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Sunday, 13 November 2011

The True Cost of Britain's Copper Infrastructure III

It's all very well pointing out the problems. Doing so makes us all just question marks. But what is the solution?

This blog post can be read at

In a simplistic world, (the one I live in where anything is possible) but taking into account that there are companies with internal economies now larger than most EU countries who have more than just a vested interest, I propose the following:

1) Strip out the copper.

Use prisoners, unemployed, the digitally furious willing to give endless time and money to solve the problems of impoverished broadband, the NEETs, the retired, and all those in this country who need and want to be part of a Big Society that does anything it can to get this country back on track.

2) Map the duct locations

Using GIS, ensure that every single one of the now empty ducts available for re-use for fibre is mapped. This lack of accurate mapping and current knowledge about what is in the ducts and where has caused untold problems for many. Let's get it right this time.

3) Sell the copper

Sell, locally to limit copper miles, not just to scrap merchants, but to artisans and businesses in this country who already use copper in their manufacturing processes, or can come up with new products that do. Thereby preventing and reducing the need to import, particularly whilst the pound is weak, whilst also helping to rejuvenate the manufacturing industry we so badly need for an economic turn-around. There is a huge range of products that can be made from copper. It will also give us the chance to innovate, be ingenious, and spot gaps in the market (for which the British were once renowned), using this natural resource that belongs to Britain.

4) Create a Trust Fund or similar

This copper, whether in the railways, telecommunications or utility industries, was on the whole probably mostly paid for by the public purse. Considering the reasons for removing it - public safety, reduction of risk to life, benefits to the nation as a whole - there should be little to no argument from any corner about putting it into a Trust Fund (or similar) to create a resource that is open to all to benefit from in the future - a fibre network.

5) Put in the right people.

Those in charge of the Trust Fund should be experienced in managing assets for the public good and for long-term profitable aims. Not experienced in box ticking, or telecoms, or manufacturing, or lining their own pockets, but in ensuring that money of the hard cash variety is spent where it can achieve maximum value for the people of this country. The money should in no way be permitted near any body which has not got a scrupulous record, so that's banks/financial institutions, public sector/government departments, etc OUT of the running.

The size of the potential pot will undoubtedly attract unscrupulous individuals and companies who spy a fat wage in return for administration. These type of people should be weeded out from any involvement with the Trust Fund administration, aggressively and ruthlessly. (They seem pretty easy to spot IMHO).

The 'Secretariat' (for want of a better word) will be publicly accountable, have simplistic and achievable aims, and spend as much money as possible a) locally b) regionally and c) nationally. It is time we stopped giving away our resources (financial and otherwise) to other nations when we are in such a dire state ourselves. If we need to invest some money to create fibre manufacturing plant again, and associated jobs and wealth, then that will be done. We've got enough sand......

6) Buy fibre.

Sufficient to replace that damned copper once and for all. If only half of the copper in the ground is replaceable, its resale value is still at least twice what is required by the latest estimates to do FTTH across the whole country. Yes, flooding the market with second hand copper may reduce the price, but that is the point of encouraging new markets to add value to the raw material by processing it into something new and exciting. The demand for the 'glut' of copper by doing so should counter any drop in price, and will actually make any new products far more competitive if the wholesale price of the raw material does drop.

7) Look at the whole thing holistically.

As these three posts have endeavoured to show, the FTTH issue is not related to any single sector. It is not just about telecoms, nor transport, nor the energy industry. Nor the emergency services and disruption thereof, nor the cost to the NHS and associated services when someone fries themself thieving power cables (which I understand may be irreplaceable with fibre). It is not purely about expense to the public, private or family purse, or the savings we can all enjoy if we get this right. And it is certainly not about the ROI for a single sector in doing FTTH as it affects all of us.

Whilst a research company, aided by its largest clients from the telecoms sector, can pluck a figure out of the air and claim it is going to cost £x to do ubiquitous FTTH, it is not beyond the wit of man (or this woman) to see the solution. Especially if we look at the problem from multiple angles and the eyes of the beneficiaries, and not just through the lens of a single sector, fighting to protect its olde worlde profits in a brave new and very different 2.0 world.

As I said, I live in a simple world. One where everyone stands to win. That's where FiWi Pie came from - a slice of the fibre-wireless pie for everyone.

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