according to its own timetable as others would do.

Yep, that is what we have been doing for a decade and more. Where has it got us??

The result would be superfast broadband coverage determined not even by need or social justice, or by the national interest but by profitability alone. This would open a lasting, pervasive and damaging new digital divide.

Ah, so you recognise that using market forces has failed. Is that because the Conservatives are now proposing to go that route, again? Because you have seen sense? Because you are going to try something different and radical? Because you aren't quite sure what you are going to do next and this sounds good?

By this point in the speech, my ears are bleeding, my eyes are also bloodshot, and my brain is mentally packing my house up to leave the country.

I don't think I need to continue. Any of the good readers here can. Or you can post what you would do for broadband UK if you were PM.

I think the speech highlights the complexity of the issue that this country faces, the numerous toes it steps on, and the need to think big and think holistically.

Bringing 4 Ministers to the meeting didn't exactly simplify this so that the majority of people in the country could understand. In fact, all it did was highlight my palaver the week before last trying to find that raw data - 5 agencies. NO!

If you want to win votes, and support, and encourage action, then you need to simplify and talk concrete solutions to construction problems. And this country needs, more than anything, to start building and stop waffling all around the houses. Especially by people who don't 'get' what normal people do on the Internet, and really, really want to do.

* Far better links are available but I am fitting this in round a book deadline. Would appreciate hard predictions, stats, evidence etc for UK if anyone has any....

Read the original blog post on

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


evision said...

Cyberdoyle said...

Necessity is the mother of invention. I like that. It sums up where we are now, with our backs against the wall. Now we have to move fast to catch up, and with the right leaders we CanDo IT.
Final Third First is the perfik solution, because it will adress the digital have nots and inspire the market to match it, thus bringing NGA into the cities far faster, and with it Power. To the People. To the Government. To the businesses and To the Innovators.