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Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The digital divide may widen and deepen yet

This blog post puts it as succinctly as anyone can and contains the relevant links to expand further on the post from two days ago.

The worrying part in all this is several steps back from next gen FTTH. If the USO were to be removed, rather than a USO for minimum level broadband introduced as per EU regulator thinking, then all those who I and others know who still do not have a landline under that USO are going to be joined by many, many others who have little to no choice of mobile coverage, let alone a chance of decent broadband this decade or possibly the next. Who is this going to affect most? Yep, you've guessed it - the rural and the poor.

How long would it be before non-functioning landlines in rural areas, which will no longer fall under a USO, are not repaired? Our telephone box in the village has now been broken for several weeks. Many of the people here, where the average wage is £16000 (half the national average) rely on that phone box. Only 2 days ago, my door was hammered on by a neighbour up the village who does not have and cannot afford a mobile phone as she needed to phone the fire brigade. However, even if she had a mobile phone, her choice of providers is restricted to two or three max - and you end up choosing around here by where you are likely to need to make a call from as coverage is patchy to say the least.

There are no 3G dongles in this village. What is the point? They won't work here. When I was in Scotland last September I was stunned by how often there was no mobile signal, not even to text, let alone to try to surf on my smart phone. But it really isn't much different in much of the north of England.

This latest thinking shows how we are heading backwards. Brown can make glib comments about Tennessee Valley type thinking, but someone had better start advising him and others fast on the reality of what is required. And the implications of what some of their thinking is most likely to lead to. Instead of a mutually owned FTTH network that is future-proofed well into the middle of this century, we stand to waste phenomenal amounts of tax payers' money creating a patchwork quilt of un-coordinated solutions belonging to a multiplicity of providers who are there purely to serve their own commercial interests, not UK plc and its citizens.

By removing the USO, rather than future-proofing it to a broadband level USO, we stand to turn the digital divide into a chasm, with huge insurmountable cliffs at each side of it. The assumption that by throwing money at providers they will attack the problem in a co-ordinated and sensible manner that will help this country out is ludicrous.

We should adopt the approach the Scottish Highlands and Islands did over mobile coverage, which was to sit the mobile operators down and say, "You need to provide coverage to here, here and here. If you want to join in the game, you must share masts, and this is where the masts will be sited. If you don't want to play, then count yourself out of the running now and leave the discussions." (Or words to that effect). This brought choice of provider for the consumers, a minimum amount of infrastructure with shared costs thereby meaning it cost each provider less in the long run to reach a new market, and less environmental impact and planning problems from masts dotted willy nilly across the horizon.

Do our politicos in London have any idea how widespread zero or very poor mobile coverage is in this country? Do they have any idea how many people still do not have a fully functional landline under the USO? Do we really want yet more masts littering our countryside to provide fill-in? Have any of the mobile operators or telcos actually been made to prove their broadband speeds with actual users? Or prove that the mobile and 3G coverage is where they claim it to be?

Does this government and its advisors (who seem to have an in-depth comprehension of telecoms, not) know how to reduce the costs of the civils to ensure that any money thrown at the solution of the next generation FTTH problem creates jobs now and into the future, rather than being wasted on bureaucracy etc? Have they considered where the advice is coming from about the costs and methods to do this FTTH job - the industry body and its members for crying out loud, hardly independent is it?? Have they considered different forms of ownership eg owned by the users on a mutual basis, rather than constantly pursuing the myth/fallacy that by encouraging the competitive marketplace to deliver, this country's citizens are being best served? It must be easy to see from the growing outcry on public forums, the BBC website, current affairs programs, research, consumer bodies and so on that IT IS NOT WORKING.

When is someone seriously going to query £51/month and similar prices for a connection over an infrastructure with reduced opex costs and reduced environmental impact at a time when data transfer costs are also now actually approaching zero?

The telco tail is wagging the UK dog and it is time it stopped before we waste our money on a solution that isn't, and which many, many informed people could resolve if they were only asked, and then listened to.

Ah, it's nice to be back! < / rant> Your turn!!

1 comment:

Cyberdoyle said...

great rant, just searched this blog for info on 3g having just read here: Using 3G wireless for domestic broadband [] that it may be considered for some.
Our experience of 3g in our valley is that you take your 3g dongle, put it in your laptop, get on a bus to the nearest city, do your work and then come home. 3g is no good for a single user, let alone a family or business. We need a decent infrastructure throughout the land and just like in the Scottish highlands, the message government should give to the telcos is 'if you can't stand the heat, then get outa the kitchen', or even better, 'either lead, follow or get outa the way'.
The suggestion this week by BT of using public money to lay more copper at £6 a metre instead of using fibre for under a quid is a scandal. They will patch up the obsolete copper to protect shareholders and fatcats instead of doing the job right and getting fibre out and playing the eNdGAme. BET is the biggest scam of all time. Just hope the numpties don't fall for it.