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Friday, 21 January 2011

What short and selective memories we have (2)

If you are late to the party, the intro to this particular post is here

This blog post can be read at

Some of you won't remember LS29 and similar community networks who sought to connect communities to broadband when the incumbent was dragging its heels, urban and rural. Or even the trigger level campaigns for ADSL that employed well-meaning volunteers within communities around the country, (Think Infinity - it was exactly the same programme but more aggressive - most exchanges, not a just a "lucky" handful). Those people believed the adverts - everyone would be connected if they just trod enough miles around their Parish/exchange area to 'stimulate demand' with pre-prepared posters on behalf of a private company.

You probably don't recall the fight for the arrival of the LLU unbundlers. They came later in the tale. And their appearance was for a very good reason, but they are, sadly, still in the Betamax category for many consumers. And no-one seeks to help consumers make an informed choice, even today....

I know that the vast majority of the readers of this blog were not at the first BSG conference in Birmingham, (I did not sing my tagline; that rumour is not true!) or present when the Analysys Mason report was launched to huge dispute about that £28Bn figure for FTTH, or at the Amsterdam FTTH conference when the miniscule British contingent were so, so depressed at the oh so apparent lacklustre UK approach to telecoms infrastructure as we heard what other countries were doing.

Many of you may not remember the huge arguments during the trigger level campaign that ADSL was an "interim technology", "unfit for purpose in the 21st century" etc. The utter tosh (sorry, I mean corporate spiel) about how great ADSL would be for this country and how it would reach "nearly everyone" met with substantial resistance, but we didn't/couldn't spend £30+million marketing it to the British public. (£35M ISTR was the ad spend in year 1 alone by BT - Source: Marketing Weekly, on a train, many moons ago).

Back then, some were, and still are, trying to get party lines removed so people could have a phone line each. You think broadband notspots are bad? There are (AFAIK), or definitely were until very recently, still people in this country sharing phone lines on what used to be called 'party lines', so they must wait for the neighbour to get off the phone to make a call. House on fire? Tough. You won't find these people wingeing in online forums - they can't even consider getting online. And when that disconnectivity coincides with no mobile coverage? Well, go figure how this country is ever going to lead anyone in telecoms infrastructure when we allow that to happen.....

I'm quite sure most people don't remember the miraculous trigger level hits that occurred almost overnight when a community network offering an alternative to ADSL went public locally. Nor the fact that there were trigger levels reached that sometimes stretched the imagination for the total number of residents within that exchange area, or when local knowledge denied that that many residents could even access or use a computer to register. The announcements of ADSL exchange enablement which coincided (oh, how coincidental?) with community networks announcing to their residents that they were going live within days or weeks because the local demand was high, especially when there had been zero indication (in some cases, flat denials), that it would be 'economically viable' or that anyone else was willing to chuck a DSLAM in the exchange.

Someone, somewhere, was scanning local papers, which at the time were nowhere near as online as now, to counter any such community or technological 'attacks' on what can only be seen as a land grab. After all, if all you can offer a rural area is something worse than ISDN, do you *really* want a bunch of geeks to appear out of the rural or urban woodwork and set up a network that offers a far better solution, locally run, than you care to offer during THAT DECADE?

Can you spot the similarities yet? Are you mapping community activity to put in FTTH or alternative solutions vs Infinity and amended FTTC announcements? Well, you should be.

The good bit and the lesson that should never be forgotten was when Ed Brown of ADIT helped BT enable the 23 (was it 23? I think so) rural Yorkshire and Humber exchanges that BT claimed weren't viable. Yep, with public money, but, oh, if they prove to be viable after all, guys, you are paying that money back to the public purse. My sources tell me that repayment came to over a £1million.

So, if all these rural areas that we are planning to chuck £830M at turn out to be viable after all............? We should have anywhere up to £830M to play with all over again. N'est-ce pas?????

Some of the networks that consumed the Net from the mid 90s onwards and made it accessible to anyone in their region, on free spectrum that could be set to work on even the most battered PC that had been binned for running Windows 3.1, must have been a bit of a worry, I guess. But not to their users who (mostly) LOVED 'em and supported 'em. And many of whom, seemingly, are on worse connections now, 10 years later, because someone, somewhere has gone to great efforts to make it damned difficult for those altnets to bypass the...sorry, got to say it, incumbent.

I don't say this lightly, but I strongly believe, and am willing to hear otherwise, that there was an ethos of "Take 'em out at the knees" and we are seeing that again. Not for the greater good and well-being of UK Plc, but for a long-term gain that is endeavouring to capture as large a market share for THIS CENTURY as possible for shareholder interest.

And our memories are too bloody short.

Well, most of them are. You, whoever you are, are probably reading this because you are frustrated that the UK is lagging behind Latvia, Estonia, Korea, Sweden, and a whole host of other countries. Damn, where did our Empire go? Are we really Third World, or heading that way, because we can't play in the knowledge economy - we've not got much else to play with industrially. Have we?

Are we really going to forget that we were all promised the light fantastic with ADSL, and thousands and thousands and thousands of this people in this country have nothing, or near as dammit nothing, that you could call 'broadband' by the 1984 definition, let alone 2003 or 2011? Capable of simultaneous transmission and reception of voice, video and data - what the hell happened to that? I look at sending a less than 20MB PDF to the printer today and it's walk away from the computer time - pick a task to fill the time - I drove 10 miles to submit my self-assessment form (do it online? PAH!!!). In 2011. In Great Britain.

If you really believe that giving anyone the money for a future-proofed solution, when they are proposing a solution for the 21st century that reworks a 100+ year old copper telephone network, is right, then I suggest you take a look around the world at the places where for at least 5 YEARS, tiny little rural companies have been able to chuck more than is promkised with FTTC over far longer lengths of copper. Because if a certain massive multinational hasn't worked that one out when they should have been taking the lead, globally, then all I can say is that Peter Cochrane retired too damned early and we need him back in Ipswich to get fibre to the home back on the menu. Fast.

Or else we realise that ADSL is still, all these years later, a short term interim solution, as is anything over copper, and it is time to assess how much not having decent broadband is costing this country. That tax return I submitted today, well, dead sorry HMRC, but once again, you are getting nowt off me as I can't compete with the guys who started up in my sector 5 years and more after me. The competitive advantage that I, and many other companies in the IT industry had from being British, innovative, ingenious etc has now been so substantially eroded, you are now writing us cheques, year on year. Bloody genius. That should force the national economic recovery...not!!

If the Treasury, HMRC, our economists etc are willing to permit private companies to drag hundreds of thousands of small businesses into the gutter, when we should have been leading the world and cashing in, perhaps it is time to reassess exactly who is benefiting from this approach?

And you, oh Councillors etc who are going to make decisions for public purse money this year through the 5 BDUK projects, don't look to Cornwall. Look beyond these shores at what is being done elsewhere. Why are we NOWHERE CLOSE to being on the FTTH Council League tables even with the proposed spend on 'fibre optics' for the next few years being lauded in the press?

Ask yourself if the ASA was wrong to ignore all the complaints that, if you call it a fibre optic connection, it must be precisely that - not coax or any other form of copper. And are you falling for very expensive ad companies working their magic on your minds with convincing messages?

Or do you understand, fully, the implications of the huge savings this country will make - economically, environmentally and socially - if we have a comms infrastructure which is appropriate for this century? Are you going to deny this country that, by choosing, as David Durnford of Small World rightly pointed out yesterday, a non-innovative and oh so last century approach?

“Also the whole point of this Government money for Cumbria is to be innovative and BT’s approach is not innovative – arguably they shouldn’t even be bidding.”

Don't be governed by the pace of today. Make time to learn from history. Much of this very, very recent history is on the Net (accessible within seconds) and all of us owe it to this once great nation to look back, learn, and apply the lessons, so we don't find ourselves in 5, 10 or 20 years time from now in the same sorry state we are in today.

And yes, I accept this is a massive rant, but if in 1 or 2 (or another 15) year's time, when I am sitting on my fibred island, and I see the UK in a similar comms mess to the one it is in today, I would kick myself out of my hammock if I hadn't spoken out when I had the chance.


chris said...

I too have a long memory. I sweat blood to get our exchange enabled in 2003, little knowing that even when it was most of the people round me wouldn't get a connection. I see exactly the same happening with infinity.
FTTC will only improve the speed of those near the cabinet, and many more will be left out in the slow lane. BT have said they will not revisit cabinets to upgrade to proper fibre to the home in this decade.
If we don't learn from the mistakes of the past we are destined to repeat them.

PEN said...

I too have a long memory and yes I was at that BSG meeting *and* the ABC conferences (what great conferences they were) but we are still in the same place. People don't get it and because they don't we will, once again, be living with short term commercial decisions for a long, long time.
It's not that it's too expensive (think bank bailout - now that's expensive) it's just that, unlike Cheryl Cole, we're *not* worth it, well not according to the government. So, sadly, I must agree with your rant and look forward to receiving, eventually, 20 Mb download and 2 Mb upload with a 100 Mb cap (still my beating heart) and consider myself lucky that I'm only half a mile from the village exchangej and that my incumbent supplier considers me worthy of the investment, eventually.

Somerset said...

So if it's slow to print a 20M PDF why is that anything to do with broadband, you need to sort out your PC!

If FTTP is so easy why aren't companies like VM and H20 rolling it out - answer that please. Is it because for many people the connection they currently have actually meets their needs? There is the issue for funding FTTP, what will the take up be?

Get the facts right please - ADSL does actually work for voice and data. VOIP only needs 30k. There have not been party lines for at least the last 20 years.

What's this about altnets, please explain.

Why are we behind other countries, because they were behind us, it's what happens with technology.

Please give some examples of faster speeds over copper.

Where, outside your area, are people saying the UK is in a comms mess?

Somerset said...

So why are we where we are?

Firstly because the Conservative government stopped BT installing FTTP because of the effect on the cable TV companies. History because nobody realised what the internet would become.

Secondly because ADSL was the only realistic method for faster broadband after dial up. VM have a customer base for half the UK population so that limits the take up of alternatives in those areas.

Chris and Cybersavvy say much about their area where there are few roads and pavements to contend with unlike the urban parts of the UK where FTTP is a different story. They continually comment about the UK but what is the solution for the 2/3 that will be 'limited' to FTTC speeds. Where are proposals for increasing beyond 60M, or rather is there any demand?

Comments please.

Cybersavvy UK said...

Oh, @somerset, much as I adore your comments - I was sending the file to a printer. You know, people wot print books for us iggerant author types?!!!

Cybersavvy UK said...

Re-run your own question in the second para by yourself. Why aren't companies such as VM and BT rolling it out? (I think H20 have answered the question on their own) but the others.....? You tell us.

And I will happily give you postcodes for communities still stuck with bloody awful party lines. In fact, stuff it. Come here, and I will take you to try them out. There is one community within less than 20 miles from me. I'd actually like to meet you so come and see for yourself.

Somerset said...

Cybersavvy, you mean lines with DACS? DACS does not mean only one person can make a call at a time. But it does affect provision of broadband.

Why aren't VM and H20 rolling out everywhere? The cost of digging, low demand for faster broadband in many areas, people have Sky contracts for TV. Any more?!