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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Cart before the horse

Seems to me, as I sit in a sunny Surrey garden pondering the many discussions yesterday in The Smoke, we are not doing things in the right order with broadband in this country. The government have recognised the need and found a pot of money - all well and good, but...
This blog post can be read at

The next step, surely, should be for each region to calculate how much money is required for the solution(s)and where any money assigned to the area will do most good in generating, as quickly as possible, the remainder of the money required?

This is how a business would work... Which product should we develop and put out to which market for maximum ROI, particularly during a recession when times are tough?

One wonders what criteria are being used to decide which region gets what considering the vast majority of the regions do not seem to have a pre-defined plan for what they will do with what they are given. Some do seem to have realised the BDUK money is for rural areas where there has already been market failure to deliver broadband 1.0; others do not seem to gave truly grasped even that basic point.

Once awarded funds, surely the very first step should be for the council to appoint a suitably knowledgeable panel to assess appropriate solutions available with said pot of gold, or have we taken to developing products blindfolded and in the dark now?

Not having more than the most vague idea of what is possible per £, the approach appears to be putting out a similarly vague procurement doc with untold extra limiting factors to see who may be interested in laying their hands on the dosh. Or who the Council is left with after excluding a substantial number of potential solution providers due to the (quite unnecessary) restrictions.

Hard evidence is available from around the world that FTTH is profitable with some networks going in to profit at the moment of switch on. However, a business-like approach appears to be lacking here. Which provider and/or solution is providing a business plan and road map showing how further areas of Market failure will be funded once the pilot area is complete? Because this is not a one off task but rather an ongoing one for each area. It is unlikely further central funds will be available; ergo each region should be deploying solutions which seek to generate the monies required for further investment.

This could be done by ensuring that any solution is set up to run as a commercially viable entity, rather than just lobbing the money at a solutions provider looking to bank all profits themselves. Councils are more accustomed to having an annual budget made available to them, rather than operating as a business needs to where next year's spend comes from the wise decisions of previous years. In this instance, and knowing what work lies ahead, the required approach would seem to be obvious for any business-minded person.

But obviously logic and common sense has gone out the window! In fact, we seem to be watching an abject failure to put Big Society into action. Us little folk who need and know this stuff plus the biz people with required acumen to create business plans are being steam rollered and ignored by the very agencies Big Society was supposed to give ears and a brain to.


James Saunby said...

Agree that we need some properly informed decision making to get some real progress. I recently discussed with a big national broadband provider (let’s call them BT) how to get the maximum penetration of FTTH in a rural area in the Midlands. They seriously suggested that I shouldn’t worry about the technology, but specify the requirements and they would worry about the technology. I had to explain that unless both sides of the procurement exercise had a clear idea of what technology could deliver what services, and what that might cost, there was no chance of setting anything like a sensible budget.
Think we also need to be clear that BDUK is there to address market failure in NGA and first generation broadband rollout – and these are quite different. Visit the Northumberland Uplands some time to see the difference in person. Latest analysis suggests that Northumberland as a whole (about 5,000 sq Km) could have about 90% NGA coverage, and there would still be no difference to the existing 1st generation not-spots – which means 3,000 sq Km of Uplands would still have around 20% population not covered with any broadband.

chris said...

Well James, in that case we need to make sure any funding goes to that population not covered. Get a fibre to the heart of them and build them a proper network. If one penny of public money goes into BET (broadband-enabling-technology) then it is a criminal waste. Ditto if any goes into putting ADSL2+ into exchanges. I live in the uplands, and I laid fibre. Its easy. It would be easier to get it to more people if we had support instead of obstructions from those supposedly helping us. We don't want the bonded copper rubbish, you will have to lay new copper in order to do that as we are all on DACS to start with. We already have satellites, they aren't good enough and they cost us far too much for the dribble they deliver. We all need fibre, and to get that the people in power need to get some too. The moral kind. And to stop cow towing to the the incumbent telcos and get a plan.
The funding was meant for the notspots, not to upgrade exchanges to so called 'superfast' which is a mockery of the word fast. All it is is souped up copper. For real NGA it has to be fibre all the way.
You can also forget 4g for the rurals, they haven't even got 2g in many places yet.

Anonymous said...


Somerset said...

James - what's the cost of covering 3,000 sq km with a broadband solution? Chris says 4G is not appropriate.