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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Do County Councils need NGA spelling out AGAIN?

Once again, it would seem so, with Devon & Somerset's latest decision to use satellite (yes, you read that correctly) to deliver NGA.

This blog post can be read at

Whilst I have no issues with satellite broadband as an infill technology similar to ADSL, neither can be termed as Next Generation Access even with the most dumbed down definition available. (And boy, are there a few of those doing the rounds!)

Devon & Somerset CC had £750k of RDPE funding for NGA, split into two lots. Lot 2 was for Exmoor and was withdrawn - which begs the question if the money has been earmarked to be spent elsewhere, as in Lancashire. Lot 1 - value £400k - was awarded to Satellite Solutions Worldwide.

Now, Devon and Somerset have BDUK funding to the tune of £30M for the region so one has to wonder whether the "built-in obsolence" of this RDPE funded project is deliberate, or political for longer term box-ticking aims. Or is the RDPE project quite simply a waste of money?

Whichever it is, it once again highlights the failure of County Councils to be the right body to administer such funds destined for NGA on behalf of the communities that need Next Generation, not stopgap solutions for ulterior motives. This is hardly the first time I have brought this up as regular readers know; each new announcement seems to further illustrate that County Councils quite simply do not have the wherewithal nor experience to make considered decisions on this subject.

This is not a rant against County Councils per se. The lack of this IT and broadband knowledge in-house at CCs was known long before these decisions were foisted upon them. It is one of the reasons the RDAs nurtured broadband/IT specialists and departments. Many of those people have seemingly found their way into County Councils; yet these decisions still keep coming - are the experts failing to be heard, p'raps?

There has been so much nambypambying over the years, with everyone trying desperately not to upset telcos, ministers, State Aid etc, or lose their coveted jobs and perks, whilst juggling with the complex reality that BROADBAND AFFECTS EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIVES. This decision seems to be yet another one that confirms that UK broadband has truly lost its way in reaching any of the stated aims of this and preceding governments, the EU, let alone providing something that consumers and businesses could use to try to regain the path to economic recovery UK Plc so urgently needs to find.

We, or rather our 'elected bodies', seem amazingly willing to haemorrage our money on short-sighted projects in a way most businesses must and do find quite horrifying. Each of us as business owners could not even contemplate taking such risks with scarce capital without seriously considering the effect this will have on our businesses further down the line. Best value tests, due diligence, SWOT analysis, scenario planning, cost-benefit, etc - are these anathema to public sector?

On top of all this, one has to wonder at the growing prevalence of stories coming this way of existing companies or community networks being steamrollered out of existence by public money where they are ALREADY delivering services. I have been following one particular region (not Cumbria, so that should narrow it down for you!) since the announcement of the four pilot areas for BDUK funding, and am in regular contact with a company whose very existence, expansion plans and customer base are under threat by BDUK procurement in an area where NGA services of 100Mbps are already being delivered.

Devon and Somerset has similar companies, already delivering service, as do most other regions due to market failure, telco reluctance to invest, and this recurring theme of public funding being used inappropriately.

The failure of County Councils to engage with those commercially delivering service, let alone seemingly to be even aware of what is happening on their own patch, despite regular attempts to inform them of the existence of broadband services which will be threatened if misinformed decisions are made, further reinforces the growing feeling that we are now in the midst of a train crash.

Is it not time to reassess how we are spending what little money we have to achieve the stated NGA aims - which really are not that complicated? Where is the experienced business person advising the government on next gen broadband issues, who understands the impact broadband has across the board, and not just in ticking 2Mbps boxes? Is it really so damned difficult, even in the seeming absence of a business brain, to see from other countries who have gone wholeheartedly for FTTH strategies, what a difference this can make in social and economic impact?

As I wrote recently, every step of the FTTH walk is a challenge. We all know that, so why are we sticking our heads in the sand and our bums in the air, leaving us wide open for a good kick? We should be tackling the real problem head on and taking up the challenge, not pussy footing around it and delaying the start date, for year after year after year. It will not get any easier, only harder, leaving us ever further behind our competitors. Or are too many people in the UK content to do nothing (positive), oblivious to the fact that we are gifting our children's precious energies, time and any remaining resources clearing up after this train wreck we seem so determined to create for our next generation?


PhilT said...

Devon & Somerset's tender did say "Solution must be NGA - Next Generation Access - compatible" however without a definition of NGA and with a woolly clause like "compatible" there's plenty of wiggle room.

The wording is largely about notspots and <2M areas which satellite would fit. According to the tender Lot 2 was Devon CC funded (£311k, 2 rural areas) and Lot 1 RDPE funded (£450k, 4 rural areas).

Having defined the price (strange form of competitive tendering) and the scope they effectively define an amount per premise that determines the solutions that can be offered.

How can they specify NGA to your standards if the funding doesn't match ?

Anonymous said...

I must admit that Lindsey's crash picture is a little more dramatic that the front page of the paper I wrote for the last Government in the Autumn of 2009. The paper now seems lost in the mists of time.

Cybersavvy UK said...

@SurreyHills you mean this one?