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Saturday, 31 July 2010

NGA sans frontiers

Keep reading about regional and community initiatives etc. There is an inherent problem with this, and I did think about calling this post "Broadband without Borders".

This blog post can be read at

Borders drawn around counties, for instance, don't necessarily coincide with the borders that fit around constituencies or communities. So, whilst there may be a county boundary between myself and my friends down the road, we don't recognise it as a barrier, whereas the gritting lorries do, meaning often the gritting stops in the middle of nowhere because of that invisible line!

However, when it comes to joining up the thinking on our next generation broadband ideas, we keep hitting barriers caused by these (often invisible) borders.

I live in Cumbria at the point where, within a radius of about 20 miles, two other counties meet us - Durham and Yorkshire. Both those counties have fibre rings - NYnet and DurhamNet. My nearest (useful) fibre for longhaul/backhaul in Cumbria is up the M6, also about 20 miles away. Therefore, within what I would consider to be touching distance (the distance I need to travel to get to a supermarket), are three sources of fibre.

Now, let's imagine that I wanted to build a community network with redundancy in it. Logically, I would look to using all three of those connection points to ensure the network is always stable. Logistically, I have to start talking to multiple county councils and subsidiary companies acquainted with the CCs - at least 4 of whom can see no relevance between my community and their network because we aren't their problem!

"It's not on our patch", "It doesn't fall within our jurisidiction" and "You need to talk to your own county council" are the usual ripostes.

However, what seems most difficult to explain is that my community has, for instance, close traditional links with places on their patch, often going back around 1000 years. Some are far more modern. So, whilst Carlisle may seem the place to go shopping for a Cumbrian, Darlington, which is in Co Durham, is actually easier to get to. Our farmers here know all the farmers in Wensleydale because they go to the same auction marts - in Yorkshire, and many are related through age old family ties going back generations.

Our telecoms networks have not been built to respect county boundaries, with some people finding themselves connected to exchanges in different counties - which for notspot folk causes no end of grief if the county where the exchange is doesn't recognise their plight. Mobile cells don't suddenly hit a brick wall when they reach a county boundary. Yet, for the move to next generation access, we seem to be looking at things from a slightly skewiff perspective, asking regions to put in projects.

We need to join the dots far more than we are currently. For instance, the CLEO network connects every school in Lancashire and Cumbria. Right now, it is idle because it is the school holidays. Even when the kids are at school, there is plenty of spare capacity and it could be easily increased to serve the communities. It could be extended to meet the Nynet network to offer each additional bandwidth and reduced costs for the NGA infill at the edges of each network. Ditto with DurhamNet.

What BDUK et al need to look at is how we can build networks that connect geographic communities, using existing resources and infrastructure, even where these will cross county or regional boundaries. And just because CLEO was paid for using Cumbria and Lancashire cash, it doesn't stop it easily reaching the Borders, North Yorkshire and Durham, without a significant spend, unlike building a new network or endeavouring to pay distance based charges (the bane of rural backhaul) or BT Excess Construction Costs.

And what communities need to do is look to their neighbours, as well as to other counties who may not be quite so closely related for solutions to some of these problems, eg bulk purchases of equipment and expertise to deliver, where it may not be feasible alone.

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