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Tuesday 25 August 2009

The Importance of Communication - Colloquium and COTS

Read more! In order to get this country out of the Digital Dark Ages and into the light, we all need to communicate and work together.

Many individuals and organisations are making strenuous efforts, often seemingly and illogically against the flow, to drag this country into the world of next generation communications. This 'dragging' includes both infrastructure and applications, as well as an under-educated populace, which including politicans, RDAs (Regional Development Agencies), government departments, citizens, businesses, telcos and so on.

It is apparent that education and coming to compromises on many issues will be crucial to the success of these endeavours, and in order to do, people need to talk, share ideas, work together and if necessary, rock the boat to achieve forward motion (and possibly the loss overboard of some of the least workable ideas!).

So, here are a list of things which currently require attention in deadline order:

1) BSG has put together a spreadsheet of ratings scenarios for property rating for the VOA (Valuations Office Agency). Comments are required by 2nd September 2009.

2) FTTH Colloquium - part of the JustNextGenUs 2009 event in Hull, this morning session will bring together all those interested in community networks, whether suppliers, Parish and County Councillors, residents, LSP members, planning departments, community organisations, ISPs, etc etc etc. Funding, business models, ownership, technical aspects of FTTH and NextGen, community engagement, education and more will be covered. There will also be an exhibition of next gen equipment and services. Attendance will be £10 for the session. Donations are also welcomed to share with RNLI Spurn Point.

3) COTS Meeting - next Thursday 3rd September, afternoon session. A second opportunity to learn about the COTS Project and get involved to help make it workable for community networks and operators/telcos to work together for a viable nextgen future. Sign up now to attend the free COTS meeting in Hull

4) If you are attending either of the above sessions (remotely or in person) at the JustNextGenUs event, please visit the Fibrevolution forum to add any questions, introduce yourself, and get involved in the ongoing discussions.

5) All-party Parliamentary enquiry into Digital Britain targets, in particular broadband speed. Deadline 25th Sept 2009.

Anything else I have missed for this coming month?

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Next gen broadband education has to reach all sectors of society

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Letter printed by The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald (15/08/09) in response to a letter from the Eden Local Strategic Partnership saying that, as it seemed that networks such as Alston Cybermoor were unlikely to be sustainable or replicable in other Eden villages, the LSP were advising adding your postcode to ThinkBroadband's notspot site and the LSP would lobby so we and our kids could get on the Net in our spare time....

Dear Sir,

In Letters this week (Improving broadband coverage a priority for partnership), the LSP seems to have entirely missed the point about why broadband is needed, and, in particular, in rural areas such as Eden. This is no longer about accessing the Internet in your spare time, nor working from home. Broadband provides access to Health, Wealth and Learning opportunities, for instance, telehealth, education, business opportunity, and access to government services, but additionally, it has been proven that Fibre To The Home (FTTH) and hence superfast broadband (100Mbps+ symmetrical) regenerates communities, stimulates new business and innovation, is environmentally superior to ADSL, and improves the quality of life across all sectors. In the very near future, broadband will become the fourth utility. The changes that will bring will be equivalent to those felt when electricity or piped water first entered our communities.

The assertion that FTTH is too costly for rural areas comes only from those telcos unwilling to invest against shareholder interests, and government offices unwilling to fund it, not from fact. Whilst the LSP may be interested only in lobbying, I respectfully suggest that we would do better to adopt the approach of our neighbours, both here and abroad, and just get on with dealing with the problem.(JFDI)

Just down the road in rural Lancashire, and in many other communities, both urban and rural, across the UK, local people have taken control of digging in their own fibre optics and combining these with the latest wireless technologies (FiWi) to address the issue of next generation access for themselves. The costings for such digs now show that the figures which commercial companies, such as BT, quote for such work seem to be up to 100 times more than the reality when the community gets involved, as has happened across Sweden, Holland, Estonia and so on already.
The payback for every community is in social capital, community well-being, economic regeneration, new business, reduced cost services, and so on. This is not about investing to give the telcos a cut, but to revive our communities, invigorate them, make substantial cost savings across the county as a whole, reduce environmental pollution, and much, much more.

FACT: Digital Britain (Fibre To EVERY Home) could be delivered at less than a third (worst case scenario £28bn) of the money which has been used to prop up the banks.

FACT: FTTH equipment requires substantially less electricity than ADSL broadband equipment, and hence FTTH is the greener option.

FACT: The savings to our public service providers through use of broadband would be immense and we would, for once see Return on Investment for spend of public monies.

FACT: The telcos are operating to make a commercial return by creating "false scarcity from abundance". Bits are not rare, and they are not expensive in these days where data transport costs are approaching zero.

FACT: The telecommunications companies, such as BT, Virgin et al do not need to own the network. It can belong to the consumers of that network using a co-operative model eg Industrial Provident Society, or a Community Interest Company. This is particularly important if we want to protect next generation networks for our next generations.

FACT: Community ownership models keep the money within the community (the "blue pound" scenario) rather than giving it to national or international companies to spend outside the region.

FACT: £19.5million has already been spent by NWDA on supposedly equipping Cumbria with broadband through Project Access. Here in Eden, many people are still unable to get a connection that even with a stretch of the imagination could be called "broadband", which will allow iPlayer, Youtube and so on to work.

FACT: Approximately 20+% nationally will be unable to get even close to the USO of 2Mbps by 2012, proposed by the current government. In rural and remote areas, such as Eden, the figure is likely to approach or even pass 50% unable to get that speed.

FACT: Korea is intending to deliver a USO of 1Gbps in the same timeframe. The UK government are attempting to set the bar so low that we as a nation are almost inevitably destined to become a third world player in the global knowledge and information economy unless we take appropriate action for ourselves.

There are long term broadband campaigners, such as myself (14 years) and others who live and work in this and neighbouring counties, who are delighted to read that the issue of broadband is being addressed by the LSP. However, having been there, done that, and got the tshirts, we know that the solution is not to lobby, but to start digging. Should the LSP wish to host a public meeting on this issue, we would be happy to invite on their behalf many of those (including from some of the world's largest companies and smallest communities) who know precisely how this could be achieved, and thus share this information with other residents of Eden suffering on the wrong side of the digital chasm.

Yours etc

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Wednesday 19 August 2009

Rural broadband is economically sound

Read more! Fact.....

Benoit has just blogged about this USDA document on the economics of rural broadband and its impact on rural areas.

The evidence that broadband into rural areas has a substantial economic impact has been coming thick and fast for years, but it seems it is only now that it is hitting the news agenda. What is also slowly emerging is the impact that FTTH has on rural communities, but more of that later.

As highly respected economist Michael Curri puts it:

Infrastructure investment provides a healthy return in its own right - even for relatively small and rural communities. Broadband infrastructure construction has job impacts immediately in the local economy like typical shovel-ready investments. More significantly, it increases drastically the retention and expansion of businesses and organizations.

The positive effects from broadband infrastructure become even more important in times of economic uncertainty, especially for smaller, rural communities who often have less economic diversity and resilience to withstand the effects of an economic slowdown. The availability of broadband gives enterprises, in smaller or rural communities, the options to expand their market reach and thereby becoming more efficient during difficult economic times. Individuals can use broadband find new opportunities, including supplemental education and skills training, out-of-region employment through tele-working (working from home), and business start-ups.

Need more evidence or should we just pick up our shovels?!
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Tuesday 18 August 2009

Broadband stimulus glitches

Read more! Fibre begins at home....

The US applications for the broadband stimulus grants appear to have hit a glitch when the electronic grants application program was overwhelmed by demand in the run-up to the deadline. #fail

Glad to see they have such a clear understanding of how technology is USED that they can cater for EXPECTED demand!! Hopefully those in charge of choosing which grant applications get to access the stimulus fund have a better grasp on what the present and next generations require to run servers from home as well as from data centres.

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Crap haircut...but great quote

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There are reasons for the blog roll down the right hand side. They are generally good, very good, or exceptional reads...

Since Martin of Telepocalypse fame went off to BT, his posts seem to have become even more sporadic than previously. For instance, for several months, the blogroll down there had this classic snippet from Mr Geddes:

Bed-bound broadband

It’s 1.17am. I’m sending a 21Mb file to a printing service for reproduction for a client workshop. It says it’ll take another 19 minutes to upload.

If anyone ever asks you “what on earth will people do with all that bandwidth?”, the answer is “go to bed earlier”.

His insights are well known to anyone who has ventured into the world of Telco 2.0 - you mean, there are readers here who haven't?? This is one such quote to give you pause for thought from his most recent interview (and yes, I think he may be right about the haircut!).

What in your view are the key media trending topics in the next 5 years?

Watch for the disaggregation of all existing media and rise in power of (re-)aggregators. Also we are witnessing the de-monetisation of media – too many voices (supply), not enough willingness to pay (demand). For example, the idea you could sell music, rather than just do it and experience it, is a recent phenomenon in human history. The most compelling message is ‘I love you’, and that has no price. The future is a return to the past – we are social and participative, just we won’t need to physically sit around the same fire at the edge of the same cave. We all, collectively, are the media.

With all the ongoing discussion about the rise and fall of newspapers, journalism, DRM, selling content online etc etc, this is a delightful way to remind us about values.

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What happens when people get IT ....

Read more! This is the first in a series of case studies to highlight the difference that a working broadband connection can make to different people in our society. The series is intended to show how real people are affected and their lives changed.

Broadbandits - John

John is in his 80s and wanted to stay in his own home after his wife's death. His grown up children don't live close enough by to pop in every day, with his son living in America and his daughter a considerable distance down the road, so there was some concern about how to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't have a fall in the night, or need help and be unable to reach the phone. John had no idea how a computer worked and felt no need for one. His interests were fly fishing and gardening, not surfing the net. "Too old to learn about computers now, I don't even know how to switch one on!"

But a simple solution needed to be found so he could stay in his own home whilst he chose to. A laptop was acquired, broadband installed, and Skype was set up to log in automatically when the computer was switched on. This meant that his son and daughter could see immediately he came online, and knew he was OK, without John needing to know any more about the computer than where the on/off switch was.

However, as time passed, John's children and grandchildren would send him messages using the text facility on Skype and soon full blown text conversations were ongoing between the generations. Once he had got the hang of that, it was a short step to making free transatlantic voice calls and then using a webcam, which meant that everyone could see John was fit and well, and he could enjoy conversations with his grandchildren both in the UK and across the Atlantic.

With Skype mastered, curiosity led John to experiment with a browser, and discover the internet held all sorts of fascinating information and chances to talk to people about his interests. John's ability to use the Net improved rapidly, and soon he was downloading the latest edition of Top Gear from iplayer, sharing fly fishing techniques and arranging trips away with old friends, also senior surfers – the term he prefers to 'silver surfer'.

John is the secretary of the local fishing club. He researches places to fish, books tickets and trips online, and takes off for a few weeks at a time. He has slowly acquired the email addresses of all the club members, and now sends the minutes out by email, saving the club a lot of money. He encourages other members to get online, saying that if he can do it then anyone can.

He has purchased a gadget he found online that warns him when there are speed cameras in the area, and has mastered the art of updating it online. He has also built a database containing all of his library, and found prices for all of his books, which he updates regularly. He reads the newspapers online to save buying one every day, and he has discovered iTunes, making his own CDs of music to play in the car. His favourite song took some finding, as Apple obviously didn't know the song he wanted. Turns out it was 'By the Rivers of Babylon' but Bonyhens didn't show in a search. He mixes Glen Miller, classical, blues and others into what he wants to hear.

He tends to rely on family members when he wants to learn something new, but can't be encouraged to do things; he will instigate any challenges as and when he feels the need.

He has now moved in with his daughter so he could sell his house, and as can be seen, he leads an extremely active life, much of which is online or organised online. And which recently, when there was a fault on the BT line which cut the broadband connection off for 6 weeks, was drastically curtailed until a switch was flicked in the exchange to reconnect him.

John has been able to make choices about how and where he lives his life, and has seen a world of opportunities open up to him through broadband internet. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have been able to regularly communicate with him, for free, and be reassured that all is well.

However, as he becomes ever more active on the Net, the poverty of his broadband connection (never more than 1Mbps) is impeding further progress in the online world for John. Whilst it has changed his life in the last few years, and led to achievements that could not have been accomplished otherwise, further improvements to his broadband connection, and that of many, many others in the UK, are essential to progress further and allow John, and others like him, to participate fully in their communities and families, and enjoy their lives.
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Monday 17 August 2009

4 snippets of JFDI FTTH news items this week

Read more! As it is all the trend to write lists, here is a list of FTTH news items for y'all...

1. COTS Meeting - for all those who missed the first meeting, for whatever reason, the date of the next meeting is Sept 3rd, 1.30 intro for 2 - 4pm start. Make a note in your diary right now. And, good news, it's oop north, in Hull City Council Chamber, thanks to Hull City Council and Fibrestream. The agenda will be finalised tomorrow and released here as well as on the BSG site. Watch this space for booking info - places are limited. However, the event will be webcast and we expect all remote participants to engage through the backchannel on Twitter!

2. FTTH Colloquium - we have been promising a Colloquium for some time on this topic and there is now so much going on, it just has to be done. So, Sept 3rd, 9-9.30 for 10am start. Also in Hull, so you can walk through City Hall to the COTS meeting in the afternoon after partaking of a buffet lunch kindly laid on by Hull City Council.

The Colloquium is really important because whilst standards are being drawn up through COTS, and the Digital Britain Implementaiton plan is out there, many communities and grassroots activists are already out there digging, or planning to start (and finish, long before 2017!). The Colloquium will, with NextGenUs, provide suppliers, councils, community leaders, community champions, rural activists, small businesses, and other interested parties, with the opportunity to get together, discuss ongoing and foreseen problems, find solutions, see demos of equipment, share ideas, and feed information from grassroots and community broadband networks to the COTS meeting in the afternoon.

This is a talking shop, hence the name "colloquium" and is a perfect opportunity to get your community, local or parish council, products, backhaul solutions, and so on into the next gen access eNdGAme. There will be help and advice on funding, business models, sustainability, technical solutions, FiWi, community engagement, mapping, as well a chance to dispel some of the myths about FTTH costs and so on through the experiences of some of those present who have been there, JFDI and got the tshirt.

Once again, spaces are limited, and we always try to have the perfect mix of community/consumer, public sector and industry, so we strongly advise you to book your place early. The booking form will be available later in the week.

3) RNLI Big Dig - yes, as promised, it has all started. Thanks to many who have pledged and then delivered support, the fibre ducting is now all being laid and the fibre will be blown soon. You need to watch the videos....especially this one which now has had over 8000 views ...

4) And more internationally, the EU are looking beyond i2010 and are seeking views on where the Digital Europe strategy should be going. Your chance to have your say on what we require. You don't need to answer all questions in the survey, just those of interest to you so go to it!

More tomorrow....

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Thursday 13 August 2009

Digital Britain Implementation

Read more! The plan for implementation of the Digital Britain report has been released.... links to relevant docs.....

DB Implementation Plan

Draft Legislation for Digital Economy Bill

Comments? Only one so far. If I remember rightly, Rachel Clark, DBIS, was the person who stood up at the BSG Conference last year and said something along the lines of, "If we can't reach the last 20% of the population with NGA, does it really matter?" (And as we all know, it is now more like a third than a fifth, and if you define NGA in the way other nations do, the percentage creeps up ever higher.)

I hope with all my heart that someone has disabused her of that notion since, particularly as she is now in charge of current and next gen broadband. I know @cyberdoyle was talking to her recently so with any luck that may have changed her mind......

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Tuesday 11 August 2009

UK opt-out villages plan?

Read more! In light of the growing frustration from rural areas about current broadband connections, is there a bigger plan we know nothing about ....

Could it be that the plan is to remove rural areas entirely from the NGA agenda by filling them with the digitally reluctant and internet paranoid who Martha Lane-Fox fails to convert? Thereby diluting yet further the rural voices of those desperate to get a 21st century communications connection.

This Google opt-out village video may explain everything.....

We think there could be yet more social issues that could be dealt with in this way after the 2010 election...what do you think?!

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Saturday 8 August 2009

Could BT be using thinner copper?

Read more! As the number of stories grow of broadband subscribers (particularly rural and on long lines) having faults, (some of) the copper in the first mile being replaced, and then no "broadband" being available where it was previously, is it possible that.....

the copper wire being put into the ground in 2009 is of a reduced diameter to that previously? The second table down this page shows how the distances for ADSL are substantially reduced if the copper diameter is reduced by a mere 1/10th of a mm.

Bearing in mind that it is not very long since copper was at an all-time high, could it be feasible that BT bought in a stock of thinner wire? The attentuation would not matter in an urban environment where line lengths are far shorter, but out in the sticks that higher attentuation could make a substantial difference. In fact, potentially enough to go from being a Gotspot to a Notspot.

We know that contention is a massive issue and just a single barn conversion between you and the exchange, or a new subscriber in the village, can make a noticeable difference in a broadband connection. But the copper does too, and I am pretty sure BT aren't doing another Milton Keynes and putting aluminium in - surely the lesson was learnt on that one?!

It's just a thought...Anyone from BT care to comment?!

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Friday 7 August 2009

There's broadband in them thar hills

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Well, there is now. BT in another moment of glory have decided to not bother fixing someone's broadband line because...the phone still works. Ironically, Durham Net's fibre is within easy reach of all of this area but can they get it to residents? Hmmm...But BT's loss was definitely my gain tonight...and it ain't about money.....

I started work on my day job at 6.30am this morning and did a 12 hour shift. For a pittance, as I am continually interrupted by people wanting to know how to connect their communities, write reports for the press etc etc, who all stop me earning, but at least I have a job. Then, I got to load a satellite dish into my car and drive up the road to views like this.....

Hannah Hauxwell would be, I'm sure, amazed at the technology - it was her house whose kitchen I was sitting in an hour or so ago.

There have been so many times over the 14 years of campaigning for broadband that I, and many others in the same game, have wondered what the hell we are doing spending our own money, giving up our own time, and often losing our sanity trying to connect people when the telcos can't be arsed, and the public sector and government don't get it.

This evening reminded me in spades that this isn't about money. The payback often comes in different ways. Tonight, sitting alone by the lake on a sunny summer evening, listening to the sheep and curlews, I had a chance to unwind and reflect how the benefits to me from all this come in different ways.

What a change for those lovely people I met today who will now be able to converse in the digital world we all are endeavouring to live in, and how heart-warming to see the relief that this brings after months of phoning every department of BT and getting bloody nowhere.

I have been extraordinarily lucky to meet so many amazing people through all of this, and had opportunities to escape the grindstone of internet marketing on so many occasions.

If there is any way of buying that feeling of happiness that one more family has been lifted out of the digital chasm that is #digitalbritain, even if only on a 1Mbps connection to start with, or the chances to go to amazing places and meet fab, real people, I defy you to prove it to me.

I doubt I will ever say this again....but, cheers, BT. You cost me tonight's quota of Guinness in fuel but it was definitely worth it.

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BT FTTC trails getting smaller

Read more! Unlike the street cabs. Muesli Hill residents have complained about BT street cabs for FTTC trial.....

Bloody ungrateful lot! LOL Hopefully, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh have wider pavements.

The Times are today reporting that there is to be a halt (temporary, one would assume) to BT's FTTC trial in Muswell Hill because the street cabs are so big they are causing pavement distress for residents.

Planning applications for BT street cabs have already been turned down in Haringey, which leads one to wonder how other councils will view such applications now.

Really, FTTC should be dead in the water anyway, as it is yet another interim technology to sweat the copper asset, and avoid making the necessary investment now. The reality is that telco companies are not being hit so much by the recession as being hit by shareholder etc need to keep investment to a minimum so they can rake in their nice fat cheques from high share prices etc. (Neatly illustrated from a US perspective in the by russ-iha in the comments on the Ars Technica article about rural telcos weaving the fibre web)

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The Telegraph seems to be getting it

Read more! Rural broadband, that is. And the need for direct action rather than more "yadder- yadder". Great article today....

What is clearly required is for informed journalists, such as Jasper Gerard, to get out of London and then continue to educate the masses, including politicians, RDAs etc who are definitely not exempt from the need to be educated about this issue.

People like Helen Anderson (read the book about South Witham Broadband Community Network for more detail of SWBB) are those who have made and will continue to make Digital Britain happen.

Interestingly, as more communities get in touch about resolving the digital divide, next generation issue, it is no longer just technogicially aware people who are getting involved. We are seeing a rise in the number of people who don't know the technical answers but are more than willing to find out and JFDI.

The frustration levels with politicans, telcos, RDAs and so on are now so high that it is not a matter of IF this becomes an election issue but WHEN.

The sooner there is a realisation that this affects the vast majority of citizens and businesses in the UK, rural and urban, the better for all concerned. If the telcos continue to lag behind, they will find themselves usurped in a repeat of the situation that occurred when rural communities (such as my own) began to generate electricity (and also provide clean healthy water) long before the urban areas, such as Manchester, could enjoy a supply.

Potentially, the only way that such community networks will then be wrested away from the communities they serve will be through an Act of Parliament or similar, as had to be done to get the small, local electricity and water companies away from community ownership in the 50s. And, I and no doubt many others, will fight tooth and nail to keep ownership for any fibre that belongs to a community because of the cock ups, wastage of money and resources, and misery caused by giving private companies ownership of utilities.

The full Telegraph article - Better broadband for rural Britain.

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Tuesday 4 August 2009

Timms - pleased but..

Read more! Stephen Timms has been announced as Communications Minister but is the timing crap or what? .........

I've met Timms, followed much of his career because of my involvement from before CBN got off the ground etc, and read much about his engagement with all things 'digital'. I know many people who have worked under him and with him.

But I think there has been a major cock up here.

Someone like Timms, who has experience in the social enterprise sector, who is heftily involved with communities (Newham etc), and who is without a doubt a geek with vision, should have been involved in Digital Britain from the offset. He has a broad mindset for all things 01100100011010010110011101101001011101. Timms is not an industry insider who has now set the gameplan in his report and scarpered. Many of us feel very unsure about the longevity, scope and industry agenda of that report - not just for broadband, but across media, spectrum issues, etc etc, hence the much welcome, grassroots political activity that led to the Unconferences.

I think I feel sorry for Timms. The summer recess is nowhere near over, and when everyone comes back he has 'moments' before the Christmas recess to achieve anything, and as of January, campaigning will start in earnest for the election, with the largest number of new candidates running for election since 1833 - fondly known as the "Class of 2010".

His chances to give us any kind of a #digitalbritain legacy will, whatever the end result of the election, undoubtedly be overturned by all the bloody shenanigans that a general election engenders in the civil service. You try phoning them in the interim...last time, I spent hours trying to track down DTI contacts, only to be told, "No-one is really in charge right now."

All I see, and as ever I am being my normal blunt self, is yet further delays in creating #digitalbritain, a potentially good person who could help the eNdGAme be achieved being shafted by the system because of the timing, and another f*&^ up in working together as a nation to deliver what is required for the eNdGAme.

Right now, I feel far from +ve.

I would welcome other points of view, either via the comments section or in my inbox.

Cheer me up, folks, please. Me crystal ball 'as gorn all cloudy and I think it's tears.

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Monday 3 August 2009

FCC lays into Apple over Google Voice

Read more! Whilst not about fibre, the FCC furore about the iPhone app for Google voice has interesting connotations for next gen access...

It still appears to be unknown whether it was Apple or AT & T who insisted that the Google Voice app was rejected, but the FCC are endeavouring to find out.

The problem is that as far as users are concerned, the Google Voice app was pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. But for mobile operators, and particularly those with whom Apple has done a deal to be the carriers tied to the iPhone, having an app that suddenly turns their network into a dumb pipe and threatens their core business, is a No-no. (Or does it threaten their business? Benoit has argued otherwise.

The point is though that whatever solutions we seek for #digitalbritain, we need to understand tha sea change that is occurring at consumer level. Disruptive devices are here to stay. A mobile phone is no longer for making calls on - it can be, for many, their device to connect to the internet, and just as net neutrality insists that ISPs can't be allowed to dictate what we can and cannot access in the wired world, so is the same true in the wireless and mobile world.

Not only at a supplier level do we need open access to the middle mile to encourage innovation and competition, but users/consumers/citizens need open access in the first mile (even the first inch) to connect whatever device they wish to, wherever they choose to, to do whatever they choose to.

Trying to be both service and content provider to maximise revenues may well take out those ambitious (or foolish?) enough to try it. For many in the next generation, a dumb pipe may be enough, and there are always going to be those who focus on a single aspect of the telecoms business, such as providing a fat pipe, and aim for excellence with their product, and hence gain market share.

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Get the old gen and the nextgen involved

Read more! Geoff Daily has made a valid point on AppRising about communities aggregating demand for themselves.

It is the school holidays. Every single community in the UK has a bunch of kids who are bored - most households have 1 or 2!

My two have been out and about doing surveys for Geography and Citizenship recently, and are more than capable of getting out into our community, explaining the benefits of true broadband, (after all, it's been the most talked about topic in our house since they were born!), and establishing who needs what in our community.

In addition, we all know the population of the UK is ageing, so every community has the 'oldgen' who have time on their hands, have all sorts of useful skills that could be used to help each community move forwards, aggregate demand, educate other users in the community about the uses of IT and broadband etc.

By involving both the young and old in this task, communities can begin to establish what is required now, what may be required in the future, and also cement ties within their own circles to people they may not have known were their neighbours.

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Treating consumers well as we move forward

Read more! One of the major problems in identifying notspots, resolving ISP issues, delivering first gen broadband, and regulating/advising what is required has been the lack of a centralised 'hub' for consumers....

Those of us who get to deal with irate and frustrated broadband customers every single day are seeing a growing number of people whose complaints, technical problems and so on are just not getting dealt with in a "timely fashion", particularly by the major ISPs. This is causing major heartache, economic problems (eg when the connection is to a small, home-run business), and stress. Often, people just don't know where to turn for help and are frequently paying for a connection which, quite simply, doesn't work.

Sometimes, Ofcom, ASA and others endeavour to step in and make the ISPs and telcos behave properly, but for some reason our telcos seem to believe that they can get away with appalling consumer/customer relationship management and customer service, regularly hiding behind arguments such as "the phone works so we aren't obliged to do anything more", (twice this week so far from people I am trying to help) and Ofcom occasionally, (I use that word advisedly) seem to have forgotten their remit.

Ofcom's Statutory Duties
Under the Communications Act 2003:

" 3(1) It shall be the principal duty of Ofcom, in carrying out their functions;
(a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
(b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition"

(NB. No mention of putting industry first there.)

What the consumers and citizens require is simple.

When there is a problem with a broadband connection, that complaint needs to go not just to the ISP (who in many instances it is bordering on impossible to get a straight answer from, and who can drag problems out for months, if not longer, especially bouncing it back and forth between BT and themselves), but ALSO to a central hub which:
  • records the issue

  • allows there to be transparency, openness, honesty between ISPs and consumers

  • helps consumers see whether there is possibly a technical issue in their area, with their ISP etc

  • offers the chance for the many helpful people out there to step in to assist broadband users with problems.

Let's use a fab consumer/citizen resource as an example WhatDoTheyKnow

MySociety have done a great job with this for Freedom of Information requests, and it is held up as an exemplar, as with many of their other tools and resources.

Now, Ofcom should employ them to do the same for telecoms services, consumers, and providers.

How it could work:

You have a complaint about your broadband, you go to the site, pick your ISP, and then choose one of the templates available to submit your problem. All personal information is redacted from the system, although town/county or first 4-5 digits of postcode would help others in your vicinity search on known problems and solutions, which could actually reduce complaints over time.

The complaint is then submitted to the ISP complaints department. The ISP complaints department responds, hopefully with a solution, through the website. If they are a reseller of BT Wholesale services and pass the buck to BT, that process is done automatically, but transparently within the system. If, within a certain time limit, as with FOI requests, no solution has been forthcoming, then we move to the next stage, which is of course the ADR (Alternate Dispute resolution) scheme.

The endgame of this is to help ISPs serve their customers well, and to help customers get a decent, transparent complaints procedure that works. And then get their broadband back!

The benefits of this are, and I can think of many more:

* If the system flashes up an alert that 20 people in the same area but on different ISPS are all having problems, then BT can be persuaded, forced, cajoled (pick a word) by Ofcom to deal with the issue in that area. Or another service provider can step in and replace BT by installing an alternative broadband solution - whether that is FTTH, FTTC, satellite or wireless.

*If one particular ISP is seen to be the repeated recipient of complaints, then Ofcom can step in to ask the ISP what the problem is and how it can be solved.

*Customers planning to move can review ISP complaints on the site and make informed choices about which ISP to go with based on how they deal with their existing customers.

*If people report that despite numerous efforts to get broadband, they are still no closer to getting it, (and we have people in our inboxes who have been waiting YEARS in notspots) then this will help feed into the demand base for NGA and prove the need for investment.

*There is a clear "paper trail" for all consumers and ISPs, eliminating any misunderstandings and getting problems out in the open so they can be dealt with before issues escalate out of control.

* ISPs will be able to clearly monitor where their customer service is working, or not.

* This system will fill the gap now, and far into the future, for present and next generation consumers to be protected from poor customer service and substandard broadband connectivity, whilst protecting ISPs from serial complainers in forums, on Twitter etc.

*UPDATE: This article about customer retention and wasting marketing millions shows why telcos need to focus on customers in such a way as suggested

Need I say more? heard it here first!
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Lack of broadband and estate agents

Read more! Just been sent this by an estate agent who I have been pestering for years about people asking about broadband when viewing homes to buy...

He is based in the Yorkshire Dales....

At least 75% of viewings to "rural" in the sticks properties have a conversation regarding broadband availability and sometimes speed, but that's a bit technical for me. 100% of those questioners would not buy a property if the answer was negative! It's a huge disincentive if you are not connected.

I did try getting the National Association of Estate Agents to ask all its members back in 2004/5 but they didn't understand what I was on about. "Broadband? What's that then?" was pretty much the answer I got back! Perhaps it might be worth following that one up again......?

If you know any estate agents, why not ask them how often they are asked about broadband during viewings?

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Sunday 2 August 2009

50p levy vs property tax

Read more! Here's a question for you to ponder on this Sunday evening....50p levy minus the property tax on homes passed....

If the property tax for NGA domestic and CATV (cable TV) is £7.50 per home passed (HP) per year, (let's leave aside the £250/Rkm for each fibre lit for the moment, though that figure makes my argument even more obvious), and the new proposed 50p levy will raise £6 per household per annum, then why not just waive the property tax to stimulate FTTH?

Never mind how much it will take to administer the fund and collect the levy, imagine if you (that's a rather royal 'we' when talking about this government!) just said, "No property tax on (rural) properties -business and domestic- passed, and connected, just get on with rolling out superfast broadband (in rural areas)."

Because rural needs to be first, and there is standard classification of rural and remote, it's not difficult to work out how to make that happen and encourage the FTTH players to be attracted to rural areas. Oh, better spell it out I guess....waive the property tax first on Significant Rural, Rural-50 and Rural-80 eg anywhere with a population less than 37000. Why? Because all the urban places are considered low hanging fruit to the telcos and there isn't really any issue about market failure there with NGA.

And if connecting rural homes and businesses promotes investment, (which there is plenty of evidence from other countries far in advance of us to prove it) and we can then watch the economic impact on rural areas (which will of course hence create jobs for consultants and quangos to gather the hard data and evidence that such is the case), then it will accelerate the roll-out of FTTH nationwide....and the government will coin it in from economic regeneration, innovation, new businesses, income tax etc.

See, tis easy this joined up thinking lark. And remember.... you heard it here first!

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Ponderings on fibre optic property rates

Read more! I have been trawling for yet more information on property rates, as you know, and have come up with these ponderings from an open access, community project, mutually owned, mainly rural, point of view......

There are potentially some mis-assumptions going around about business rates and telecoms. But I could really do with interviewing a certain someone from VOA to get accurate answers to certain questions currently being asked. (Will go camp outside his office if necessary - it's only up t'road!)

FACTS, summarising what I have been reading:

1) The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is independent to rate collection authorities (I am presuming this means local authorities eg councils)
2) It is an Executive Agency of HMRC and operates in England and Wales
3) The Uniform Business Rate (UBR) for telecoms is set by Government and is reviewed every 5 years (next review 2010 and it is based on valuation AVD Antecedent Valuation Date set in 2008)
4) The Rateable Value (RV) is set by the VO
5) The rate appears to be either paid on Homes Passed (HP) £7.50 (domestic) or on fibre kilometres (businesses) from the fibre rent scale
6) There are considerable variations to take into account when applying the scale eg >3000km, change in network size by more than 10% etc etc)
7) The general rule of thumb is that active network is not rateable and passive network is.
8) 2010 valuations will be available from October 2009
9) There are 4 people on the VOA Telecoms team


*The LGFA 1988 (Local Government Finance Act) should allow councils to offer rate relief (discretionary and mandatory), but because the VO is involved rather than the normal rate collecting authorities, much of LGFA 1988 appears to be irrelevant. Which begs the question why it is the Act that the VO are using to justify property tax on fibre.
*The non-domestic property rate on fibre optic is applied nationally and takes no account whatsoever of rural, charitable status etc, which LGFA 1988 does. Nor does it take into account that by applying taxes at a flat rate nationally, certain areas, communities and citizens are considerably disadvantaged. This is an issue which IS covered and dealt with in the LGFA 1988 where local councils have the discretion to ensure their citizens and businesses are not discriminated against or suffer hardship by applying the ratings in the Act. No such protection is offered for hardship caused by taxing fibre optics.
*The current system for applying property rates to fibre in particular discriminates against rural areas by being payable per km. Obviously rural fibre lengths have to be longer than in an urban environment.
*But, on the other hand, you pass less houses in a rural area than in an urban one....
* Wouldn't it be more logical to stop distance-related tariffs such as this and have an income-based tariff instead to prevent rural discrimination?
*However, if you pay per Rkm (Route km) of fibre lit, you can avoid paying more tax by using less fibre. What this does is actually continue the scarcity out of abundance model, and it actively encourages telcos (or communities) to put less fibre in the ground (or light it) than they should. (Note: we must learn from the NTL problem - fibre should be dug in one time to do the job required, now and in the future). Why pay tax on 12Rkm of fibre (12 x 1km of fibre) instead of just 2Rkm (2 x1km of fibre)? Never mind that this means the fibre in the ground is then limited /scarce..... This in itself has serious implications for the eNdGAme
* Luckily, there are ways to put multiple wavelengths down a single fibre, but how many (rural) community projects will a) know about these technologies and b) be able to afford them?
* When paying property rates on fibre for a community project, and you have home businesses, or SME's within your village, how complicated does the calculation become then?
* Should community networks only have "home connections" (whether it is to a business or not) so they only have to pay £7.50 per connection per year rates? If they were allowed the £6 from every landline they pass, this would mean they only need to pay £1.50...
* An hereditament is by definition anything which can be inherited. So, if I lay fibre, can I leave it to my kids in my will? Because if I can't, then I shouldn't be paying rates on it, n'est-ce pas?
* If a community owns and uses the asset, rather than a telco, then there are no tenants nor landlords of the 'property' and ergo tax is not due. Surely?
* Sewers are exempt, as is agricultural land. So, if I lay fibre across a farmer's land, does that mean that the fibre is exempt from property tax because the land is?
* If I install fibre throughout my home or business premises, including to my shed, rather than ethernet or wireless, do I have to pay tax on it?
* When fibre tax is paid, is it distributed using the Barnett Formula to the council from whom it has been collected as with other business rates (difficult since telecoms ducts, cable etc will cross boundaries but dealt with, apparently, in Regulation 6 of the 1989 Non-domestic Ratings (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations) or does it just go to the Treasury? [I think I may have answered my own question here by finding that extra regulation!]
* How much was collected and re-distributed to each council in England and Wales in the lifetime of the previous list which ended in 2005? (There seem to still be some outstanding appeals as only the 2000 list is fully squared up, so how much was re-distributed from the 2000 list too?)
* How much fibre remains dark instead of lit purely because of the non-domestic property rates applied to it? (Any telco care to comment anonymously on this?!)

Just a few things to think about during next week.

Another link with yet more options for solving the NGA fibre optic tax conundrum - article by Geoff McKeown of Fibre Technologies

I understand there is no BSG meeting with VOA after all next week, so await a response about what further action is being taken by BSG. It is to be hoped that the BSG will let ALL members know of any developments in this area, particularly those of us who have been following this issue for a very long time now, and those new to BSG who are becoming ever more interested in the effect that a lack of joined up thinking (as taken in other countries eg Korea, where all property tax on fibre was waived, or Holland / Amsterdam) is having on encouraging FTTH/NGA rollout.

I am still seeking further info on how other countries within the EU have dealt with this problem...anyone got any more links? (Any language can be coped with in our now multi-lingual group!)

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Property rates on fibre - more....

Read more! Keep being asked about the property rates on many people don't seem to realise that there are business rates to be paid on any fibre, and the effect that this is having on NGA

I have gathered together yet more links on the subject to go with the previous links on fibre property / business rates and the VOA.

VOA presentation to the BSG in April 2009 (Download the presentation)
Computer Weekly article - Business rates stifle investment in broadband infrastructure 31st July
Philip Virgo's blog - Removing the biggest road block on the UK super highway
Fibre stream blog post - Latter day window tax
Guardian article - Dark days for fibre start ups - Feb 26 2009
VOA site - Section 870
Section 871

Please feel free to add any others in the comments......
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