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Monday 30 June 2008

Consumers' needs vs incumbents' greed?

Read more! This week's report from WIK showing that the business case for NGA favours the incumbents is worrying on a number of levels.
Firstly, the assumption that the only reason for NGA is an economic (read: profitable?) one. Secondly, that this level of document is precisely the type of report that politicians read and believe is the 'ultimate truth' and hence act on it, and thirdly that once again, the social/economic benefits of NGA are being almost swept under the carpet from a consumer point of view. This despite it being made clear through other research that the best networks are those owned and run by communities, rather than incumbents.

There are several questions which seem to suddenly keep re-appearing in the FTTH blog world, as well as at conferences.

Are national networks essential ie should FTTH be considered the fourth utility?
Or conversely, should we let many flowers bloom on a smaller scale community-run basis? If there is no answer known to this question, because of the many different regional, geographic, fiscaL, etc etc factors which make it difficult to assess whether one specific solution will work in a different place, then should we stymie development and innovation by insisting on a national network run by the incumbents?

After all, for many of us it is hard to believe that the incumbents have so far actually done a good job, so why let the problem continue by encouraging them into a next generation monopoly?

Another question in the blogosphere discussions appears to be about the economies of scale. FTTH build and deploy has dropped so much in capex over the last few years that arguing that only the incumbents can benefit from economies of scale appears to me to be looking at the whole issue of who should be benefiting from entirely the wrong angle. There is no reason for the telcos not to benefit from FTTH, and they will of course any way, but the actual cost (socio-economic as well as the damned frustration factor) for the consumers always seems to be omitted from the equation.

Of course, we would love it if the networks are built in the most cost-efficient manner possible, but not having a reasonable method of communication in the meantime is just not on. The hard evidence/facts about how much the failure to deploy FTTH is actually costing Europe, UK or individuals seems almost impossible to quantify.

After all, how can I tell you even what it would be worth to ME to have infiniband type broadband connectivity as I can't even begin to imagine what it would finally allow me to do? Times that by 60million inhabitants of Britain, the number of businesses, schools, GP surgeries, hospitals, etc and tell me in all honesty that it is still worth sitting on our hands for longer? Or worse, allowing the incumbents to force us into doing so....

But it should be taken as read that it is costing one helluva lot to the GDPs of UK Plc and other nations, and to small businesses, families, individuals, education, health etc etc etc being unable to communicate efficiently. Probably far more if everyone was honest, than the potential cost savings of 'economies of scale'.

Another question which seems to be reverberating round the blogs is about Vivien Reding and whose side is she really on with this week's announcements about encouraging the incumbents into action with a 15% risk return. This would seem to force the hand of politicians, policy and regulation into the pockets of the incumbents, although perhaps the whole recommendation could be read to apply equally to new entrants - one would dearly hope so from this pro-competition EU regulatory body.

With no answers to these questions seemingly out there yet, although many discussions seem to be going on behind closed doors and in blogs about where FTTH is going, one feels, as a consumer, that action is required rather than hot air, moans about lack of factual evidence, a business case etc. The facts are that many of us as small businesses, families, individuals, citizens and consumers are getting fed up with the entirely unnecessary hold ups, and hope that some new entrants take the bull by the horns and just get on with it.

A pilot project here in rural Cumbria should of course be first!! If it can succeed here, it can succeed anywhere in the EU. The mole plough is ready and waiting for you.....
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Friday 27 June 2008

Pick an acronym

Read more! Once upon a time it was FTTH/x... Now try FTEO, or FTSOHO, or even this n weep. How are any of these folk going to get a simple unified message through to consumers if the goalposts keep shifting????? Read more!

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Community owned and run networks

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Many of the lessons learned from building first generation community owned networks bear consideration in the build, design, management etc of next generation networks. These JFDI Community Network books offer the chance to learn from first-hand experience and save re-inventing the wheel.

Rural community broadband is hardly a new subject, but the approaches taken to overcome the digital divide with community-run networks are back in the news with the advent of Fibre To The Home, FTTX, NGA, and the increasing amount of commentary and news coverage about the community-owned and run model.

South Witham is an award-winning co-operative in Lincolnshire, and their story is told in detail from the initial concept through to recent innovations. Wennington is an NWDA-funded wireless mesh network that serves a deeply rural community where the incumbents feared to tread. It uses the CLEO wireless network as backhaul, and the case studies of the businesses affected and the changes they have effected since broadband connected them to customers and the global market make for interesting reading.

Buy the books today at

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Dig Where You Live

Read more! It seems to me that this video of people digging in their own fibre is completely under-promoted.

And yet, there is no reason why it should not be an inspiration to others, particularly in UK. So, in the interests of encouraging dreams of Dig Where You Live, watch this video and think!!
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Friday 20 June 2008

Contributors welcome

Read more! Have you something to say about FTTH or FTTX in Britain? Why not contribute to this blog? The purpose of this blog is to open the debate about FTTH, to inform readers of ongoing and planned projects, to break the 'there is no business case for FTTH in the UK' apathy, and to hear from all stakeholders.

Whether you are a consumer, business, government or work in the industry, this is the place to get engaged and to be heard. Just contact and tell us how you would like to get involved.
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Thursday 19 June 2008

Telco 2.0 comments on BSG conference

Read more! It seems that about a week is required for commentators to appear in the blogsphere about the BSG conference, reports, speakers etc. Telco 2.0 are well-placed to assess the implications of all that has been said...
Entitling their article Prospects for FTTH in Britain: considered slow, the article proceeds to take a very objective and in-depth view of the whole situation, playing off the government, industry and consumers against each other. One recurring thread, which I could cheer to see, is this support for co-ops, community owned, local initiatives and open access networks, both from speakers at the event and now in the FTTH blogosphere. It has been a very long time for the validity of such approaches to make their way into mainstream thinking.

And it's nice to see an article linking to one of my books and mentioning me, albeit anonymously! Thank you Telco 2.0 - a valid and timely article that all should read.
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A patchwork of solutions

Read more! In an ideal world, the UK would perhaps pursue a national, integrated FTTx network. However, that is unlikely as no-one currently can decide who would pay for it, let alone own it, what technology to use, where and when to start etc etc. It would seem we may well be back to the 'patchwork of solutions' of not only first generation broadband, but also first generation electricity and water supplies (where local communities took it into their own hands to provide the services required locally) in order to bring Britain up to speed...

Looking at the many different solutions employed elsewhere eg Skelleftea, Nuenen, Korea, Utah etc etc, there would seem to be no single, right model for FTTx deployment. Just as we have seen with centralisation of government services, once you move away from local deployment you can end up with a 'one size fits all' that doesn't actually fit anyone.

Whilst there may well be a 'one size fits all' solution-idea that will work in the UK germinating already, the truth is that, without the incumbent, or other major investor, likely to make the first leap into the £15bn hole in the ground that a single, national fibre infrastructure requires, the thinking in this editorial "islands of Fibre" may become the standard in 2008/9. As it has been before, historically and more recently.

As we have seen with community networks etc, this course deviates considerably from incumbent level and government thinking, which has allowed market failure (and the considerable social and economic effects of that) to happen before action is taken.

FTTx costs have been reducing massively over the last few years, and installing a local fibre network, whether that is to a hamlet, village, market town, housing development, or urban area is now within the reach of even the tightest purse strings.

We are seeing local councils seize the initiative to 'unbundle' themselves from the incumbent before the incumbent decides what course they will take eg in Bournemouth with H20, and inevitably there are discussions in other council chambers, parish councils, RDAs and even pubs, as communities decide on what fibre action is appropriate locally and how to proceed.

The success of "Dig where you live" type projects rings a bell within the living memory of many communities who provided their own water supplies etc prior to the creation of the national Water Board (1970s?).

Taking some level of control for what is now deemed as essential an utility as water or electricity, resonates within communities, especially rural ones, who have felt the effects of centralisation most acutely. This consumer empowerment seems to have evaded the understanding of telcos, and even government departments such as BERR and Defra, who fail to comprehend the changes that such localisation can have on a community. This is one area I explored in both JFDI Community Broadband network books, and the impact of such local involvement in FTTx networks has been clearly documented by others elsewhere.

Whether having diverse networks will provide the best long-term solution for FTTH Britain is difficult to tell, but as Malcolm Matson of the OPLAN Foundation regularly says,"Let many flowers bloom".

Photo by Pedrosimoes7

Lilypads do of course seem the most logical photo for this article, and for further reading one could place a few jigsaw pieces in front of you to build the picture up a little, (join the dots, as it were) such as:
Negroponte's famous article about frogs and lilypads
Freifunk's Fiwi Mesh Solution (AFAIK there is now fibre within the Freifunk network as well as mesh)
And, of course, no self-respecting telco blog would be complete without The Rise of the Stupid Network by Dave Isenberg.

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Read more! I would say that we are in no way affiliated with, but of course we are, because they are covering the same issue, but from a more global perspective.

However, we are 1) British (and therefore spell 'fibre' correctly!) and 2)looking from a consumer/citizen/community angle whilst Fiberevolution are industry. Since the very early days of Digital Dales events, I have pursued the formula of Industry + government + community/citizen/consumer, and with Fiberevolution's existence comes one way of ensuring that all stakeholders communicate in these times of fibre evolution and revolution.

Not one to miss opportunities to plagiarise (read:link to) other people's resources, here is the Ofcom Consumer Panel video "Contrasting experiences of broadband" which begins to give a picture for consumers of how others feel about the current situation.

"It’s absolutely pants – but there’s nothing I can do about it” is of course the statement which got not a round of applause as Dave Brunnen states in his article but laughter, sighs of frustration, a smidgen of desperation and, seemingly, may have turned a few lightbulbs on in that hellish hot conference room. At long last. I suspect that a few lightbulbs may have also been extinguished - those who feel the time is not right (no proof of demand), those who constantly make the case for 'investment but not now', or those who think that their next ADSL 2+ or asymmetric broadband product is going to cut the mustard.

After all, when customers over La Manche are getting speed tests like this, it is hardly likely that UK consumers are going to be slow in saying that our speed tests showing a download speed of 0.5-4Mbps and an upload fo 256kbps are just, well, too slow.

"There's nothing I can do about it" is of course the reason for the original Access to Broadband Campaign, Community Broadband Network, and this latest attempt to chivy regulators, consumers, and industry to action.
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Tuesday 17 June 2008

Digital Divides

Read more! The term 'digital divide' has many connotations. And now there appears to be a new one....

Firstly, the lack of connectivity - both in availability and speed - between different areas. The most common version of this in the UK is between rural and urban areas, and despite Ofcom's reassurances to the press, government, industry and consumers that this is no longer an issue (for example, The Guardian article "Fears of digital divide are groundless"), that is patently not true, and new work by organisations such as Acre and 5TTH should show just how many are unable to connect, who live in notspots etc. It is also blatantly obvious from the response to the BBC news reports etc that consumers in particular feel that this particular digital divide is still in existence.

The second version of the digital divide is for those who are unable to get connected because of lack of the necessary IT equipment to do so. Although mobile phones are almost ubiquitous now in the UK, there are still swathes of children and adults who are unable to access IT for a variety of reasons, from poverty onwards. According to recent reports, 1/6th of the children in this country are living in poverty, and there are other social issues which also prevent people from accessing IT and the internet - age, class, literacy etc. Attempts to develop programs which solve this issue have seemingly been unsuccessful with some 40% of households in the UK still failing to use the Internet through a broadband connection.

When one looks at the number of businesses not using the internet, one wonders how we would react as a nation if we were told that around 40% of our SMEs could or do not use electricity?

However, there is now yet another version of the digital divide being reported. This is almost entirely due to the nanny state, and not to industry apathy, social restrictions etc. It has come from a policy to 'lock down' computers from accessing the internet freely, so that a large variety of websites are unavailable.

The reasons for this include: protecting children from porn sites (which is why most websites in Sussex and Essex are not available through a school computer), through to making high level decisions about the dangers of sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Flickr and Youtube without considering the benefits.

What we are managing to achieve in the UK is actually terrifying: through policy and regulation, public sector decisions and industry dictating where it should be responding to market demand, we now have a nation split on a multitude of levels from using IT, broadband and the internet. And yet, we live in a global knowledge economy, but we are preventing may of our citizens and businesses from accessing, sharing and profiting from knowledge and technology.

It really is time for the situation to be assessed, and changed. If that means from the ground up then so be it, as it would seem that many at the top are incapable of understanding the results of their actions, decisions, policies and failure to invest.
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Saturday 14 June 2008

Light years ahead?

Read more! The way some organisations have been speaking recently - Ofcom, BERR and BT amongst others - one would think there is still no need for speed in this country. That is not how consumers and businesses view it, as was somewhat telling when Rory Cellan-Jones presented a week's short reports on the BBC news about the Broadband nation. Over 60,000 people went to the website to comment, more than double the highest previous popular topic. And the majority of the comments were not praising their connectivity!

The rural take-up of broadband being higher than urban apparently indicates that there is no longer a digital divide. (Actually, the fact that a higher proportion of rural dwellers have even managed to get broadband considering the huge difficulties in doing so, would seem to indicate that demand in rural areas is considerably higher than in urban areas, but that is a discussion perhaps for another day: notspots become honeypots....)

Letters to the Independent from the likes of CLA seem to me to be the beginning of the campaign for rural areas to get next generation access before urban areas, and I am heartily applauding the fact that fibre to the home and the need for speed has finally made it into the mass consciousness. This is the beginning of the


and it seemed from last week's BSG conference that when the likes of the Chair of Ofcom Consumer Panel and Ashley Highfield of the BBC stand up publicly and push for this level of action NOW for rural areas, one can only hope that there is much more to noise on the issue to come.


Next week, we shall be launching the Rural Fibre tshirts which will begin to get the message across to an ever wider this space.
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Recent conference report

Read more! A recent FTTH event in Ipswich reinforces the views held by this blog.

"It is clear that there is a strong and growing demand for very high speed broadband that can only be delivered by the deployment of fibre-to-the-home. Without this infrastructure, there is the very real risk of a negative impact on businesses, in particular the creative industries in the UK"

You can read more about the conference here.
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Friday 13 June 2008

The Nuenen Model

Read more! And why it should be adopted in the UK....

Nuenen is a town near Eindhoven in Holland. There is a FTTH network there run by a co-op called Onsnet, which means 'Our Net'. Everyone who lives in the town has the chance to be a member of the co-op and receive 100Mbps symmetrical fibre to the home. There was a take-up rate initially of over 95%, which is fairly stunning, although it has dropped to 85% - a figure most EU ISPs are green about!

The co-op model allows the consumer to have a say in what happens with the network and how it is run. How different from the many UK ISPs who dictate to consumers what speed or quality of broadband is available purely on a commercial/shareholder basis, not on what consumers actually want.

Nuenen offers innovative health and education services over the network. For instance, those with heart problems who need to take regular exercise are plugged into cardiac etc monitors in the local gym and the results are fed live to the GP who can ensure that improvements are occurring, and prevent too much exercise, or the wrong type, being taken.

This is not the place to write reams about Nuenen as Adrian Wooster (who took my place on the first Oplan Foundation trip and therefore saw first hand all that is going on there) has written a book, Musings on Broadband which contains the case study, and the Community Broadband Network has recent news and papers on Nuenen.
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Three cheers

Read more! Well said, Ian Fogg about BT's Ebbsfleet FTTH trial.

"These speeds make it the lowest [speed] fibre service in Europe", Jupiter Research analyst Ian Fogg told the BBC.

Let's face it - 300 homes is hardly a ground breaking trial when millions of homes around the world are now connected to a FTTH connection.

BT are slovenly in innovation at the best of times, and to see this trial being promoted at Broadband Stakeholder Group conferences, in the press etc as some sort of advance for Broadband Britain should make us all ashamed of not just our Government, but also some of our corporations. The lack of symmetry in the proposed connections and a 2Mbps with 100Mbps bursts is pretty sad.

If I was a BT shareholder, I'd want to know why BT aren't endeavouring to grab market share with what is, after all, a very mature technology. Why are they failing to run proper trials that are actually trialling something new in terms of speed for UK consumers?
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FTTH on the news

Read more! Every which way you look, suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, FTTH is in the news.

Whether it is Rory Cellan-Jones standing in Scotland waving a lump of fibre at viewers, the Guardian reporting on the BSG's broadband crisis summit this week, or Ceefax running the story that BT's fibre trial in Ebbsfleet will be the slowest fibre in Europe, FTTH has finally reached the mass consciousness.

And bloody hell, it has taken a long time for some of us! Back in 1984, Britain nearly got FTTH. If only that had happened. We would be leading the world in the information/knowledge economy right now, not struggling along at a snail's pace with a pathetic comms infrastructure that is making us the laughing stock of Europe.

Anyway, as I find articles of interest about fibre, or just decide to rant, it will be posted here. And that means, check back regularly, as I have been known to rant almost hourly about broadband Britain!!!
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