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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

How low can we go in the UK?

I am going to take the latest PIN from DCMS to bits. Every which place I am wrong, correct me. There are plenty of people who read this blog who could just for once come out of the woodwork and contribute, instead of leaving my pet trolls to do so alone. This Framework has been causing discussions in many circles for at least 2 weeks before it was officially announced, and it is IMHO time to get this country back on track before it is too late.

This blog post can be read at

This is the PIN (Prior Information Notice) for DCMS and BDUk for around £2Billion.

The primary purpose of this Prior information notice (PIN) is to inform the market of a prospective opportunity in connection with the UK Government's broadband policies and objectives.

The delivery of high speed connectivity to businesses and residential consumers and communities is required to address the UK’s economic growth and development agenda. The topography and/or demographic characteristics of certain geographies will require investment to deploy broadband infrastructure and this, together with the lack of competitive pressure, means that market-driven private investments alone will not achieve ubiquitous connectivity.

1. All topographies and demographics require investment to deploy broadband infrastructure. END.

2. Lack of competitive pressure....ah, are we now re-wording the term 'market failure'? If that is truly the case, then let's ask ourselves why and according to whom? Could it be that there is a certain incumbent who is ensuring that the pipes are so damned thin there is no pressure (scarcity vs abundance)? No access to the pipes - could that be inhibiting competitive pressure? No market - says whom? Perhaps we should revisit who is touting this so called "lack of competitive pressure"? And is it real when so many people seem ready to invest, dig, connect etc?

3. Could we please determine a time frame in which "market-driven private investments alone will not achieve ubiquitous connectivity?" Because given a few more months without public sector investment from the Treasury's coffers, communities large and small will pull their fingers out and connect each other. Bit like railways, electricity etc. Many of which were not publicly funded nor were there so-called incumbents preventing their every move. Communities still beat the private investments to delivery - in both the rural villages I have lived in during the past 37 years, electricity was delivered by individuals not market-driven investment from shareholder owned companies or incumbents. In fact, we had electricity before Manchester, and Lord Glenamara (who became Chairman of Cable and Wireless) wrote about it in his book. Market-driven? Hell no. Innovator, edge of the network, experiment-driven. Are you really going to skew the market by giving ALL THE MONEY to a behemoth, oil-tanker sloth that doesn't love each community it connects but only the profits it can reap for its shareholders?

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) has been created within the Department of culture, media and sport (DCMS) to be the delivery vehicle for the government's policies relating to stimulating private sector investment using the available funding. Further details on BDUK, its objectives and activities can be found at:

I'd love to query the lack of capital letters in a major tender for £2Bn....but it would be more interesting to query that publication and BDUK about their achievement of those objectives to date.

BDUK is seeking to establish a framework agreement of suitably qualified prime contractors capable of delivering local broadband projects as required by local bodies or groups of local bodies. "Local bodies" potentially includes local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, devolved administrations and other public sector bodies.

Wait just one minute. Haven't we been here before? With first gen broadband? Can I not recall OGC asking for 12 suppliers for broadband solutions? And the massive outcry there was at the time about the failure to permit new entrants etc in to the game? Didn't we end up with something that (sorry, Paul) was called OGC BS (Bullshit or Buying Solutions, take your pick), and which resulted in a total failure to deliver first gen and IT solutions through 'preferred suppliers'? Isn't that what we have here, again? Are we really, so soon, going to repeat a similar futile exercise? Cut out all the innovators, new entrants, solutions providers already on the ground and digging into the ground? Seriously?

And who is defining 'Suitably qualified prime contractors'? A bank? Are any of these prime contractors going to be assessed on :

Failure to deliver consumer and business broadband requirements to date
Over-priced access for any third party to infrastructure built using public money
Failure to keep Britain in the broadband game through innovation

Prime contractors will need to be capable of delivering a range of broadband and related requirements, including (but not limited to):
— The design, build, integration and operation of wholesale broadband networks at a county, multi-county or regional level. Such areas could be of potentially up to the order of 500 000 premises,
— Broadband solutions that meet outcomes-based specifications rather than being tied to specific technologies and platforms,
— Open access wholesale services including for retail service providers (e.g. Internet Service Providers) to include as part of retail broadband packages for business and residential customers.
It is currently anticipated that: the framework agreement will be for a duration of two years with the possibility of up to 2 one-year extensions; and the contract notice for this framework agreement will be issued by the end of June 2011.

Right, one at a time. If these prime contractors were capable of delivering such a range of requirements, why have they not already done so?

Hasn't the noise from grassroots level reached BDUK about the huge dissatisfaction over the four pilots? From choosing the wrong contractual body (eg county councils who are being hit from all sides by public sector cuts, who have little comprehension of broadband tech or usage, and who are busy trying to tie in PSN, council and education networks into an 'innovative pilot' (cough, splutter) that brings telehealth, education and e-gov into homes, businesses, schools, GPs etc) to demanding £100M in the bank to connect a tiny village to show how it can be done elsewhere - do you not get it yet???

Have you not assessed what wholesale broadband networks are in place eg CLEO in Cumbria and Lancashire, and thought, "Hey, maybe we don't need to re-invent the wheel?"

Have you not mapped the existing infrastructure and said, "We don't need to spend £2Bn putting in a framework agreement - that would be a pure and simple waste of public money. What we need to do is force the existing infrastructure owners, the consumers and communities (however large or small) and our so-called Big Society government to join the dots."

Have you not considered that "outcomes-based specifications" is a totally lunacy when no-one can possibly know what is round the corner? Are you going to specify that one of the outcomes is that everyone can watch iPlayer or BBC News on the move, or are you going to accept that probably less than a year down the line bog standard TV will become old hat when everyone can livestream from their jumper?

Have you actually thought out why an ISP is required? Connect me or my neighbours into a DVP and why do I need an ISP? To be regulated? Oh, get on. Read the Dumb Network and work it out. ISPs are so yesterday, as is DRM etc.

We need dumb fat pipes. We have been saying it for years. Some people may need services, such as VM and Sky TV, but give people access and they will find their own content, make their own content, bundle their own packages and services, develop their own apps, create innovative apps as we see in Chattanooga, and much, much more.

Whilst local bodies may elect to deliver broadband via other procurement routes,
Except we, BDUK, may force them down a route where this is impossible, eg by issuing a Framework agreement that all local bodies must adhere to if they want any of the pots of money the Treasury has cajoled out of the likes of the BBC Licence Fee etc

BDUK expects that a majority of the available funding will be accessed via call-off contracts from this framework agreement. There is the potential for the framework agreement to cover projects with a total value of up to 2 000 000 000 GBP or more.
Further details on this opportunity will be provided at the industry day (see below). This further information may include information on: the scope of the framework agreement; the award procedure to be followed; anticipated timetable; funding; etc.estimated cost excluding VAT 2 000 000 000 GBP
Division into lots No

Division into Lots? No bloody chance. That would be opening the door to discussions with people who may be right, and prolong the agony for all concerned far beyond the next election.


Adrian said...

To add to your blog, I think the existence of the framework may also give an easy opt-out for councils that don't want to find the hard answers for their areas - I'm concerned it will become an uncomfortable safety net for some which will come back to bite communities - again, as you say.

The whole localism agenda is hard to deliver but putting a massive national framework behind it doesn't make the Big Society any more achievable - quite the opposite.

Somerset said...

Where / what are these pipes that are thin?

Local body = Council.

Is providing wholesale as issue?

PhilT said...

Point 1 - presumably they mean that "certain geographies" require *PUBLIC* investment, because as you say all areas need investment and if it was all going to be private thy wouldn't need this PIN in the first place.

Point 2 - BDUK do not believe there is significant proven interest from community grassroots to do their own solutions. Its implementation document (or whatever it was called) made provision for such connectivity but made it clear the demand was unproven and hence played it down.

Maybe if they were shown demonstrable community interest or successful case studies they could be convinced, but I doubt a few blogs will do it for them.

Much of our infrastructure was indeed built by private investment, from individuals and largely from companies (railways were built by companies before being stolen by the State). I'm not sure we have the entrepreneurial spirit any more.

What infrastructure was built with public money, GPO etc used money raised from their trading activities like any business.

Somerset said...

PhilT - Wasn't the GPO / Post Office funded as a government department?

As in:

The change to public corporations hadn't made the Post Office much better off. As one of Britain's few growth industries, Post Office Telecommunications was a prime national asset with its revenues used to reduce the public borrowing requirement. The dearth of investment funding led to an 18-month waiting list for telephones, and more faults as exchanges suffered maintenance backlogs.

AnnieOldfield said...

The same old stuff just gets regurgitated - there is no new thinking. BDUK is just the same people talking the case.....
As for frameworks, the Adit framework has now been taken over by BDUK, they wouldn't play ball and then kept the ball!! No, I'm not bitter..........

PEN said...

I'm guessing that this has two objectives. The first is to get Fujitsu/Virgin Media/BT off the Ministers back; in short, it's a sop. The second is to push the envelope for a UK block exemption on State Aid for rual areas which I know is under discussion. Outside of that I think you are largely correct it only serves to bring confusion to a process that is already chaotic.

In the new order many of these initiatives are being driven by councillors who have neither the experience or the understanding to move it forward. In addition, as you say, councils are under the cosh and no longer have the resource to do this properly.

One area where I disagree with you is where you dismiss outcome based tendering. I have never been one for just putting in the fibre. this is not Iowa and kevin Costner isn't here; build it and they will not come, both south Yorkshire and Gateshead are, I believe, testament to that (if I'm misrepresenting anybody here I'm sure they will let me know and I apologise in advance) Part of the problem is the obsession with the technology, too many people want to play with the train set and I include BDUK in that. Answer the question, what are you going to do with it, personally I don't care if it's to get a decent i-player service at least you know.

That all said, this is a great post Ken, it really opens up the discussion 10/10

chris said...

Pen, who is Ken?
The cumbria tender has announced the shortlist, there are no surprises. Its project access all over again. A sticking plaster, with the outcome based element being hype merchants who cover up the shortfalls with marketing spin and convince government the main partners did a good job.
I disagree with public money going to get superfast broadband (as if) to urban areas and fobbing rurals off with bonded copper crap and satellites or the wonderful 4g when areas still don't have 2 or 3g and probably won't get 4 either.
Get the pipes out to the rural areas and market forces will do the rest.
As long as people want to watch iPlayer this jiggers up the networks for folk wanting to do funky stuff. You can't upload your family videos on dial up or mobile in rural areas because the feed isn't there to support it. Nobody really knows what they want it for until you give it them, then they surprise you with all the things they find to do. I think that is why I love helping people get online, it is very rewarding when you can get someone a decent connection and watch them bloom. They don't need help once they have the connection, they can find out how to do stuff themselves. Its amazing the uses they put it to.
What is very sad are the people you can't help. The ones where you can't get the copper to work, the ones who can't afford satellites, the ones who have no line of sight to a community wifi feed.
The frameworks, the procurements, the tenders and all the bollox of big society and 'digitalbritain' is just a talking shop, jobs for the boys, and a way of siphoning public money to bale out an obsolete telco who is totally set on protecting its assets in copper phone lines instead of helping us lead the world in the digital revolution.
Vital vision. my arse.

Somerset said...

Chris - You say (often!) that 'Get the pipes out to the rural areas and market forces will do the rest.'

It's hardly enough detail to make a council allocate funding to eg. 27 different community schemes in a county.

I suspect councils do not want to evaluate many different proposals across their area, particularly if there are gaps.

Cybersavvy UK said...

Pen, I'm pretty sure I am not called Ken!!

I'd like to pick up the outcome- based tendering comment.

Both Gateshead and Yorkshire are networks being run by non-enterpreneurial folk in councils who have problems, as do many other LAs, in selling directly to the public, and who are working in the public sector and NOT running businesses for a very good reason.

1. State Aid gets rammed down their throats if they even attempt to encroach into the telcos marketplace.
2. The vast majority of these white collar workers are quite happy behind a desk doing as asked. Yes, they may have vague dreams of being a business person, but that's why Business Link was sent up - to look after all those who didn't cut the mustard in the harsh world that is "business".

So, these networks aim at councils and public sector, NHS, education, business parks and so on, rather than picking up the SME, SOHO and consumer market. After all, it's a tough job dealing with the great unwashed who phone you at midnight because their son's GCSE revision has just vanished from the ancient family computer. Which just happens, irrelevantly, to be connected to your network....;o)

We all know that innovation begins at the edge. It is rare that a global corporate, local authority, or quango truly innovates. More likely, an employee has found an interesting initiative and run with it, or the company buy up smaller projects that will bring in new products. Which is what happened with Microsoft Office (and 20 more examples my fab readers will supply). The funky stuff starts in a shed or bedroom with a person pursuing a dream. It rarely starts in an office peopled with white collar workers. (Anyone care to provide an example to prove me wrong?!)

I had a truly astounding call tonight. Which I am about to blog. And until I do, can anyone tell me which of the people who ""invented"" or worked on electricity, canals, the steam engine, or even Mr Diesel could have foreseen how each of those innovations are being used today?

Warcop had one light bulb per house. You cannot tell me that all the people in my village who worked on the hydro scheme foresaw toasters, computers, or my wireless access points. Canals were for moving coal and goods. Steam engines grace four and five day long events for enthusiasts and tourists that bring millions into the local economy, and I'm positive Mr Diesel never foresaw me driving round forests like a lunatic over long weekends competing against others in (spit) petrol driven motors. For FUN!!

Anticipate the outcomes of giving people fat pipes? You have no chance!!!