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Friday, 26 September 2008

Hermes, CUT, and a history lesson

Just read the latest post from the Hermes Project about Caio, rural FTTH, and prices. Reminded me of something.........

The Access to Broadband Campaign (ABC), of which I was one of the 4 co-founders back in the very early Noughties, came into being after a series of BSG meetings. In those days, there were 3 of us who regularly attended at our own expense on behalf of consumers and communities.

- Erol Ziya (formerly of CUT)
- John Wilson (Arwain and involved with many in the wireless world)
- Myself. (Rural broadband campaigner and broadband event organiser)

This was way back when the BSG started in autumn 2000/ spring 2001 (as I recall), before all and sundry jumped on the broadband bandwagon to make themselves a living.

By then, all 3 of us had been campaigning individually for different consumer/community sectors for several years. Debriefings in cafes around Russell Square after these BSG meetings, where the consumer/community voices had been fighting to be heard or understood, led to setting up ABC so that everyone could hear from ALL the stakeholders and engage in the debates.

I sort of digress. ABC was fairly active and well documented. Anyone who came to any of our events remembers, I'm sure, us and the events clearly!! (They were the best around at the time, and still would be now if we held one - ask anyone! Ooh, now there's an idea....)

Hermes' mention of unmetered dial up reminded me that many, many of the people talking about NGA, FTTH etc have absolutely no recollection of how FRIACO came about, nor its relevance today.

The current telco publicly voiced turmoil about 'oooh, the expense, how will we get our money back, there is no demand' etc etc is the same which triggered the campaigning, arguments and grassroots activity that was necessary prior to CUT hitting the 10 o'clock news, getting AOL and other major ISPs on side and on board, and, amazingly, getting FRIACO adopted across the whole of EU.

FRIACO led, firstly, to huge, widespread, mass adoption of the internet, innovation, and a closing of the digital divide. But, most importantly, from a telco point of view, is that it increased the number of people subscribing to their services by factors that had been previously unimaginable. Yes, they made MONEY, BIG MONEY....

Who could ever have imagined back then in '99 that in less than a decade 16million people in the UK alone would be able to access the Internet over a connection at least 10 times as fast as dial up (on the whole, if you are lucky) at the same price as a dial up connection then?

For the consumer, however, it meant no more limits to how often you could log on, especially if you were poor. It started the access for all, internet savvy world we know now in Europe.

If you don't know what FRIACO is, or why it is at least as relevant now to the debate, I strongly urge you to read the CUT archive site

For those who hate following links, try this as a reminder.

Do you remember the days when you paid for dial up by minute? (And the only person who gave you grief for being on too much was the bank manager for getting HUGE phone bills). Well, FRIACO brought flat rate internet access ie you paid one price per month and you could do what you wanted online. To everyone who wanted it.

Ring a bell with all these discussions ongoing about pricing models etc in the Ofcom review, usage limits, telcos' press releases etc?

Please do not let us have to re-invent the wheel....the CUT arguments still stand today. The investment, exactly as it was made prior to WW1 in the telephone system, is required, and all the telcos are well aware that if they can maintain their monopoly hold on it, they will not just get ROI in the next few years, but OVER and OVER again.

It wouldn't take much to get the type of people who successfully brought FRIACO to the whole of EU motivated again to take this on for NGA, surely? And now there really is a whole next generation of them fed up with being unable to do what they choose, when they choose, how they choose, and as fast as they choose....check out many of the broadband forums.........

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