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Friday, 31 July 2009

Newgen new entrants profile: Rutland Telecom

Read more! Rutland Telecom have hit the news recently with their projects in Rutland, UK's smallest county. As more and more communities endeavour to drag themselves into the 21st century comms world, we thought it would be interesting to see how this latest community project started...

Dr David Lewis is the driving force behind Rutland Telecom, and he left teaching (Biology) 8 years ago. During the dotcom boom, he established examboost, and then went on to work on a government scheme which went into schools to help teachers nervous about working with ICT amongst pupils who were far more IT savvy. This led to him being asked to help out two big schools whose networks were "in a mess".

His experience in teaching has undoubtedly given him the ability to communicate easily with customers and consumers, and being self-taught in all aspects of IT and telecoms means that, although he speaks the language, he understands how important it is not to burden nor confuse customers with all the jargon.

Although he claims to not to be a ruthless business person, he is certainly tenacious. When he started his own ICT support company, which offers help to homes and businesses, he began to receive increasing numbers of requests for assistance in improving broadband connections. This led him to ask questions about IPStream etc to improve broadband and then to investigate the idea of LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) - he discovered there was nothing to stop a 1 or 2 man band unbundling an exchange. Little did he realise this would lead to two years of hand to hand combat with Open Reach, who seemed utterly incapable of dealing with anybody other than the 5 major ISPS. One suspects OR may now have far more experience in this field, having dealt with Rutland Telecom, and it looks like they are going to need it as others seek to take control and connect their own communities!

So far, he and his colleague, Mark Melluish, who has worked within the telcoms industry extensively, have unbundled two local exchanges and are now due to go live in a matter of weeks with a sub-loop unbundling project in Lyddington. In addition, using 5.8Ghz wireless, they have managed to connect another village, taking residents from the 300kbps side of the digital chasm to 20Mbps.

He sees a positive future for the company, and says he is inundated with enquiries from around the country - not just communities, but also new build housing estates, whose developers were short-sighted enough to put in copper. (Just like Milton Keynes, then!)

The project in Lyddington is interesting, in that Rutland Telecom are the first operator in the UK to sub-loop unbundle and independently connect a community with FTTC. The plan is to work towards FTTH in the future, but of course the issue, as always, is raising the capex. However, David believes that this can come within the community, including local businesses, whilst waiting to see what occurs with the 50p line tax and the NGA Fund. With figures such as £200 per household, it is likely that solutions such as those being pioneered by Rutland may well be one of the stepping stones in the roadmap to the eNdGAme.

However, for those of us who always have to see a downside to everything that may prevent us achieving the eNdGAme of FTTH, the one concern here is that if communities seek to sup-loop unbundle without a financially sustainable model to upgrade to FTTH, they may be stuck with that solution far into the future when funds are diverted elsewhere to FTTH. Whilst FTTC is far better than what many are hindered with at present, it is by no means what is required to create a Digital Britain and should only be viewed as an interim step to the eNdGAme.

In the meantime, the more communities who take control of their next gen infrastructure, and own it on a mutual model, the better! Power to the people!

Have a good weekend.

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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Audioboo from COTS

Read more! Brian Condon's AudioBoo about the COTS meeting yesterday With the LiveBlog of the event and tweetstream, we look forward to more like this in future. Read more!

How soon we forget...

Read more! So many people are entering the broadband and FTTH arena suddenly, I thought I would look up some historical items that might be of interest to the newbies. Oh, and some of those who have been around a while who forget what has already been said and here's #1...

When I put Peter Cochrane, ex CTO of BT, up for sale on Ebay in the run-up to The Endgame Conference in 2005, and may realise on reading Tim's article (or Peter's book) why some of us have a feeling of deja vu, and utter frustration, right now!

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Digital Switchover or switched off?

Read more! Here in our Cumbrian village, there are growing rumblings from many about the switchover. We are the first region to go.... Are there some glitches? Could it be that it hasn't worked as planned?....

I've only played on a few of the 'smitten' digiboxes to date, but it does rather seem there may be a problem....We have 2 digiboxes in our house and since the official switchover, we seem to be having problems getting them to tune in. And stay tuned in. I've seen, and heard about this, in other houses in the village now.

It is a fairly normal occurrence now on the upstairs TV to have to retune the digibox if you want to watch anything on BBC1 or BBC2. Which requires a little forethought as that is not an instant procedure and can take up to 10 minutes. And then it never works as planned, giving us untold iterations of BBC1 and BBC2, none of which work....Try another channel to see if your program on C4 has started and you won't get BBC1 back without retuning.

Both digiboxes in our house now have channels in random order, which makes finding the channel you want to watch a frustrating experience as it could be anywhere on the guide.

We got used to the 'splodge' sound and on hold jerkiness in the run up to switchover, but now it is normal. And frustrating. Imagine watching a program on TV where all of a sudden the picture freezes, for anything up to 10 or more seconds. The audio often continues, but, without an animated picture, it does make the story line difficult to follow. Frequently, the sound goes 'splodge', the whole lot freezes for a second or so, and then we continue watching our program. That is disconcerting too, and not quite what we expected from digital. The analogue stuff worked fine, and didn't suffer from that issue..... but we can no longer pick up our 4 analogue channels.

Teletext is a desperately frustrating process now - it takes long, long minutes to load anything, so no longer do you wake up, switch on Ceefax and Teletext (or whatever they are now called), check out news headlines, tech news and local news in bed before getting up. You just have to get up and google that info, or not (it is just too hard to find online. So easy on the remote - 100, 164, 300 etc). Which has actually left us out of the loop on much that we previously discovered and enjoyed about our interests and community through the TV. Dunno how you would cope if you don't have broadband or a computer...

Retune your digibox to get BBC1 again (yawn) and you often find yourself with 20, 30 or even 50 duplicate BBC1 channels, none of which work. I hate to say it but no BBC1 is one helluva loss, and it is one of the few channels I am willing to pay the license fee for.

The worst bit is "No information available". We see that for multiple channels now, day in and day out. There is just no signal and there have been days where we are down to one working channel out of 80+ on Freeview. And that's often a shopping, chat or holiday sales channel. UGH!

And it's not just us....there are less than 400 people here. You get to hear the complaints from the neighbours quite quickly. It seems to be widespread. Yet, none of us have seen anything on the News yet....probably because we can't actually get the news half the time.

Has the digital switchover worked or not? Or is it some problem with all of our digiboxes? We can find plenty of evidence online that digiboxes suffer hardware etc failure, and that some are better than others, so is that the problem? And what caused it? Yet, from what I can discover, the digiboxes in the village have been bought from many different outlets, are different makes etc....

If all of us are facing replacing our digiboxes, then in an area where the average wage is 63% of the national average wage, this switchover could actually find us switched off. I cannot afford to replace a digibox once a decade, let alone once a year.

I have to admit that since the switchover I have watched considerably less TV because I just can't face the hassle of trying to find a channel that works.

Is there a widespread problem in the first digital switchover region?? If so, what does that mean for you lot who are about to get switched over? Switched on or off? Right now, from our experience here in the Borders and Cumbria, I'd say: be prepared for the latter....

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The first COTS Meeting

Read more! Whilst it makes sense to attempt to establish standards for the eNdGAme, does it makes sense to start like this...?

[UPDATE: an attendee's thoughts]

Imagine the scenario....60 people in a room, many more unable to attend through geographic or time issues, a smidgen of wi-fi so that at least 2 people can use their Macs and iphones to tweet or liveblog out, so others can respond, no major industry players, no audio let alone webcam to allow remote attendance....

That was today's first COTS (Commercial, Operational and Technical Standards) meeting, called by the Broadband Stakeholder Group.

IMHO, it doesn't bode well. But I truly hope I am wrong.

1) Why host a meeting where there is no opportunity to use the technology under discussion? We know from past experience eg 2003, Simmons and Simmons, ABC1 conference, that you can find venues with 400+ capacity in central London with decent broadband for all. We had approx 100 x more people communicating from within that event to the outside world way back when than there were today....

2) Why no major players? They are all BSG members.. [Oops, I am mistaken, Andy from Sky was there....]

3) Why no 'scribe' from BSG to keep us all up to date in real time? We ended up dependent on Brian who was speaking on a panel and obviously struggling to multitask (who can blame him?), and mark. Thanks to both but they were there to represent important views, not scribe.

4) How does COTS fit in with INCA? Who was not made clear to remote attendees at all, even those who had spoken to the organisers and delegates, but reading how the INCA empire was destroyed, I have to admit to being a bit worried at the modern day parallels....

We know we need to try to avoid a patchwork of broadband solutions. When Antony Walker stood up (was it only this time last year?) at the BSG conference and said we were better waiting and learning from other's mistakes to do FTTH etc, I didn't think he meant that those of us in rural communities in the UK needed to learn from those in the capital..... I sincerely hope he didn't.

But, I have to admit to struggling to comprehend this project, its purpose, how it will engage all stakeholders, how long it will take, and whether it is in tandem with or opposition to INCA, community action that is ongoing and succeeding in connecting communities, the incumbents etc.

I hope I can persuade Peter Shearman, prior to the proposed COTS meeting out of London, (date to be announced shortly) to be interviewed here to explain to others exactly what is proposed, the timescale, and what has been learnt from this first meeting.

If you have questions for (and about) COTS, BSG, Peter, Antony et al, please post to the comments section, or if you wish to remain anonymous, send to l dot annison at gmail dot com and I will, as always, respect your wishes.

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Samknows and the state of #digitalbritain

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(Photo by ToniVC with thanks to Creative Commons)

Just before anyone attempts to rain on the parade...cos there is enough of that wet stuff going around already in the UK....(please, not for the Ashes, please, please)

SamKnows, with their monitoring software and analysis of stats, which Ofcom have adopted for the latest report on broadband speed, have developed what is, potentially, a world class model. (Once upon a time, this is what we, the Brits, were very, very good at, and the Samknows broadband speed analysis (much of which I suspect remains unpublished) should remind everyone of that).

However, what is actually highlighted in the responses to the report - online and elsewhere - is the fact that the majority of people who need broadband don't care how it is delivered - not the tech, engineering, maths, physics or pretty much any other aspect of broadband.

What is required is that whatever arrives in to the user's household (be they business, home, library, school, council office etc), and which is sold as BROADBAND, MUST WORK.

The reality is in #digitalbritain - it doesn't. You can lay the blame on every doorstep you want, but we need to take collective responsibility for this failure now.

I asked Samknows when the report came out yesterday, "How much for the routers to do a rural only survey?" (Ask Alex S. I really did.) I have spent hours on the phone seeking the funds to conduct this survey. I think I have the funds now but the reality is that conducting a 1000+ respondent rural and remote survey is utterly pointless.

Every single one of the potential respondents already KNOWS that their connection is crap. However good Samknows monitoring is (and it is), we don't need any more hard evidence. We don't need to waste more money seeking evidence of an already well-documented problem. We need to solve it.

So, here's the proposed solution: get out the kids' roller blades now, and work on a mole plough attachment for them. If you can't find a local kid who is already bored shedless one week into the holidays, go see a local farmer and ask if he has a mole plough. And then, whilst these kids are on hols (some of whom desperately need to get away from their computers and junk food for an hour or more), or to support our farming industry (they feed us, you know?!), we could maybe work to connect a rural community or two, and best spend the money that would otherwise be used to produce the so-called hard evidence "required" (by whom exactly?) to show that Fibre To The Home is the ONLY way to go. And if roller blades means nothing to you, try Seth Godin as a search term.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Broadband Weather Report

Read more! Heard on Border (used to be Tyne Tees) weather news tonight and as relevant to broadband as to the weather...
"We have been watching the long range forecast evolve and expect it to improve over the next few years." Bob Johnson
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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Broadband IS a utility. End.

Read more! You cannot look at broadband in any other way in 2009 except as a utility. It is of equal importance in modern life as electricity, gas, water. So, it should continue to surprise us that....

none of the same rules seem to apply to it as apply to the other utility suppliers and consumers.

If 40% of UK businesses had no access to electricity, this country would a) be phuqued in competing in the global economy and b) there would be a massive attempt to solve the problem.

If an utility company eg an electricity company failed to upgrade their infrastructure, or chose not to for economic reasons/shareholders, so that the residents of one village could plug in DVD player, washing machine, TV, kettle, toaster, etc etc (all the trappings of daily life) whilst those in the next village/town could only use their kettle or toaster or TV at any one time, and yet were charged exactly the same as those in the neighbouring village/town, there would be a huge public uproar at the situation.

If a utility company, let's say water, said you could have unlimited water for the money, as long as you never filled more than one bath a week, reduced your supply to a dribble at times when other people were having baths, and charged ludicrous amounts of money for managing a tending-to-free resource, there would be a furore and outcry at the use of the term 'unlimited', restricting water when it is an abundant resource (especially since St Swithins!), false advertising, mismanagement of a free resource, overcharging etc.

This is what we seem to be allowing the telcos to do in this country.

If the regulator of any of the utility companies appeared to be protecting the suppliers and industry and not standing by its remit under a Parlimantary Act to protect the consumers and citizens of this nation, it would be front page news and every consumer in this country would be complaining widely until action was taken.

Either Ofcom are deliberately pandering to the suppliers in much of their actions, (that is a deeply worrying thought) or they are bloody incompetent in carrying out their statutory duty.

So much misleading information is fed out to the media, government and public by those with a (seeming) vested interest in misleading those very same groups that getting to the truth is eminently difficult. But not impossible and many, many right-minded people are seeing through the lies, lies and damned statistics to lead us on the right path.

Long may we enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and joined up thinking.
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Samknows/Ofcom speed survey results fail to show true picture of rural plight

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Back in January 2009, Ofcom and Samknows released the first part of the report into broadband speeds. The map on page 9 worried a few folk about geographical distribution, in particular to highlight the growing problems in rural

We phoned Samknows to ask why there were seemingly very few routers being placed to test speeds in known rural crap and notspots eg Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and Northumberland. Our concern was that the data set would be skewed by the lack of inclusion of such results, particularly given the prevalence of extremely long lines in such areas, which rarely exist in urban situations. By not including such places, there would be a continuation of the failure to gather:

a) accurate hard data about the reality of the situation in rural broadband Britain
b) a higher than expected average speed for the UK as a whole, skewed by urban connections.

Those involved in the trial were chosen from online panels etc to give a broad, representative picture of the UK. We found it hard to see how bordering on zero respondents from rural northern England could be 'representative', and were promptly sent 5 units to attach to rural northern broadband lines. We asked for more to bring rural Britain data into the picture - 200 would have been great, giving rural and remote at least a 10% involvement in the survey. Samknows asked Ofcom and Ofcom said, "No."

We asked if the rural data could be separated out from the urban data to give average rural speeds compared to urban speeds, so that a clearer picture would emerge of rural connectivity problems. Apparently this was not possible either, although there is a short section on p.45 showing how rural vs urban compare from the existing respondents.

Whilst it may well be that additional weighting has been given to rural, as well as regional etc factors, without a suitable number of people in known rural crap/notspots and on long lines taking part, the figures can only be misleading.

The only comprehensive and hard data about what rural lines are capable of with regard to broadband speed, how many rural people can/cannot get broadband, line lengths etc is available from BT. Who declare this data is a matter of commercial senstivity. We contend that the data is a matter of public and national importance for the social and economic well-being of this country, and should be released to Ofcom and the public so that the true position is known and wise spending decisions can be made.

Therefore, we ask Ofcom to:

A) Produce comprehensive urban vs rural data from its existing data set AT THE EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY.

B) Show average connections by line length from this data set

C) Accept this "stakeholder consultation" on point 1.17 (P. 11 of the latest report into broadband speeds) - to add more northern rural testers, known long lines and crapspots into the next survey.

D) Conduct a similar survey of remote and rural households and businesses ONLY as a matter of urgency.

We believe these are reasonable requests in order to establish precisely how widespread the problem is in rural areas and to direct funding exactly where it is needed.

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Friday, 24 July 2009

Bang for our broadband bucks

Read more! Whilst it is quite clear that a serious amount of money has been invested within the UK on broadband, it is difficult for anyone to admit in all honesty that we have a broadband situation worth boasting about. Especially not internationally. But luckily other countries face the same broadband investment emergency that we do. So, we're not right at the bottom of the league. Yet......

America has similar problems and Geoff Daily of AppRising has taken the bull by the horns and looked at what we all should be considering when planning how we achieve next generation access for all, in our case, Digital Britain.

You can't help but applaud statements such as

Now is not the time to allow tired dogma to trump the serious consideration of new ideas. In going through the process of formulating a national broadband policy, all options should be on the table. There should be no sacred cows. Not even that facilities-based competition is the undisputed best way to spur investment in broadband networks.

or agree with this

Of course, many of you reading this are likely guffawing at the idea that we could ever unite private investment, but I should mention now that I have a different way of looking at private vs. public investment. In the end, I see all of those dollars as coming from our pockets. Whether it's money we pay a company for services or products that they can then invest, or that we pay in taxes that the government then spends, the money is ultimately all coming from us, the users.

Worthwhile read for consideration of how digital Britain is going to manage future investment for the good of all, rather than just the telcos.
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Telcos over the pond get their myths busted

Read more! In the ongoing battle for Net neutrality, and with opportunities to comment on the FCC plans to blow Obama's broadband dosh finally closed this week, it appears that the arguments which are often used here to compound the dire state of UK broadband are as common in the US.

Hardly surprising, as everything American, good and bad, seems to end up on these shores, but the responses being made by FreePress to the telco arguments bear applying to the #digitalbritain discussions.

Read the FreePress myth-busting here.

Consider the first myth. Of course, we have never, ever heard BT et al try this one on Ofcom, have we?!

Myth 2 - what FP omitted to point out is the impoverished nature now of customer service, the reduced speeds to many on long lines and in rural areas, the failure to maintain the network in many areas, and every other consumer complaint we have all heard about broadband in the UK. And what is actually relevant here but not so much in the US when responding to this argument is that the majority of choice is actually just A.N.Other ISP flogging BT's service.

The last para of course hits it right on the head. It's all about profit. Yet broadband is such an essential service that to even let the corporate world have a say in it, let alone manipulate the entire situation to its own ends (read profits) seems more than just absurd. It is profoundly short-sighted.
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Sup-loop unbundling begins in Rutland

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Rutland Telecom have just tweeted that their civils start today. This is basically a community project designed to connect one community in a mobile and broadband crapspot using their own street cab, positioned to next to a BT cab......

Although this is FTTC, there is no reason why in future it cannot be upgraded to FTTH. More communities need to look at this type of option, even though obviously a full fibre path would be preferable to metallic, but it is at least taking control of the problem and delivering today what BT and others can't and won't.

Good on 'em. Read more about Rutland Telecom broadband solution

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Thursday, 23 July 2009

That bloody 2Meg argument again

Read more! There are always going to be people who are quite happy with their bicycle and have nothing better to do with their days than cycle tranquilly everywhere. Others think we should all drive around the country at 40mph or whatever the latest national speed limit is to be. That's fine if you only ever have to drive a couple of miles to get to all your local amenities etc and have plenty of time in your day to do everything you need to.....

However, if you are trying to, for instance, run a business or a family where your time is precious and finite, that slow speed to achieve anything is hugely restrictive. And so it is with 2Mbps.

Every forum, every press article about the USO etc has some jerk saying that 2Mbps is plenty. Look folks, it is dead simple, it bloody isn't.

Let's put it into a really easy to understand visual tool that FTTH Council and Utopia have provided to get through to people why FTTH is needed.

It's here Fibrespeed - click on it, check out the numbers, and think about what those speeds mean. How many hours and minutes will your life have in it? We don't know exactly but life is finite. Our time here is finite. We do not live forever, however invulnerable we may feel.

I run a digital business and have done for 14 years. I am an early adopter I guess, mainly because I am hyperactive on the net - that is my job. I export my skills to countries around the world, hence bringing money into this country ie I partake in the global economy. And my competitors can do things I can't even dream of doing.

An example: If I want to download 100 photos from a prospect, over a 1Mbps connection let's say, it takes me almost 9mins. That's 9 mins where my connection isn't going to want to be doing anything else particularly strenuous. So, I sit here and try to fill the time doing something else that doesn't need to eat into my connectivity, which seriously affects my productivity. But it's also 9 mins where one of my competitors could well have seen the photos, picked up the phone, pitched, and won the business. And that's just one instance of my daily problems running an e-business without true broadband.

As a mum with two teens, I get their frustration only too clearly about why they can't even contemplate downloading a film that their mate in Denmark has told them is fab. She can download it in minutes. They are digital teenagers, brought up in the world of 'NOW' that is the Net, but their 'NOW' to talk about this film is at least 5 hours away. The moment has passed, the conversation moved on, they have missed out.

Am I getting anywhere explaining this?

Imagine if you can do things with your mobile that many of us adults wouldn't dare even attempt for fear of knackering several hundred quids worth of hardware. You create stop animation films with music scores you have written, played and edited in yourself, for instance. Wanna share it with your mates? Well, it's a damned good thing it's the summer holidays then and you have plenty of time on your hands. Because whilst you sit and wait for it to upload, your friends elsewhere, including in urban Britain, have uploaded at least 3 other films. And you can't download them whilst you're waiting because the next door neighbour has decided to watch the Xmas special of Dr Who and the contention rates means your connection has ground to a halt.

Get it yet?

This is not about being content to watch iplayer, or read emails. This is about pushing the envelope, even just a little. And many of us want to do far more than that. This is about being hyperactive on the Net and NEEDING to do 10 things at once. It doesn't take much application of technology to set up processes running simultaneously to bring 2Mbps to its knees. And we have no idea what is round the corner, although some of us have had glimpses of new applications and are now very close to the realisation that in order to live our lives how we wish to, there is gonna be little option in the next decade but to take our earning capacity, skills, family, and pay taxes in another country.

This 2Mbps bar is way too low. I don't care that there are 7 million people who couldn't give a figroll if they ever get on the Net or not. They aren't earning online and paying taxes from their earning. I don't care if matey 3 doors down is perfectly happy logging on once a week and reading his emails and thinks 2Mbps is generous. "What on earth would you do with it?" LOL. Come and sit in my house and watch my kids trying to do things you have never imagined with 1s and 0s, and you might understand.

Try running my business where I can't even make a Skype voice call to my clients in Canada. Then work out how much of my profit is going to BT and The Phone Co-op, not the Treasury or my local economy, because I have no option but to make an international landline call. Video conferencing. ROFL. I could be retired by the time the rural areas of this country can do that to any degree of usability if we attempt to infill with mobile instead of fibre. I will definitely be living abroad though if this continual noise about 2Mbps being sufficient continues.

What we are doing is allowing a BIG LIE to become truth. And we are allowing the spreading of that lie to be done by people who are entirely ignorant of what they are saying, the impact this lie will have on our nation and citizens and businesses and children and communities and rural areas and LIFE.

---Thursday rant over----
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Make FTTH an election issue

Read more! Not some impoverished USO. Nor anything to do with copper eg Fibre To the Copper/co-ax. But Fibre to every home and business in the country. Start lobbying your MP, find out where they stand, let us know. Make it a matter for the hustings.....

We have to start making this a major issue that matters and get the right policies in place through a) education of the masses during the run-up to the next election, and b) policy delivery, preferably before but also post-election, whoever is elected.

The next election will occur within months of the UK Olympics. Without a decent national communications infrastructure, our Olympics could be a disaster. Every visitor, whichever venue they visit, will expect wi-fi and true broadband in cafes, pubs, venues, B and B, hotels, train stations, etc etc. They will be UPLOADING pictures and videos. Can our network cope??? Can we offer what they are accustomed to at home? Will we seem like a 3rd world broadband nation, even in 2012?

Join us in:
* mapping where the current MPs stand on the issue
* getting FTTH on every party's manifesto
* explaining next gen FTTH broadband in clear, simple, plain English and standard terminology
* by the time of OR LONG BEFORE the next election.

You heard it here first ....;o)
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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Proposal to solve the property tax issue

Read more! I've been following the property tax on fibre issue since the beginning of this century. Other countries have dealt with the problem by scrapping the tax entirely (Korea, Holland etc) to encourage investment in fibre and FTTH, but here in the UK, the Treasury has not seen fit to do so, thereby stymying investment. I have a proposal for a solution to the problem.....

If you are confused by fibre tax, there are several VOA links to follow to increase any confusion:
VOA Practice note 2005

Practice Note 2010

(Aside: anyone got Michael Hetherington's email address???)


The eNdGAme has to be to have open access to fibre. This would allow us to deploy the minimum amount of new fibre to get Fibre To Every Home and Business, use existing fibre, and get maximum benefits, not just for the consumer, but for those who invest or have invested in deploying. It is environmentally friendly, best practice and bloody sound common sense to deploy what is required rather than duplicating, as we have permitted with mobile phone masts etc. The Victorians didn't allow competitors to build railways or canals next to each other and we shouldn't either with fibre optic networks.

However, at present, property tax makes no distinction between fibre which is open or fibre which is private. It screws everyone alike.

So, it's easy, innit?

If you plan to invest in deploying fibre, or already have fibre, and it is OPEN, then zero property tax. If you have fibre that others cannot use, or plan to deploy fibre which is closed, then you pay double.

The Treasury will get loads of dosh from Branson, councils,and the like, (who may be persuaded to change their (closed) minds if we hit them in the wallet), whilst those who are wise enough to see the benefits of deploying open fibre can get on with it without the crippling property tax.


And you heard it here first......;o) (like the FTTH / NGA cereal packet, amongst other things)
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The COTS Project

Read more! The BSG (Broadband Stakeholder Group) have just sent out an invite to the initial COTS Project meeting next Wednesday. For those who cannot get to London, we will know early next week if there is to be a live stream. Anyone going please tweet or live blog on #oplan or similar...full details below

Commercial, Operational and Technical Standards for Independent Local Open Access Networks (The COTS Project) – kick-off meeting

Venue: Ingenious Media, 15 Golden Square, London W1F 9JG

Date: Wednesday 29 July 2009

Time: 14:00 - 17:00

What is this meeting about?

Around the world there are now numerous examples of successful local and community-led broadband infrastructure projects. Looking forward, it is likely that similar projects could play a key role in delivering next generation broadband to parts of the UK.

However, there is a need to ensure that this does not lead to the emergence of a disjointed ‘patchwork quilt’ of networks that results in consumers and businesses being offered a sub-optimal range of services at the retail level.

In order to mitigate this risk a degree of standardisation and harmonisation is required. This would aim to reduce costs for scale retail service providers, for whom cost minimisation is a central concern. However, any standardisation and harmonisation should not inhibit the scope for grass roots innovation at the local level.

Government, regulator, industry and other stakeholders have all indicated that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and similar activities are currently being undertaken in other markets.

The BSG is therefore proposing the COTS Project (Commercial, Operational and Technical Standards), an industry-led project to examine what needs to be done in order to ensure consumers have access to a full range of service providers, regardless of the underlying network ownership or technology.

In addressing this issue there is an opportunity to create a win-win-win situation where network operators are able to provide a choice of services to consumers and maximise wholesale revenue potential; retail service providers benefit from a larger addressable market; and consumers and small businesses benefit from a wider range of services.

Who will be speaking?

BSG will set out the proposed project and how we intend to take it forward, with the views of government, Ofcom, and industry stakeholders put forward in order to stimulate debate amongst participants. We aim to achieve an in-depth discussion amongst participants, capturing a variety of opinions and establishing a view on the key issues the project needs to address and how this might be achieved.

Who should attend?

The project is open to anyone with an interest who wishes to participate. BSG is keen that as many stakeholders as possible are represented at the meeting, and engaged with the work going forward.

The kick-off meeting will be of particular interest to: service providers; network operators; vendors; local authorities, RDAs, community projects, developers, and their partners.

If you wish to attend, or are interested in the project and would like further information, please contact: Peter Shearman, t: 020 7331 2163, e:

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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

With all they do for us....

Read more! The Royal National Lifeboat Institution at Spurn Point (possibly the most famous lifeboat station in the UK) need your help. See below.

The RNLI is one of the most honourable and valued organisations in the UK, with their brave members saving lives, often in the most foul of weathers, from mother nature. They have saved over 137,000 lives at sea, and sadly, many of their own have died in the attempts.

Dig deep for these guys - they survive on charitable donations anyway as our government doesn't see fit to support the incredible work that they do - and please support the efforts to put in a pilot FTTH project to the community of lifeboat men, their families and others around Spurn Point. With 195 years of history, and in a deeply remote location, these guys need your support to get connected.

If you can help in any way, whether financial, with a donation of ducting, or to spare a few hours digging for men who risk their lives for us all, day in and day out, please get in touch with Fibrestream as soon as possible.

Remember, lifeboat stations are often located in the most inhospitable of places and need connectivity using the very latest technology to keep their members and those they aim to rescue alive.....a few pennies or hours of your time could save lives a long way into the future.

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Monday, 20 July 2009

Why Martha Lane-Fox MUST focus on rural notspots

Read more! Our new digital inclusion champion (such an unfortunate acronym), Martha Lane-Fox, has recently said, both on twitter and to the press, that her task is to focus on the poorest in this nation for broadband and internet and not....

...those most desperate for connectivity, particularly in rural areas ie the digitally excluded who really, really don't want to be excluded any longer.

So, her job is purely to try to bring on board those for whom the internet age is still anathema, viewed as too expensive, of no interest whatsoever, etc, right? In order to achieve this, we have given her £2m of the public purse. There is no guarantee whatsoever of any substantial payback or return on investment of this public money by dragging the unwilling and impoverished online. Not to say that there won't inevitably be some box ticked (and much lauding and backslapping done) when an illiterate sink estate resident who has had few chances in life gets online, off benefits, and becomes the next Martha Lane-Fox.

If we are to get a #digitalbritain, and we know that there are limited resources to do it because of recession, telco greed/reluctance, stupidity, (pick one or all) then why the hell are we not investing some of the money we do have in putting it where there will be a reasonably guaranteed quick win / payback to generate more to refill the coffers?

That's my first question. Why spend it on the digitally reluctant? They will come aboard when they are ready. And by then the right infrastructure may well be in place for them to benefit from it.

My second question is where would that money be best spent to get poor people connected to decent broadband?

Let's look at the reality of where many of the 'poor folk' are located who Martha wants to engage. Just taking my own county, Cumbria, as an example, our average wage is 63% of the national average. That's pretty bloody low and on the scale of things puts us down near the very bottom of the league tables for earnings. ie POOR. But lump us into the North West region and it all looks more rosy because of Liverpool, Manchester etc. However, Cumbria is POOR. As is much of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

On my patch, we now have credit unions being set up (Westmorland Herald, 18th July 2009) because there are "significant pockets of poverty in Eden", while low wages are a problem across the district. In many rural areas, poverty is hidden from view - we have no beggars on our streets, nor homeless people in doorways, but that doesn't mean there are not many homeless and poor people.

There are a "remarkable" number of people in my area who don't even have a bank account - my neighbour is one, and I know the problems this causes, just in paying bills etc now both our local Post Offices have been closed. Nor can he afford a car. Many of us are struggling to afford fuel to buy food from the cheaper stores such as Aldi, Lidl or even the main supermarkets - a mere 40 mile round trip no town dweller would envy, especially in winter. In fact, Eden is the most geographically deprived area in the whole of mainland UK.

I could cite facts and figures all day about rural poverty. It is hardly a hidden issue. Over 2 million living in rural poverty - 2008; Over 900,000 children living in rural poverty; etc - add your own below.

However, when rural broadband notspot folk stand up and voice their growing frustration at the situation, they are invariably just told to move house. Apparently, we have made the choice to live in the countryside. And yet what those rural broadband notspot people are doing is


Precisely what government and telcos are so desperate to see to justify investment and get a return. What do we need to do to make it any clearer that demand for broadband in rural areas is HIGHER than in urban? Even Ofcom have published figures showing that...

My argument would be that the previously-mentioned sink estate resident (who is of course utterly fictional) has just as much option to get off their arse and work, move house etc and doesn't need further state handouts to get online. If they haven't got the importance of the internet, ICT, broadband and so on with all the previous government projects we have had, so be it. At least, if they want it, there is probably a choice of broadband providers offering 8Mbps+ to their home.

Being geographically deprived means that if you are living in rural poverty you are worse off than anyone in urban poverty. Why? Because the urban poor have easier access to the basics - primary healthcare, education, as well as commerce choices, communications options, and so on.

The need to regenerate rural areas has long been known, and whilst we have frustrated business start ups with innovative ideas champing at the bit in rural areas to supplement their meagre income, many are unable to do anything about it, except make a major social, economic and emotional decision such as move house, according to those who keep suggesting it.

As affordable housing is a prime problem for government because we are lacking sufficient, then moving house from rural (low house prices) to urban (high house prices) may mean removing yourself from the property ladder entirely, or downgrading (this is downward social mobility and is very much NOT what this country needs) just to set up your business and help to contribute to UK Plc.

So, joined up thinking, please, Ms Lane-Fox, friends and advisors. Put the money where it will have most impact. Put it where just for once we get a return on public spend. Put it where it makes most sense for future innovation and investment.

Not just the poor, but the poor in rural areas who most want broadband NOW.

£2m would make one helluva difference and we could have next gen pilot projects creating high-tech rural clusters where networking amongst companies will make the most of the urgent desperation by so many to make the most of their lives. And we might even see some of those urban deprived heading out on public transport to areas of the countryside where they can additionally help to regenerate the rural economy by working, eating and spending there.

--End Monday rant--

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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Cable companies continue to mislead the punters

Read more! For those of us in the UK, Virgin's Mother of all broadband adverts claiming to be 'fibre optic' have been driving us to distraction for quite some time. (Virgin is a cable company so in their case what they are flogging is FTTC - Fibre To The Co-ax) Now the misleading of the public is continuing in Holland with this advert.....

The problem is that bodies set up to protect the public from misleading adverts eg the Advertising Standards Agency are in on the act, for instance, by making rulings about complaints made when the Virgin ads first started to air in 2008.

The point being that ISPS and telcos have redefined many aspects of the broadband world to suit their own ends viz the redefinition of "broadband" from 2Mbps+ symmetrical capable of simultaneously transmitting and receiving voice, video and data (back in 1984) to "um...well, any data connection that we can get away with convincing Joe Public and government, Ofcom etc might be called 'broadband', however slow, incapable of doing more than one thing at once, asymmetric....." (you know the marketing spiel yourselves!).

The continuing failure by the telcos and ISPS to monitor their own marketing has not been assisted by Ofcom and other regulators, who seem to steer clear of getting involved in ensuring the consumers and customers are told the truth. All that is required is to lay down a few guidelines to telcos about what they rightly can and cannot call their products or claim about their networks.

Just because Fibre is the new black in the world of broadband, does not mean that everyone can suddenly include the word 'fibre' in their advertising to jump on the bandwagon. Unless consumers are accurately informed, and not misled by marketing departments, how on earth can they make the decisions about which products will suit their needs or understand how the changes in technology affect their ability to use 'broadband' to live, work and play online?

It is time for an EU wide enforcement of accurate advertising standards for the telcos before we have further consumer confusion with 'fibre broadband'. The rot has already set in, and it needs stopping NOW.

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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Get the Word Out

Read more! Part of the battle we face is one of ignorance - a lack of understanding why NGA is needed and a lack of appreciation as to how it could be delivered.

Education is crucial if we are to spread the word. As such I have launched a new website: . It is designed to inform and educate and perhaps even to stimulate. There is no commercial angle so take a look and tell your friends. I'm also open to all comments and suggestions as to how to improve it. Read more!