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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

How low can we go, CEO of Geo?

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Can you limbo? It is beginning to feel as if the bar is now perilously low to the ground and there are few sane folk left willing to sink to the depths of our apparently less than meagre national ambition to have the "best broadband infrastructure in Europe". (Yes, yes, hollow laughs all round at this seemingly ludicrous (cl)aim that is still being made in the face of so much fact-based evidence to the contrary).

Chris Smedley, CEO of Geo last week answered a few questions for 5tth about PIA, BDUK and the future, after the announcement that Geo were, sadly, dropping out of the BDUK process.

This blog post can be read at

There is not a single factor that is seeing off the valuable players in this game, nor is there out and out disagreement with PIA as a concept, rather it is the pricing and terms that are the issue. But the truth is that if you wanted to blame a single issue then PIA in its current form would be it. PIA has little to offer as a solution as it stands, and it is blowing business plans out of the water for UK broadband for our next generations. PIA needs serious work, or scrapping, so it seemed appropriate with all that is going on, or rather not going on, for a ditty to mark the occasion.

There has already been much said about Geo's departure, BDUK, the wisdom of the current approach of spending the money, PIA etc. For many, this departure by Geo feels like a tipping point. No longer is it just community folk, tech journos, and small players making a noise and querying what is actually being done in our name and with our money. Now the big guys are dropping out of BDUK, rural broadband, national and regional solutions etc and making it quite clear why.

LA: Is the BDUK process rescuable, or are we too far down the line of handing the money to BT?

Chris Smedley: That’s for Government and Ofcom (and maybe even BT) to decide. If BT voluntarily dropped the restrictions on PIA and BDUK quickly developed an alternative to the gap funding model then things could be turned round quite quickly. However, as we have asked for all these things already and been denied them on the basis that there is no demand from industry then I wouldn’t hold out too much hope. That means the much slower process of getting Ofcom to intervene on PIA and fibre leasing which will probably take two years to get clear pricing and fair terms for something we could all use as BT will when they deploy new fibre cables. I have no idea whether DCMS will ask BDUK to develop an alternative to the gap funding model. I think they should. I do find it difficult to see anyone other than BT winning the current pilots or the Next Generation Broadband Wales procurement as things stand.

LA: Chris, you must have done the numbers - what figures make it impossible for GEO? What is the gap?

Chris Smedley: Too difficult to generalise as each procurement was different. The simple facts are that using existing poles and ducts is about 5% of the cost of building a new network. Where they exist, other players simply have to be able to use them or it is impossible to compete against BT. If you can’t do so for the long distances to get to remote rural communities as the current PIA stops us from doing then we end up with a proportionately higher cost base than our main competitor for the longest parts of the network. If you then can’t use the new fibre cable to serve local businesses, the public sector, the mobile and wireless industries or other ISPs for backhaul then somewhere between 50-70% of the potential revenues in your business case are zeroed out. BT suffers from none of these restrictions (and has the lion’s share of the current market anyway) so it is easily going to be able to offer more “gap funding” than anyone else.

LA: What have BDUK said to you to make the decision to give up?

Chris Smedley: They have told us that they cannot address any of these concerns about PIA as they are the responsibility of the regulator, Ofcom. Ofcom have told us they are being considered within the Business Connectivity Market Review. This is currently due to conclude at the end of next year and then we will have to negotiate with BT a new contract – assume two years from now at current rate of progress – well after BDUK’s procurements will have concluded. They have told us that there is no demand (presumably other than us) for a non gap funded framework for bidders. Between them, they made our decision pretty easy in the end!

LA: Do you believe that councils could be illegally funding a furthering of a monopoly in 7-10 years' time through the BDUK procurement process?

Chris Smedley: I doubt it is illegal for them to choose BT through the BDUK procurement process – although if the European Commission do apply their state aid guidelines as they have said they will then you would expect no project to become operational unless it offers a fully unbundled dark fibre product to the rest of the market. BT won’t do this at the moment. The sad precedent is that when this got explored after the award to BT of the Cornwall project, Ofcom and Government supported a push back against the EU on this point, arguing (successfully) that this was a matter for the national regulator and that the chosen UK remedies were not unbundled fibre but PIA (!) and VULA (BT’s “virtually” unbundled service – whatever that means). We hear worrying noises from Ofcom that they are considering meeting the EU’s requirements for unbundling in the future with “wavelength unbundling”. For us, as a dark fibre operator, this is all nonsense. Optical fibre cables have lots of fibre in them. Unbundling is a simple lease of the sub-divided elements the market likes to buy (usually a pair).

(I'll put an intro to this next question as I have not blogged this yet. During our meeting with Jeremy Hunt recently here in Cumbria, John Colton of FibreGarden, one of the BDUK Technical Trials Pilots, raised the issue for consideration of a State Aid "premium". This would be for those going straight for the jugular and doing FTTH rather than interim solutions.

The BDUK money is currently being divvied up on a technology neutral basis with all solutions receiving the same per household however long the likely lifespan or suitability of the product, but this fails to appreciate that FTTH will need no further investment. The argument for a premium being that none of those communities/providers doing fibre with this round of money will require any upgrade dosh in the future, whereas all other solutions will be doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. If we are to spend this money, surely we should spend it wisely?)

LA: Do you feel that fibre to the home is being penalised more than, say FTTC, BET, wireless?

Chris Smedley: Yes.

LA: On top of PIA costs, there is also fibre tax, and no premium is being paid to those willing to invest in the longer term rather than stop gap/interim solutions. Can this be rectified?

Chris Smedley: Easily by a determined government which REALLY wants to see fibre deployed across the UK.

LA: After Fujitsu making all the noise earlier this year, how do you feel about them being the first to work with BT on PIA? Stitched up?

Chris Smedley: We are still a PIA trialist and will remain so if possible as we are keen in the long-term to make PIA work. I have no idea why they think it is a good tactic to ignore the deficiencies in the current product and praise BT for launching the current limited product. You will have to ask them! [I will!]

LA: How can Geo now help communities (including councils) to ensure that the gap funding generates local profits as well as /instead of those for a private company?

Chris Smedley: We would have been happy to help by developing viable schemes for councils based on an alternative model to gap funding (like FibreSpeed). We wouldn’t ever have accepted the gap funding model. Going forward, we are going to be focusing on our core business and leaving this task to others (if there are any other than BT).

LA: Where do we go from here?

Chris Smedley: That’s now a question for Ofcom and Government, I’m afraid. Look at New Zealand would be my advice.

Many thanks to Chris for taking time out to answer my questions. It is undoubtedly way past time now for a long hard look at what route we are taking to achieve the goals required in this country. When such exciting companies as Geo and Vtesse are no longer available to innovate, inspire and connect the communities who so need the type of solutions that the agile, generous-spirited, imaginative yet profitable telcos (rather than the oil tanker behemoths) could deliver, summat 'as garn wrang, as they say round here.

Fujitsu & Friends, please stick it out. You are pretty much our only hope now to save this country from yet more global humiliation.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

True Cost of Copper Infrastructure - correction

Read more! Suddenly remembered the other night that many moons ago I stood in a scrapyard next to a complex and expensive piece of machinery, feeding in bits of cable, and then took a large amount of copper granules to weigh-in in Leeds or somewhere over that way. The reason it had escaped my memory was that that was the beginning of a 3 day mission/adventure to Sussex via a circuitous route that included the wilds of Lincolnshire and a 1948 Leyland Beaver to pick up my 1966 Magirus Deutz. Which takes precedence over bags of copper in the memory stakes.

This blog post can be read at

However, it prompted a call to the scrapyard where that happened to get some grassroots information about this copper malarkey. "Hi, it's Lindsey. Where would I find out accurate prices for copper?" "You'd ring me." "Err, yeah, well, that's what I've done!"

"What copper?" "Well, it's BT's copper and there is rather a lot of it. Tonnes of it."

"Firstly, there is no way you can sell this to anyone without a certificate. No-one will touch it, well, no-one honest would. It's marked and traceable. To find out prices you talk to LME or Simms here in the North but you can't deal direct with them with BT copper straight out of the ground."

This is where we had a lengthy conversation about the machinery I remembered. Not this model but a cable granulator, which crushes the components of the cable, separates it and sorts it, to get the highest grade of copper possible, which will in turn fetch the highest price.

And here comes the rub: "But BT copper is low grade. Really low grade. The lowest of the low. It is made up of lots of fine copper wires and needs plenty of work to get anything useful from it. In fact, you'd be lucky to get, um, a grand a tonne."

(The 'um' was telling. Bear in mind, this is a successful businessman who makes his money out of scrap so you can choose your percentage to add on to that for what he gets for it!)

"How much have you got?"

I've known this guy a long time and he knows full well I would not have stolen anything, so there was no point stringing him along with answers like 10 million tonnes so I said, "It's not actually mine..."

"Don't get involved, it's not even worth the hassle for the price you can get for it, especially if there are no certificates from BT saying you have permission to recycle it. The only way to make anything back from it is if it's yours ie if you are BT, and if you have access to a granulator [Which is a £20k+ piece of kit] and have someone like me to process and trade it for you."

So, a quick back of the envelope calculation says that to someone like me with a few tonnes of the stuff, selling it through my mate the scrapman who is going to take his margin, we are down to £10bn instead of £50bn. Which shows just how unreliable both El Reg and the Telegraph articles were in getting to the nitty gritty.

It's still one helluva lot of money to have in the ground hindering progress, especially when you think that the readjusted figure for ubiquitous FTTH across the whole of the UK is now between £10 and £14bn. BT are apparently putting in £2.5bn to do Infinity, Fujitsu want to spend £1.5bn, and companies such as Iuhba are threatening to spend another £1.5bn etc. Either my maths is very poor or those three companies plus weighing in the copper could see us fibred to the home UK-wide.

(Not that I am suggesting we pursue this route of allowing a handful of companies to do it and own it all as I remain convinced that open access is the *only* way forward for this country and others, but I'm just pointing out that the figures stack!)
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Monday, 14 November 2011

WiBe testing on a hill

Read more! Headed up the hill to one of the few places that seems to get 3G round here. Although I still couldn't see it on my iPhone, except very sporadically, when I managed to get a quick test in, the WiBe settled in pretty quickly.

This blog post can be read at

The initial euphoria at finding a far better connection speed than ADSL can offer in Upper Eden has not yet worn off! Am seriously debating finally going into agriculture and setting up a WiBe farm with lots of them in my attic.

WiBe test

3G Test on iPhone

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Sunday, 13 November 2011

The True Cost of Britain's Copper Infrastructure III

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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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The True Cost of Britain's Copper Infrastructure II

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Further to the previous post about the cost in lives as well as a wastage of £billions within the utility, transport and communications infrastructure sectors, there are yet further costs of the continuing existence of this copper to point out e.g. the effect on the mobile industry and every sector which uses that.

This blog post can be read at

Ebay have just commissioned a report by Verdict Research about the poverty of mobile coverage in the UK and hence its impact on m-commerce. Whilst we talk about spectrum frequently, one subject which requires far more coverage is the backhaul to mobile masts, especially in rural areas.

This backhaul is frequently supplied by costly and lengthy copper wires. As any business will tell you, overheads such as this can be a killer which seriously affects the bottom line of any business. Yes, the mobile operators make healthy profits, especially from very low cost and profitable services such as SMS, but high overheads do affect the appetite for investment, particularly in such a competitive environment as the mobile industry where there are far too many loss-leaders, mainly in order to prevent too much churn to competitors.

Ebay's research about m-commerce is telling, especially when you consider that in most cases, m-commerce requires solid access to data services in order to function properly.

The article summarising Ebay's research begins with this paragraph:

eBay on Friday warned that patchy mobile network coverage, slow connection speeds and poor reliability is costing the U.K. economy £1.29 billion per year in lost sales.

The article goes on to say:
"M-commerce sales are already worth some £1.35bn to the UK economy, and are set to grow fourteen-fold over the next ten years to £19.26 billion by 2021," said eBay. "It is therefore essential for Ofcom to seriously consider the interests of m-commerce when considering what regulatory approach to take towards mobile broadband provision."

It is time for Ofcom and the government to consider not just the availability of spectrum but also the associated middle mile costs that fall to the mobile operators. And AFAIK, the vast majority of wired mobile backhaul and longhaul comes from BT and is copper-based. (Correct me, anyone?)

What these statements from Ebay would appear to imply is that we are losing around half of the potential income EACH YEAR because of the poverty of the network.

Start adding together the costs from the previous article and this one, and we are getting into per annum revenue figures that make the total costs of ubiquitous FTTH deployment seem more than just affordable. FTTH starts to seem imperative for long-term savings and to assist an economic turnaround.

And we haven't started on public sector savings yet, or added in the savings to each household of true broadband access. Or the environmental savings which can be achieved by replacing costly, energy-hungry, and aged equipment required to run a copper network with modern, energy efficient, fibre kit.

I am undoubtedly getting myself into hot water with posts which protest the case, such as this, particularly amongst those for whom there is still an addiction to copper, but it all has to be said. Over and over again until the message gets across that we must do something, and we must start to JFDI now.

There is an article by Caitlin Moran entitled, "Protesters? They're beautiful!" in which she points out that protesters are not required to have answers, they are there to stand as a question mark asking, "What are you going to do about this?"

This is one such online protest, with a big fat question mark, to our policy makers, telcos, public sector, decision makers, purse holders, communities, citizens and businesses asking that very question.

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The True Cost of Britain's Copper Infrastructure I

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(Written on an iPhone, uploaded from home, apologies for typos)

This headline grabbed my eye as I waited for the train at King's Cross today: "Lives at risk as thieves disconnect 999 services. Metal gangs target communication cables". Not one to purchase The Times normally (ever), I succumbed. (It's a long way back home with only 15 minutes free wifi and patchy mobile coverage all the way up the East Coast mainline.)

This blog post can be read at

We've done, over and over again, the reasons why FTTH makes sense from a consumer, business, public sector, community, economic and environmental point of view, and why the copper needs pulling out the ground sooner rather than later. Jeremy Hunt was quite clear during his visit at Rheged last week that this government understands the need for Fibre To The Home - in fact, he was quite clear that he didn't want to hear that argument again from ECCBF! However, we all know that we are being held hostage to the business plans and shareholder interest of private companies and that must stop. So, to keep the pressure on, let's do what all scientific journals, media and tabloids etc do and make copper the big scare story for people's health and lives.

The theft of copper cables has so far, this year alone, caused 240,000 minutes of delays on Network Rail. Apparently, these thefts have cost Network Rail £43M over the last 2 years, but no doubt this fails to take into account copper stolen from railways such as Tickhill that NR were planning to re-open. There is no indication how much the train delays have cost British businesses with staff being late, missed appointments, lost productivity etc, let alone the long-term losses from visitors to this country (tourism brings in at least £10bn p.a.) who hesitate to return, and don't ....

The figure given for cost of all copper theft, not just from railways, is given as more than £1 billion per year. (It seems to be rising fast as last year it was estimated at £770M per year) That £1 billion probably fails to fully take into account many hidden losses e.g to homes, families, SMEs, SOHOs etc etc when the communication network and infrastructure relying on copper fails.

Britain has an estimated 20-25 million tonnes of installed copper, approx 60-65% of which is thought to be cables and wires, according to this article. (Remarkably similar figures to El Reg article which looked specifically at BT's copper) At £4350 per tonne scrap value, (down from £5k on El Reg 2 months ago but expected to rise continuously into 2015) the cables would appear to be worth at least £52 billion taking the lower estimates alone.

Now, it's difficult to know whether all of that could be replaced with fibre but it's not hard to guess that a vast majority could be - discounting the power cables, but these would seem to be a small part of the actual copper plant. However, here we stumble on an issue that this post would like to make more of than Fiona Hamilton and John Simpson did.

The emergency services, for instance, often become a victim of these thefts, not necessarily because they are connected to the copper directly, but because of the process known as "overlay". This is where a telco e.g BT does not pull out obsolete or even broken infrastructure, which adds additional cost to a job unless you factor in the resale value of what you have pulled out the ground; the telco simply overlays the new cabling on the old. Leaving the copper as an attractive target for theft whilst making the newer infrastructure closer to the surface doubly vulnerable.

Ironically, as an aside, some places have had to suffer the ignominy of copper overlay (onto fibre) because of BT's insistence to use the ADSL product instead of the more advanced FTTH, that would have been feasible over the fibre if it wasn't for asset sweating. This begins to seem as much a backward, greedy step as a total liability.

Copper thefts are occurring at a rate of 700 incidents per month against the energy industry, 8 attempts daily on the railways, and enough against BT's own network to see a special task force launched (imaginatively named the OpenReach Metal Theft Taskforce).

To date, no innocent person has been recorded as being killed, although at least 6 people have been electrocuted on railways during thefts. One can only imagine the circumstances that have led to these people taking to crime, but no doubt their families feel the effects of their deaths as much as any other family would. The fact is that 6 lives have now been lost, and many more will be if this continues. Not just of criminals but from rail or air accidents, emergency services' disruption etc.

Additionally, as with all such crimes, it is not always possible to be aware of just how far the ripples spread to affect the innocent, and a 36 hour outage for the Solent Coastguard and a 999 outage in Wiltshire recently could easily have caused problems, if not deaths, as a direct or indirect consequence. Cabling stolen from an Air Traffic upgrade at Stansted recently ought to bang home how potentially serious these thefts could become if there was any failure for air traffic control.

Whilst the Private Member's Bill to be tabled on Tuesday addresses the sale of such copper, it fails to address the real issue which is

why the copper is even still there in the vast majority of cases.

Especially a) in the 21st century, when it is well past its sell by date and usefulness except for BT shareholders b) when it is worth so much more out if the ground than in and c) when sentences for nicking copper are so light as to not put anyone off.

Surely, in light of comments such as that by Luke Beeson, general manager of BT security:
"It's only a matter of time, I think, before we unfortunately get a fatal incident"
it is time for BT et al to step up to their corporate responsibility to limit the chance of loss of human life by the continuing existence of a 19th/20th century temptation for crooks when it needn't, and shouldn't, be there.

As well as further cost, inconvenience and damage to UK Plc and its citizens by the very existence of copper in the ground instead of fibre, there should be an urgent move to force the hand of these companies to remove as much of the source of the problem as possible. Particularly now serious crime gangs have their eyes on that £52 billion+ of copper wire in order to commit a crime which is now described as the most serious threat to UK railways after terrorism. Action taken to prevent threats to the personnel of the emergency services should also be extended to safeguard the infrastructure which brings the blue lights to our homes and businesses when required. Before more people die unnecessarily.

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Friday, 11 November 2011

BT's misleading community flyer and website

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Here we go again. BT are putting out misleading info to community groups and the frustrated folk in rural areas who are desperate for broadband. Does it count as an advert, in which case do we report it to the ASA? Or if not, who do we report it to in order to prevent this from being disseminated across communities nationwide without a major rewrite by Westhill and BT?

This blog post can be read at

For those of us who have been in this game since prior to broadband becoming a household word, this is like Groundhog Day. Same old, same old. But if you don't know what BT are capable of, you might fall for this.

Firstly, spot the 'may' in the first sentence. Yep, same as ever. Gives a nice fallback once your community has done everything in its power to hand over money, goodwill, wayleaves, effort etc to BT who will come back with, "We only said superfast broadband 'may' come to you". And note the failure to make any promises or define 'superfast' either because BT have resorted to all the 'up to' malarkey again....

"Working on behalf of the communications industry..." Really? Not on behalf of BT shareholders then? Or even the apparently non-important communities and citizens BT ought to at least be pandering to considering what BT are asking/expecting from us?

The purple section is probably the most offensive. Initially I thought that that little asterisk after "hundreds of Communications Providers" would actually reveal that there will not be much of a choice of communications providers offering BT Infinity or superfast services, but, oh no, apparently this snippet of info about how much choice you will have is deemed too highbrow for the community folk in rural areas. No, let's treat you all as morons and explain what a communications provider is - like the clue is not in the name.

There is no small print pointing out that what OpenRetch are actually asking is "EVERYTHING" from your community - free wayleaves, you ask for the money from Government or your neighbours and hand it to BT, you dig, you get out there and do all BT's community engagement and advertising for free, and then, wahoo, BT will bill you every month for a BT service badged up by one of the CPs (that's someone who even provides TV services to your home in case you didn't know) reselling BT products. Nope, let's gloss over that aspect. Nothing pointing out that BT are not the only ones able to help you solve the problem caused by BT's continuing failure over the years to actually nail, and solve, the problem caused by um that'll be BT. Anyone remember the trigger level campaigns? Yep, we've been here before.....but this time BT want much, much more from YOU.

This is not BT 'working with your community' at all. This is BT getting you to hand them everything on a plate to continue their incumbent monopoly into the future, without any level of commitment from them to actually deliver superfast, or to pay for wayleaves, or to make a deal with the community that, say, 'in return for your commitment, we will make a contribution to your community project, coffers etc...'. Oh no, take, take, take, as ever.

And as for the last bit of this sentence: that is one helluva (unproven) claim to be making.

Aha, but spot the anomaly. Re-read the first line. Only 'most'? But you say we can do all of it, precisely when we want to do it. So, which do you mean? We can do it when we want? Or we can't? Or we may be able to?

If your community gets these fliers, send one copy to the Advertising Standards Agency and one to Ofcom, asking them to look carefully at them and then rap BT's knuckles with a hefty fine for pointing people to a website which makes claims in the first paragraph alone which many in rural areas will find deeply offensive considering BT's failure to deliver on its promises/commitments from 2003-2004 onwards. And for which it was paid handsomely from the public coffers.

Oh no we bloody can't. We can't even 'work occasionally' on the substandard service you are selling and reselling to millions of rural people across this fair nation. There should be a massive asterisk on that paragraph that points people to an explanation that actually this paragraph doesn't apply to at least third of the country as well as many in urban areas.

And Ofcom need to look hard at the page about the providers currently offering superfast on the website. Virgin Media? Rutland Telecom? Be? Oh, you mean "reselling BT's definition of 'superfast'? Well, make that clear then.

(As today has seen editing control by BT on even BBC web pages, I'll just include a screen shot of those two pages so the more bored amongst you can monitor when it changes to fact rather than very poorly worded, ill thought-out and misleading marketing hype)

It will be interesting to see when a new version appears, and whether those communities who have already received this flier will be sent an amended version to ensure that they are not talking to their communities without understanding the reality of what this flier/advert is asking of them. Many communities do not have broadband champions who are up to speed with what choices are available for rural areas, and it would be more than just remiss of BT to attempt to capitalise on that. It's morally outrageous, but in addition, if it doesn't fall under existing laws about private companies misleading the public, I'd be very surprised.

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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

DCMS Minister fuses his first fibre for Cyberbarn

Read more! The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP today (yesterday for many of you!) cyberopened Cyberbarn by fusing a length of fibre which, in an ideal world, would have been wrapped around a laptop sporting a presentation about Cyberbarn as there was no way in his Olympic schedule to get him through our door in Warcop. Nothing ever quite happens as you expect......

This blog post can be read at

The Olympics event overran by a whole hour, which left Cumbrian businesses and campaigners without a moment to see Jeremy before he had to hotfoot it to Carlisle for his main purpose of the day - the Olympics, sport etc. Somehow, our MP Rory Stewart persuaded Jeremy he could spare the broadband group 5 minutes. ECCBF (East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum) spoke about the ethos, purpose, structure etc we are exploring, which is a message which needs disseminating more widely as Cumbria is a pilot for these things with BDUK and that £830M. Other pilots should be talking to us just as we need to talk to you.

Jeremy *had* to leave to get to Carlisle. But we (read: Lindsey) simply couldn't allow him to leave without fusing some fibre in Cumbria in 2011 and opening Cyberbarn (although the real world opening still falls on Rory's shoulders, and if you have two minutes, please ask BT Open Reach CEO, MD etc for the loan of their new super shovel for that occasion!).

I am extraordinarily grateful to John Colton of Lucidos for pointing out to me when I rang yesterday and said, "I don't want to sacrifice any of my fibre so he can 'cut a ribbon'..." that we were going about it the wrong way. John turned up with a splicer so Jeremy could fuse fibre - sweet!

And then Jeremy signed our Cyberbarn certificate (which had been made by me when I thought he was going to leave the building without even a minute to spare to meet us).

It's been a very long day - I have just got home. I can't even begin to write how I feel. I hope for all of you following on Twitter, this will do as a start. Thank you everyone for your support in making Cyberbarn happen and for your ongoing support of me, in particular. It has been much appreciated recently.

(Oh, and as someone who used to make videos for a living, yes, I know they are not perfect, but I was presenting and filming as my video monkey has only just got home from her 18th birthday celebrations last weekend. So, no, if you're interested, she doesn't take after her mum even a smidgen!)

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

WiBe Testing and 3G masts

Read more! Just thought: some people doing WiBe testing might not know how to find the location of 3G masts so....

This blog post can be read at

Use the Sitefinder site, provided by Ofcom and voluntarily updated by the operators, to locate all masts in your area.

You need to zoom right in to actually see masts on the map, and it may be that in some areas there are far more masts than in ours that the WiBe can see. You are looking for masts in the database operating at 2100MHz range. (Ours is only operating at half power so a message has gone to Three to ask if they might consider turning it up - it would be very interesting to see what sort of connectivity we could get if they did so as I'd be more than happy to ditch my landline in favour of full on WiBe connectivity!)

The WiBe antennas will seek the best signal from the four built-in antennas and lock into that. If the WiBe lights switch from one mast to another continuously, try re-locating the WiBe to get the best signal with least noise.

You can see how many masts the WiBe is finding by logging into the WiBe through a browser (default setting is: and looking at the Admin - Status - 3G antenna test results. This will also tell you the max and min without having to run a Speedtest. So, right now mine is reading Max kbps 3055 and min 1201 with -99dBm.

I know which mast I am coming off as I can only see one here, but the Cell ID doesn't relate to the operator's reference on Sitefinder and I still don't know how to translate Cell IDs, except that I have discovered in the process, which is a geo-location 'game' I was unaware of!

Just found a Rural Broadband Working Group (RBWG) MiFi in Upper Eden too due to these blog posts so as soon as we get a chance we will do some parallel testing and see how the results stack up.

The RBWG, an alliance between Three, Countryside Alliance, with input from Race Online 2012, is very interesting and there will be a blog post soon with an update on that.

Right, back to testing! Read more!

Any UK entries for the Gigabit Challenge?

Read more!
Google's Gigabit Fibre (and no, I'm not spelling it the wrong way, thanks, I'm British!) has triggered the Gigabit Challenge, looking for disruptive and unique applications / business ideas that could use the capacity and network. I know we're all stuck on dire internet connections here in the UK that stifle our imagination, effectiveness, productivity, etc etc, but we must be able to come up with a few entries?!
This blog post can be read at

The rules seem pretty simple. You don't have to buy anything, just register and upload your idea with supporting material.

Business Plans will be evaluated on the following:

  • Ability to clearly and completely convince the judges that a real market opportunity exists and that they have the right combination of product/service, team, and plan to generate significant expected financial returns from that opportunity given the amount of risk associated with the opportunity. 
  • Growth & impact: Demonstration of potential for being in business in five years and how the business will impact the local economy (e.g., generating revenue, creating jobs).
  • Brevity & clarity: Business plan presented clearly and concisely, and is easy to understand
  • Entrants must show how their venture ties into the strengths and assets of the Goggle Fiber Network and/or how being connected to the Google Fiber Network will create a beneficial relationship within the Kansas City metropolitan region.
Now, I don't know much about Kansas beyond that film, but communities are pretty much the same worldwide, urban or rural. 

9 days left before the deadline...thinking hats on folks!!
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WiBe Testing

Read more! Chris and John have both put up WiBe tests, so I thought I'd pull a few of mine off the phone and share them too.

This blog post can be read at

Thanks to Richard Dix at Rural Broadband for this very cute toy.

This is a new build in a village where every single home is sub 2Mbps. Many are still on dial up. The plan was to test a window on each side of the house and the attic to see where the best signal might be. The two sides were pretty similar results, so I've omitted those tests from this post and just shown the west, east and the attic.

Setting up for test 1 just as the sun is setting.

First test.

Second test.

The WiBe in the attic.

Speedtest 1 in the attic.

Speedtest 2 in the attic.

The WiBe reaches for the moon.

Test 1.

Test 2 - it does make a difference if you just let the WiBe settle in, and although it only takes a few moments to get the 3G connection, it can take 10-15 minutes before you start getting improved and consistent results. As it was dark and I wanted to share the results before the iPhone ran out of juice, I packed up my huge bag of tools - 1 Wibe and an iPhone - and headed off to discuss this with the owner of the house. In the milking parlour, where of course all the best discussions take place!

Earlier in the day, I had been out to another notspot on a different mission, and had just thought I'd test the mobile network whilst there. These are the two speedtests and the views around about 20+ homes.

This was near the main road at the bottom of the valley so I headed uphill.

As you can see, an improvement, but not a useful one!

I am in direct line of sight to the Ash Fell mobile mast but it appears to have made little difference.

So, armed with the invertor, I am going back there to see what the WiBe will get en route to a rather infamous notspot in our patch, and a few others with not quite so well-known broadband champions.

I have got about another 50 speed tests to get off my phone too, but they are all showing pretty much the same thing - the WiBe is a great solution for now if you are on dial up or live in a notspot!

I don't have a laptop so cannot film and speed test and log onto the WiBe all at once - Chris and John do all that so check out their posts.

From logging on I am discovering that the best signal strength so far is around 85dBm, with the worst being 107 dBm, but this needs far more experimentation to see if I can improve those simply by positioning. I have been trying to see where the cell ID relates to the sitefinder mast codes, but haven't resolved that one yet. This would help in understanding which mast the best signal is coming from (when there is a choice) and hence positioning the WiBe better, but it's early days yet and I'm sure there is still tons more to discover to get even more from the WiBe.

We've load balanced the WiBe with the satellite to get maximum backhaul into the Cyberbarn till the fibre goes in and it's pretty good because I can switch between the two quite simply now to demonstrate both means of getting online to visitors. Which after all was one of the reasons for the Cyberbarn's existence!

Next step is to get the VoIP phones working in the Cyberbarn so we can demo VoIP over both WiBe and satellite, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I've been given the most awesome GIS mapping software and fibre network planning tools today (Cheers Mike!) and they are vying with the WiBe for attention....more on those soon.

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Monday, 7 November 2011

ISPs must be stopped from screwing dial up users IMMEDIATELY

Read more! I went round to a house tonight to test the WiBe. The lady had been in Cyberbarn this afternoon and seen the WiBe on the desk. She's on dial up, but actually came round to get advice about her printer. I dropped in to see her this evening on the way home....and unearthed a horror story.

This blog post can be read at

Her hours at work have recently been cut and the family need to tighten their belts, as I'm sure many in this country can relate to so she had been going through their bank statements to see what could go. She spotted the AOL direct debit at £30 a month, and mentioned it to me whilst I was trying to fix the printer. I pretty much fell off the computer chair. "£30??? You are paying £30 for dial up?" "Yes, I hadn't thought about it but we have been paying AOL that amount for years and years. We know we can't get broadband, no-one can round here, so I'd never really thought about it, until today after coming to Cyberbarn, and then seeing it on the bank statement."

"Cancel it right now," was my advice. "I'll find you a better solution in the next day or two." It's a promise I intend to keep. And I am now also going to leaflet every house in that notspot and tell them to check the amount they are paying for dial up.

But the ISPs should be deeply ashamed of themselves. I know AOL have a huge number of customers, but a company that size must know that they have long-term customers, to whom neither they nor BT are able to offer a 21st century product like ADSL broadband, and should be ensuring that every single customer on dial up is being treated fairly and not being completely ripped off in this manner.

Yes, there are many of us guilty of not checking our statements to make sure we are not paying monies we needn't, chasing up a better deal on our utilities etc, but some of the onus should fall on the companies too to NOT RIP PEOPLE OFF like this. There is absolutely no excuse for a company to maintain customers on age-old tariffs which are clearly over-priced and bear no relation whatsoever to the service being offered.

Let's keep this 'Give an Hour to Help People Online' going. If you know ANYONE still on dial up, go and ask them how much they are paying and help them contact Ofcom to report their service provider so the extent of this problem can be seen and dealt with, and help them to find a better deal for their connectivity.

And if you are an ISP and still have dial up customers, especially those who must have been with you for at least most of this millennium, then give them a free year to make up for the ludicrous and immoral over-charging which has been going on for far too long.

Dial up should be free anyway - it's no use to man nor beast in this day and age and it costs peanuts to provide. Shame on you AOL and the rest of you running the same scam, check your customer records and start sorting this disgraceful situation out immediately.

Read more!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Day 1: rural broadband experiment

Read more! 6 people in total through Cyberbarn. No-one was allowed to use Youtube, Facebook or anything else as I am now disastrously protective of the data allowance. This doesn't exactly make for a fun online experience but as I seem to be paying, can you blame me? This is how any rural family will be forced to behave at £15/GB. Here's what we spotted today..........

This blog post can be read at

Cleaning windows, talking to old friends, gossiping about the soap opera that is our village, even with anywhere between 3 and 5 IT savvy folks in Cyberbarn who don't actually appear to be touching a computer, uses anywhere from 3/4-10MB each 30 minutes. That was on the satellite which is currently operating at 64kbps whilst we negotiate the new contract. (Apparently, I should be ashamed to admit this speed, but I am very grateful to a supplier willing to talk to me whilst I also endeavour to track down someone from 3 with some authority to help this experiment proceed for at least one month using data as we wish to).

My maths isn't great at this hour, but hopefully @yarwell or someone will do the sums and work out the necessary info to show how 20.4MB at 64kbps in 30 mins works......

So, at 6pm, we were operating on this 'about to be 6Mbps but right now 64kbps' satellite and then Mr Popham walked in with the WiBe. His first speed test was 2.7Mbps. It was posted on Twitter. Bear in mind, Upper Eden is an area where the few sad folk amongst us who care report the tiny patches of 3G connectivity, mostly high on the fells (usually MOD land), in case 3G is ever required. Most ISPs will not sell a 3G dongle to anyone round here as the tests have clearly shown nowt is available. The WiBe proved otherwise and I have to admit to being instantly impressed.

Not having enough cat5 ends to crimp through to the load balancer and share this minor upgrade in connectivity, we all just decamped to the WiBe wifi!! This is where I spent too much time eating fishcakes whilst finding the usage stats, a car went off the road, the village soap opera erupted, and luckily, tomorrow is another day!

However, there is a post script to day 1: the speedtest I received from my own house via @johnpopham indicated a 3.7Mbps down and 1.49 up from his WiBe. I showed this to the people from the Haybergill Centre who have had a nightmare broadband scenario for far too long. Mick was sceptical for about 2 secs before reminding me there is 3G somewhere up on the MOD ranges behind them. I reminded him there wasn't in the village, but this bit of kit had found one. The WiBe is going up there ASAP to see if it may, once and for all, resolve the problems up there with the need to get online. So, big tick to @johnpophma for solving yet another Can't Get Online Challenge problem.

How do I feel: tired. Happy. And very, very sad. Why are we so pleased with a 3.7Mbps speedtest from a £200+ WiBe which has a £15/GB tariff? This could end up costing (on my home usage alone) 28 days x £15, £420/month in excess usage, to do the nothingness that I can do now. After three months of that level of usage (which obviously I would have put a stop to as soon as I discovered it as it is way beyond my personal and business resources) we could have put in FTTH.

I've always argued that the economic dynamics of FTTH must be looked at from a far wider view point than purely the telcos' profits. Right now, I am going to stand on top of the reality of Day 1 and shout out to you all: FTTH makes far more sense for everyone's pockets - telcos, councils, consumers, parishes, SMEs etc.

So, day 1: overall, sad. Bloody impressed with the WiBe and want it as an adjunct to my FTTH - can you build a femto cell into it too? Pleased to have better connectivity than CCC, CLEO and BT Global can provide from the fibre that lies less than 300m from my house, but so sad that rural folk are being so dreadfully curtailed for no good reason. And will be for many more years if this lunacy continues much longer.

Allow the geeks to touch a computer, their iPhone or a tablet, add a WiBe (thanks Richard!!!) and the stats go steadily and unceasingly upwards. Chuck a John Popham into the mix with Cant Get Online Week blog posts and photos to upload, and the TX/RX got into telephone numbers (it was measured in bytes, but even so!)

I'm still trying to resolve the WiBe stats (has anyone out there got a minute to help this very tired individual make sense of it all?) to actually clock what we did today but my calculations actually have us over 100MB for just over 2 hours (which is sort of terrifying if you only get 2 GB a month), but I am happy to log start/finish data from now on as today was a tad haphazard!

(Unpack WiBe whilst trying to eat my fishcake breakfast at 6.30pm, monitor stats asap, enjoy the company whilst dealing with developing Parish issues, and dragging a UK ONline learner out of a dark/hidden ditch!) Bit full on I thought but never a dull moment here ... ;)

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Making the Final 10% the First 10%

Read more! As per previous post, we are now running an experiment to prove that FTTH is the only solution, for most rural remote areas by looking at the options, costs, usage etc. We are not saying there is not a place for satellite, mobile or even FiWi, but we will prove that FTTH makes more sense AS THE PRIMARY CONNECTION for the vast majority of homes and businesses in this country. We need a wireless/mobile cloud whatever, and there are always going to be places where a satellite makes sense now and for the foreseeable.

This blog post can be read at

Thanks to AFL, Lucid, ITS and others who are coming at us too thick and fast for a quick blog post like this, our next phase is about to begin now Cyberbarn is open.

The mile of fibre has landed. The dig is being prepared. If you want to be involved, watch this space or drop into Cyberbarn.

And very soon, B4RN will be announcing how to do rural FTTH over a much wider area on an economically viable and logical scale.

I'll be digging for both of them and continuing to support communities who want solutions, and who need options. Come and try mobile and satellite at Cyberbarn before you make any decisions, and read all the open source information that is available that clearly shows now why the Final Third and Tenth should be the first, and why it makes more sense to invest the money into that sector for long term economic payback than in towns and cities.
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The Final 10% Rural Broadband Experiment

Read more!

We are going to set to and provide the hard evidence required on paper to prove that mobile and satellite are insufficient for AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE, PRESENT DAY INTERNET ACCESS in rural areas for your average family, farm, business, OAP etc. What we intend to prove is that the payment pain for these and any next generation solutions is going to fall heavily on the users, whilst the telcos get off scot free from investing in long-term answers already obvious to all. This could no doubt offer excuses for yet further delaying tactics from incumbents, ministers et al through said evidence but hey ho............

This blog post can be read at

Cyberbarn is now open (Mon, Weds, Fri, 1-7pm if you care to drop in). It is already connected to a satellite dish and in a few hours it will also enjoy a mobile broadband connection through a WiBe lent by Rural Broadband's Richard Dix as part of John Popham's Can't get Online Week - cheers all!

Each GB of data over and above 2 per month (under negotiation and a tad pathetic compared to that permissible on most ISPs FUPs for town dwellers - 30 in my house and then £1 per GB thereafter) will cost us £15. There is NO funding for data (not even, yet, a generous mobile or satellite provider to allow us to capture stats without constant reductions on speed during the month - hint, hint) so guess which mug is paying or who in this rural community will suffer when I can't pay for data before food?

Filming A Notspot (mp3)

Looking at the current usage on the satellite by a normal everyday family (who featured on one of Rory Cellan-Jones' broadband news items a couple of years back about dial up agony before I put the satellite in), and the mobile usage by myself and a couple of others round here, we are all going to be paying more in bandwidth than in electricity, water etc, simply by opening the doors of Cyberbarn and encouraging people to Get Online as MLF wants us to. But, hey, I bet the implications of that doesn't hit the news as hard as the next electricity or gas price hike.

We are all constantly told that satellite and mobile will solve the final 10% so having installed Cyberbarn deliberately in that space, let's see.

(For those who are not aware, there is no ADSL available to any of the premises around or beyond Cyberbarn as it is too far from the exchange. The nearby village, approx a mile down the road, is almost entirely sub 2Mbps, according to both anecdotal data, speedtests, and the BDUK and Ofcom stats for Cumbria which we mapped a while back). Oh, except the Primary School but that is a whole other story dying to be told.

If anyone wants to see what happens when you allow the peasants free access to (halfway fast) data - 6Mbps on the sat and we'll add the WiBe speedtests to @cyberdoyle's cyberwave as soon as we are wired in, feel free to send £15 for a 1GB top up on either the WiBe or the satellite to keep them operating at their 'full' speeds. Not that I am expecting anyone to give us 1GB of data, but if you feel you should for the purpose of a decent experiment, UECP (the Upper Eden Community Partnership) can provide a Paypal account for Cyberbarn. Just comment below if you want one or if you know/are David Dyson, CEO of 3.

I think we know what the reality will be, but hell, let's give it a spin and prove it to those who refuse to believe us that fibre to the home is the only real solution. After all, who will be £1250 out of pocket, per home, if the peasants are paying monthly data tariff fees of £15 per GB rather than telcos putting in a 25-50 year solution for that money?

I'm going to go into this in more detail shortly as I find it deeply offensive that govt can dish out £950M and expect at least £6 per £1 private investment back for industry, and not even begin to apply the same thinking to consumers with the BDUK money. How many £££s is the BDUK cash stimulating from private investment and how much will be dragged from our pockets without ever being accounted for? The pilot projects in Cumbria alone must have already put in tens of thousands of pounds of private money and we haven't seen a bean invested yet in connectivity.

Perhaps this is just yet another tax on those of us who "choose" to live in rural areas? £1 or less per GB in town on a bog standard ADSL or cable connection vs £15/GB in the campo doesn't quite add up in my mind. When our average earnings are already only 63% OR LESS of you city dwellers and our fuel is 10+p a litre more and the hospital/supermarket/courts/County Council offices etc are 40 miles away compared to your 2-5 miles. And our connections don't work and we are being hit with 15 times what you are paying per GB (a DVD is 660MB and our mobile libraries no longer stock DVDs as we can apparently download them.....).

I could go on with how our lives are costing us more and more to produce food whilst city folk and Westminsterites pay less and less for it.

(Don't believe me that we really are?

WE produce your food, that's your steak out of the Cyberbarn viewing window. Cyberdoyle produces your milk.)

Add it up. Rural folks are being taxed out of existence and the digital divide is widening rapidly.

But, enough moaning. To work. Let's see what we can prove in the comms arena for Neelie, Jeremy, Ian et al....

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