This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com
This weekend, at 8.09am, (which indicates how much the CCC update bothered me!) I sent the following email to someone I met whilst kicking my heels in a bar during the Lisbon 2010 FTTH Council Conference. He looked English, we got talking, and it turned out that, coincidentally, he too was at the conference. We met again in Milan a few weeks ago.
He is MD of a company already supplying 25Mbps and upwards to businesses, and who is about to start connecting rural domestic properties to similar fibre and FiWi services, with or without BDUK.
Whilst he was happy for me to publish his name, I have chosen to anonymise the content of this email. He is not based in Cumbria, and as far as I know his company is not planning to put in even an EoI for the BDUK Cumbria projects. I asked his opinion as someone who is *not* involved in the personalities or politics of this region.
As ever, I make no apologies for my approach to getting problems into the open - blame my Yorkshire upbringing. A spade is a spade is a spade.
Before I give myself some sort of fatal apoplectic attack at the idiocy of our Council, would you care to make any comments on this from Cumbria County Council yesterday?
From the horse's mouth:
“Our aim is to use these [Rural Market Testing Pilots] to discover exactly what needs to be done to make superfast broadband commercially viable in rural communities as well as urban areas, and to understand what kind of Government support will be necessary.”
Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, 15th July
The first step in understanding how government may invest in extending superfast broadband beyond where the private sector will get to will be the running of 4 market testing pilots in rural areas. The information from these projects, in addition to initiatives that are already going on across the country, will be used to better target possible government intervention and investment in ‘superfast broadband’ in the future.
The above is taken straight from the BDUK website.
Three phrases really stick out here: "market testing", "pilots", and "superfast". In my view these are the crucial elements of what the money should (one might even say "must") be used for.
Clearly, there is no dictionary/legal definition of what constitutes superfast. However, I would argue that two, phased, meanings are emerging. The first, short term, measure is to get speeds above those theoretically possible with ADSL 2+ technology. A suitable goalpost for this in my view would be something north of 20 Mbps. For the medium term, then I agree with you that we need 100Mbps access, with a true symmetric capability.
Market testing means, in my view, that the market must be tested! Put another way, then IF people do have access to superfast broadband at suitable price points (ie not expensive) then is there a good demand for it, what can it be used for, what will it be used for, etc etc.
The BDUK website is VERY specific on this in my view - these are meant to be PILOT projects. They should be testing different solutions, different suppliers even.
So, returning now to the Cumbria "update".
First thing I notice is that the term "superfast" occurs only once in the whole update - in the first sentence as a descriptor for what the Accessible Cumbria project is all about. By the end of the update, the only speed mentioned has dropped to a miserly 2 Mbps. If that is what they think "superfast" means, then they should be sacked on the grounds of gross incompetence.
They then go on to state that "discussions with BDUK to date have focussed on two things", which they specify as:
- getting the best value for money
- ensuring any rationing is fair
"Ensuring any rationing is fair" is a silly statement to make as it completely misses the point about what the money is meant to be used for. "Ensuring that the pilot addresses the challenges of delivering superfast broadband to all businesses and communities within Cumbria" would be a much better focus in my view.
The comment about FTTP is utterly ridiculous. Yes, it is expensive, but that is the point of BDUK money being focussed on "final third" areas where it is (supposedly) much harder to justify the investment. In any event, FTTP is only "expensive" where the cost per home passed is much higher than it is in dense, urban areas. Within a village, the homes might well be spaced as close as they are in an urban area and/or the cost of digging might well be less, thus helping to offset a higher home spacing.
The comment, "There are various degrees of enthusiasm and expertise in our communities which would also be shunned by the FTTP approach," is a very vague statement that is neither explained or justified. The person who wrote it is clearly not up to the task.
There then follows a long, rambling discussion about the provision of community points of presence. This serves only one purpose and that is to allow the council to spend the money on improving its own internal network with "spare capacity" perhaps being made available for community use. If they really think that the CLEO network, that they will have specified, could be leased to a supplier to then use for community access then they must have been smoking something.
It really makes me fume that they think that they should install the CLEO network and then sub-let that to a supplier for community use as this is a classic way to waste money and opportunity. If anything, it should be the other way round - provide the funding that would have been spent anyway on the CLEO network to a supplier to help underpin its rollout of a true "superfast" backhaul network that is offered on an open access basis.
As for the concept of a "Quality Guild", well that just smacks of soviet style socialist thinking. It is also, I suspect, illegal under EU competition law.
Now moving on to the rationing bit...
I have to admit that the bullets do sound ok in and of themselves.
The concept of "broadband coordinators" sounds fine in theory. My real worry would be that it would be local loudmouths (aka "politician" types) who would grab these positions to further their own personal aims.
As with the [redacted] project, I see that the term "pilot" is being rapidly watered down as in "...for BDUK to make a statement about any intentions for Cumbria beyond the pilot phase...". These are meant to be pilot projects to see what works etc, not the pilot phase of a full rollout by the Council!! Megalomania or what?!?
Again, as with the [redacted] project, "action" is unlikely before summer 2012 - nearly two full years after the money was made available. That is little short of pathetic really.
Deploying 1 Gbps community points of presence to every village with (or close to) an existing BT exchange is pretty basic stuff. The costs of deployment are easy to suss out (Openreach EAD circuits have open pricing and the "excess construction" would not take that long for Openreach to assess). The County Council could have held a mini-tender just for the provision of these circuits very quickly and then have got them deployed within around a further six months. Whilst that was going on, the council could have been working on further, localised tenders for the "last mile" bits, combining a healthy mix of fibre and wireless (and even high speed satellite) deployment.