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Monday 30 November 2009

Getting it and saying it with flowers

Read more! Lots of people get it. The vision of NGA, the benefits, purpose, reasons, ways to achieve it, JFDI and so on. And some really don't...

Sadly, those that don't appear to get it seem to include those who really, really need to get it. These include people in government, MPs, ministers, govt departments, consultants and agencies employed by govt departments, RDAs, quangos set up to deliver on IT and Digital Britain targets, journalists, the health service, councils, housing developers, education chiefs, teachers, communities, consumers, planning agencies, public figures...I know you don't want me to go on. However, I will say that all of the above, luckily, also include people who do get it.

But, this last week, when we saw possibly as much, if not more, lunacy coming from government about P2P, filesharing, disconnecting people from the internet (is this ***really*** 21st century Britain pushing this type of logic?) as any nation needs to in a DECADE, I saw the most crass and stupid statement of the lot.

Just for once, and only under severe pressure, I will withhold the name and organisation involved, but let me tell you I am sitting here with a 1s and 0s gun to my head (not good for a pacifist) in order to keep anger and utter frustration at bay. This is an organisation who are (or would love to be) at the very forefront of delivering NGA to the UK and who claim to get it. Do they? Well, read on.

When a teleconferencing solution was suggested for a meeting, to avoid unnecessary travel from all ends of the country and to ensure everyone who needed to could attend and had the choice to either be there in person or by video conferencing - and hell, that's not easy in this country over the network (transport or data) most of us have access to - the person responding to the final meeting date, times, venue etc said,

"I would prefer to have a real meeting with people present."

This reminds me of James May's entry to the Royal Horticultural Show at Chelsea Flower Show (pick any link you like) this year. The RHS judges took exception to the fact that there were no flowers used. NO FLOWERS???!!! Take a good look around, my lovelies. There are hundreds of flowers.

Just as being made of plasticine didn't suddenly stop those beautiful fritallaries (thanks, Joanna Lumley!!) being flowers, neither does being at the other end of a telephone line or webcam suddenly convert you into a non-person or make it an 'unreal meeting'.

To say I am furious at the incapacity of people to realise where this world has already moved on to - we will all talk on Xmas Day undoubtedly over Skype and/or new ThxSanta webcams to family and friends worldwide, gleefully sharing the fact it is free - so zillions of people already endeavour (me included) to conduct our business and lives on a daily basis over this 'ere new-fangled technology. And have been doing in some cases for well over 10 years. (Ok, you got about 4 frames an hour, but it was novel back then!)

Unless those claiming to be at the forefront of delivering NGA and educating the masses (and I include MPs, journos, and you, you and you in that grouping) get it FAST, this country is going to be left...yes, Dad, I promise I won't swear....... BLOOMING (get the reference?!) light years behind.

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Friday 27 November 2009

The bankers should pay for FTTH...

Read more! Sadly, those two letters are not close enough on the keyboard for an accidental slip. Yesterday, the banks got away with not paying at least £2Bn to 8million+ customers for their overpriced, unethical charges. Approx £2,500 each. Far more than FTTH would cost to each of those 8 million people.

I can't be arsed to write this post to be honest. But I had everything ready yesterday. Quantitive easing was given the go ahead for another £2Bn for some pointless motive to benefit a few already rich individuals and companies; 8M UK citizens were ripped off to the tune of on average of £2.5k each or the threat was a £2.50 charge on each bank transaction; new landline tax with added taxes (VAT) on top were announced, oh sorry, leaked, probably to put in BET or some other ignorant solution.

My lovely dad told me not to swear in my blog, but I have had enough. I will swear. In fact, I have.

Personally, I think it is time the bankers put £2Bn into an FTTH account to benefit the nation, especially considering how much each of us has bailed them out for this last 12+ months; that the Bank of England should match it with QE (sign the petition on the No 10 site); and that the broadband tax should only be payable if the Treasury waive the VOA assessments on both new fibre and wireless to the Treasury and add them to this pot.

Who would lose?

(Oh, and if any of you think I am aggrieved about the bank charges case, HSBC paid me off in a test case well over a year ago, which had I been backed by a QC who had cost what theirs did ...) I'm not so green as I am cabbage looking, really.

Internet banking? Nope. It's back under my mattress. (Hm, when I can afford one, I honestly don't have one yet. Am watching Freegle for one...) I have no credit card, no debit card, nothing except cash. LETS and barter rule. Problem??

The banks should pay for FTTH. Full stop. It's the least they can do with all of OUR MONEY.

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Wednesday 25 November 2009

Proud to be British? Negatory

Read more! It has to be said. Westminster and the Smoke. It's been an ongoing thing for a while, but this latest from darn sarf would be the icing on the cake, if there was a cake to put it on. What we have at present is more a pie with personality ...

Personally, I wish I could blame C.M.O.T Dibbler for the non-publication of the -ve post, but actually, it's this article about Richards and Timms in front of the BIS Committee.

Someone else's turn to say what you think. My post is written but it might be better if I take a few deep breaths and contemplate the contents of the FiWi Pie, rather than the one we were served up by Timms & Richards.......

They are saying: You can all have a slice of it, but you may need to share it with your neighbours, sitting around a very small nested table, at around 4.20am. And then it won't taste quite how you expected, because we had no flavouring, flour or eggs. But it is a cake. Trust me. I am a politician....
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Tuesday 24 November 2009

Proud to be British?? The Positive Reasons

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Right now, we have major infrastructure projects happening in mere DAYS in the North, whilst Timms and Richards spout complete tosh in the South (next post!!). I'm not being latitudist but....

If you haven't yet heard about Workington North Rail Station, you need to catch up! This is a suitably major infrastructure project which will have been conceived and implemented in under a week by Network Rail.

Scuse the very poor pun, but this news stops you in your tracks.

"Anything for the weekend?" "Yes please, we'd like a two platform station, with footbridge, waiting room, parking and lights. Oh yes, and trains." "No problem," says NR, and JFDI!

Get on. All power to their elbow.

Meanwhile, many are just setting to and clearing out their homes, wrecked businesses, schools, communities, and making sure life goes on. If you haven't donated, please do so to the Cumbria Community Foundation. The amazing sense of community up here is reinforced by many in the emergency services and volunteers - underpaid and unpaid - who are doing such a sterling job.

I live in Cumbria, and it'd be great if you could help out people, including some of my friends in Cockermouth, many of whom have lost EVERYTHING. The CCF fund currently stands at over £350,000 and the first cheques are already being given out.

However, first estimates are that it will take between £50-100million to repair the damage from these floods. And it isn't over yet. I am watching the river outside my house break its banks as I write, and the Appleby webcam shows that we may all be in for yet more flooding at this end of Cumbria too.

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Cochrane & Felten say it how it is

Read more! Today's homework: Read this from Peter Cochrane about the telcos helping themselves instead of moaning, and this from Benoit about, um, telcos helping themselves. There will be a short test at the end of the week. Read more!

Commentary on the Digital Economy Bill

Read more! Here isa round-up of some of the vociferous commentary on the Digital Economy Bill. Please feel free to add more links, including to your own commentary/blog/articles so we have a reasonable resource to present all sides of the story. Thanks

Best quote - When the Digital Economy Act comes into force, will the last creative professional to leave the country please turn off our Internet
connection — we won’t be needing it. Bill Thompson

Guardian looks at the Mandelson copyright issue in the run up to the Bill

Digital Economy Bill group on Facebook

Official Statement by Telnic Limited on Digital Economy Bill Section 5.2.3

Tumbled Logis Blog - The Problems with the Digital Economy Bil Part 1
part 2

BIS Press Release - The Digital Economy Bill, introduced today, sets out Government plans to ensure the UK is at the leading edge of the global digital economy.

BoingBoing Britain's new Internet law -- as bad as everyone's been saying, and worse. Much, much worse.

BBC - Rory Cellan-Jones. The Digital Economy Bill - does it add up?

TechDirt - UK Digital Economy Bill As Bad As Expected; Digital Britain Minister Flat Out Lies About ISP Support

Open Rights Group

Sunday Business Post ONline - 3 strikes rule and Eircom

Trefnet - P2P regulation in digital economy bill ain't going to work

Digital Economy Bill on Google Wave

5tth Fibrevolution UK - Digital Economy Bill is a joke

Feel free to add more.

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Monday 23 November 2009

Worrying content developments over the Pond

Read more! Currently before the FCC is a proposal for SOC. That's Selectable Output Control to you and me..

Arstechnica has an interview with Kyle McSlarrow, Head of the National Cable and Television Assocation about SOC which is worth reading, and will be followed tomorrow by the other side of the debate.

The worrying part is that this all comes hot on the heels of the copyright etc furore and the Digital Economy Bill this week in the UK. It is beginning to look as though a single industry appear to be attempting to gain control of pretty much everything, including your access to the Net, your A/V kit, your viewing habits and so on.

We have long argued that what is required is a separation between content and service, especially as many of us do not need nannying, thanks, and just want a dumb, fat pipe. Then the market and consumers can decide which products sink or swim.

Where an industry can dictate whether or not you have access to the Net, there is a major problem. For instance, we are already seeing the results (also over the Pond) when this industry has such control. This month's lunacy comes when an entire community wireless network has been closed down, courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment, because one individual illegally downloaded a film.

Just reading page 2 of that article shows what "inconvenience" the closure of the network will bring to that community, all on the whim of a content industry that refuses to accept it needs to move with the times and seriously adapt its business model. As others have done.

It is unlikely that Mr Murdoch's latest rant about Google stealing his pages will see anyone illegally accessing his meeja suffering the same fate, but let's face it, if Mandy continues the route he is currently taking, nothing is impossible in the UK where that industry is concerned. Be worried.

Be especially worried because we don't have the likes of Dave Isenberg within our regulator to speak sense and prevent this all going too far, far too far.
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True broadband and house prices

Read more! Nice to see that some of the key messages are sinking in. Broadband adds value to house prices. It was posted about here twice recently, but now the Times have picked up on it too...

Light Up My Street and Boost My House Price was meant to push the important 'value' of broadband beyond just the benefits to the users.

The Times technology team have nailed it with their interviews of estate agents.

(Allow me to be a cynic for one moment, but hasn't that piece been re-worked because we Cumbrians are top of the news this week?!!)

Down here on the nether side of the hills but still in Cumbria, just literally a few miles south of Alston, we are hearing rumours of problems up yon, so it would be nice if Fibremoor would share what is really happening so that all of those people who are looking to put in fibre networks understand what problems they may face. And those who make up the 'network of people' within this country can apply their collective brains to solving the problems.

In the meantime, what really matters is that true broadband will add value to your home, those around you, and your neighbourhood. Have you started digging yet?! If you are planning to, you need to follow some of the #digtoagig etc posts as some of us are en route to that future already.

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Thursday 19 November 2009

The Spanish join the party

Read more! The Spanish government have joined Finland in making a minimum speed of broadband a LEGAL RIGHT.

From 1st January 2011, every Spaniard will have the right to a minimum speed of 1Mbps, announced the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Commerce at the 3rd Digital Content International Conference. Finland's law takes effect from July 2010, and in 2015 will increase to 100Mbps as LAW.

Spain may have some difficulties implementing this new law because of the topology, and will undoubtedly have to resort to wireless in some of the most remote and mountainous regions. However, having seen a few FiWi projects in Cataluña, they have plenty of in-house expertise to do so. The announcement is backed by 100million euros of public money, which will then release a further 300million euros.

Once again, we are not leading the way in any sense, and are actually falling behind other European countries by removing the legal rights of our citizens in moving from USO to USC.
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Wednesday 18 November 2009

University connects surrounding community to a Gig

Read more! Fantastic. Great Britain take note. This is co-operation, vision and collaboration at its very best. We could easily be doing the same here in the UK...

Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio has come up with a plan to be deeply envious of. Realising that the neighbours to the university campus are in a fairly dire plight, not just with internet connectivity, but socially and economically too, they are rolling out an ambitious university research project to connect 25,000 residents to 1000Mbps fibre.

An unprecedented collaboration of university researchers, technologists, public sector institutional partners in the region, and vendors will bring neighbors around the University the same quality Internet connectivity that students, faculty, and staff enjoy on the campus. The University Circle Innovation Zone beta block will be a research project conducted by the University in cooperation with more than 40 institutional partners, technology vendors, and community organizations. Eventually, the University Circle Innovation Zone seeks to connect more than 25,000 residents..

The project is intended to have specific metrics and objectives in order to deliver key evidence about the impact that technology and the solutions it permits have on the surrounding community.

A smart connected community is a portfolio of endeavors to leverage broadband technologies to affect positive change in the lives of neighbors and in the communities where we live, work, and play. The University Circle Innovation Zone gigabit to the home research project is being supported by unprecedented co-investments by the research community, start up ventures in Cleveland and around the region, and major underwriting support by an “A” group of technology vendors, partners, and thought leaders who, along with Case Western Reserve University, believe in the efficacy of testing and analyzing the impact that broadband can have on real challenges and priorities of the community.

These guys have really got it!!! Don't sit around in conferences and meeting rooms talking about the problems and possible solutions. Don't keep everything to yourself - co-operate and collaborate. And most importantly - JFDI.

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Digital Economy Bill is a joke

Read more! Do this government just not get it about the digital economy or is there something else going on?

The latest announcements about the Digital Economy Bill have many of us with our jaws on the floor.

In the speech, the Queen 'reads', "My government will introduce a bill to ensure communications infrastructure that is fit for the digital age, supports future economic growth, delivers competitive communications and enhances public service broadcasting".

Right, all well and good, but how exactly do they intend to do that? And when? For further details, it seems we need to wait till Friday when the Bill is published, but I can sense a furore coming on when it is....

We have little to date from Labour indicating that they have an inkling about what is required in a "communications infrastructure .. fit for the digital age", let alone how to ensure that it is delivered.

The USO is apparently not included in the Bill, because "it doesn't require legislation." Well, we all know what that means. We are going backwards. The USO of the last 28 years has been a LEGAL requirement on the incumbent. What is going to happen now is that we are going to allow 'best effort' only attempts from fixed and mobile operators, with no legislation to enforce a minimum connectivity speed that many believe is far too low anyway.

For those of you who live in areas where there is little or no broadband now, it is time to start planning your own network, because you can bet your bottom dollar that, without any form of legislation to push the telcos into getting at least 2Mbps to you, it won't happen. There will be cries of "It's too expensive, there is no demand there, we can't do it, those people don't need 2Mbps at all, they can make do with what they have, we've tried our best, it's not profitable" etc etc etc.

The digital divide, I sense, has just been given an almost unavoidable reason to widen. It cannot be unintentional, surely?

The definition of next generation access is being dumbed down left, right and centre now, so when Timms says, ""The UK is on track to seeing half of households having a choice of next-generation service providers within the next three years..." it is difficult to know whether he is talking about BET (definitely not NGA), ADSL2+ (not NGA or it wouldn't be called obsolete technology v2.0, would it?), or FTTH and FTTC (VDSL2).

One also wonders about the choice of the term 'next-generation service providers'. Sorry for being a cynic, but surely Stephen, you mean "next generation services?"

Bit worried that we will only have a choice of service providers to be honest, because knowing how this all works, what that will mean is that the stats, reports and press releases will be manipulated again to show that 50% of the country has a choice of NextGen service providers. They just might not be offering next gen services in your area. Get the picture?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, GB has been showing he gets the technology and can use it, with a
podcast about the Queen's Speech. (Transcript)

"Next week we will be outlining our legislation for the next parliamentary session - a programme that’s in line with our core values of fairness and responsibility.

Our focus, as ever, is the return to economic growth and forging a stronger, fairer, Britain - for the many not the few."

I wish the government *would* take some responsibility for the farce that is our comms infrastructure. After all, much of the problem comes from this government's approach of leaving it to the 'competitive marketplace'. That's why we have a choice of ISPs - all selling the same product!! Some choice that is. We have had a stalemate in new investment - property rates on fibre, for starters. Misleading hype about who is doing what and what has already been done that makes investors cautious about/uninterested in diving in.

And as for doing things for the many....haven't you got it yet? It's the supposed 'few' in rural areas who are currently not getting the chance to partake in a stronger, fairer Britain, let alone make ourselves economically viable.

What on earth could be the hidden agenda here? I can only think of one thing. Labour have employed a digital economy expert/advisor whose colours are firmly, but secretly, nailed to the other side's mast. I suspect she/he is in line for a whopping bonus early next summer.

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Day to day reality of UK broadband

Read more! Wanted: 1 video file of Fibrecamp. Method of transferring from east of country to west? Post. Yep, the great British postal system is the only method to get it here in a timely manner, other than driving there to pick it up.

Why? It is starting out from Hull, where upload speeds are as bad as anywhere else in the country, if not worse for an urban area. It has to get to Cumbria, where download speeds are so dire that I could pull all of my own teeth out faster than it will arrive.

This situation is now occurring almost daily. This is not how anyone should need to work in 2009 in the UK.

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National Infrastructure Investment Bank

Read more! The Institute of Civil Engineers has been pushing for a National Infrastructure Investment Bank. This idea gained some traction at the Labour Party Conference in September, and is picking up speed elsewhere. The sad bit is...

no-one seems to have thought about including NGA in the proposal. Yet, that is clearly infrastructure, will create thousands and thousands of jobs, and could be one of the key factors to turn this nation around, socially and economically.
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Sunday 15 November 2009

Fibrevolutionary Unconferences

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There will be a tweetup/unconference on Monday in Leeds. Aim for The Armouries and you should be in the right place!! Look for the demonstration and the placards outside....

That is a joke!! Why do people have this strange and very mistaken vision of myself and others in the community network space?! We are the core constituency named in the Caio and Digital Britain reports, the First Third (you can call it The Final Third, but we managed to change 'last mile' to first mile ....!)

We have no idea how to knit yogurt, you know. We can lay fibre in rural areas, and have. The first UK rural community fibre connections were not laid by anyone at the conference this week.... they were laid by us. And there is an awful lot more due to go in to rural fields and verges imminently because now we know we CAN JFDI.

We care about our communities and constituencies, whom we talk and listen to regularly, openly, and in depth. We are putting in open networks. Community owned networks. Sustainable networks. Probably, if the current maths is right, very profitable networks.

And we know, better than anyone, how to get to where we are going. Which is why we are doing precisely that, mainly using the technology now at our disposal eg Google Wave, Skype, Livestream, Twitter, FB, blogs, webcams etc. Fibre. WiMax. FiWi. Sadly, many of the applications don't work as intended over our connections, but we do our best and it will get better as we own more and more of the first mile.

I wish others would use the technology we espouse to its full capabilities occasionally, but you just don't. There is no intention in any way to dis what is happening in the conference by having an unconference or tweetup. It's just another way of adding to what is already happening and achieving the results required. For UK Plc.

If you want to get involved in breaking new ground in the First Third, come and look for the group in wellies and cardis, who will all have "exile" on their delegate badges. Or just get on Wave, Twitter, Livestream and join in, without leaving your sofa.

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Fibre Switchover

Read more! OK, the digital switchover is ongoing so let's move on and start planning the next one - the fibre switchover. No reason for it to be region by region, as the telecoms network isn't structured in the same way as the TV one. And there is already work out there, by Point Topic et al, about when NGA should come to you on which to base our work on the Fibre Switchover. However, there are different ways to look at this switchover that need addressing......

(More discussion on the Grassroots Digital Britain wave.)

The credit for the instigation of the 'fibre switchover' term and discussion must go to Briantist

What are the issues? How do you feel we should proceed to the fibre switchover? What models are the right ones for this country? For your village/town/region?

Which are the most important issues for NGA?

(Oh for Google Wave with a Yes/No/Maybe tool!!)
Fat pipe to each user
Ownership model (private, CIC, co-op, public)
Social capital repayment vs fiscal capital repayment
OTHERS - please contribute your thoughts

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Saturday 14 November 2009

What is a community network?

Read more! Bearing in mind the post about the status of INCA, this article (also written in 2005) seems valid as well. INCA is being set up for community networks. (Yes, the C stands for co-operative but the intention is clear in the information on This article does nothing to even begin to cover the incredible amount of discussions we had in arguing the point about "What is a community network" but there are copious notes available. This debate has been re-ignited recently by INCA, yet without any reference to the work done previously by people who were and still are, in many cases, at the coalface. (For future reference, wheels should be circular....)

Define a community network

You'd think it'd be easy, but there is a strange tendency to drift towards a 'them' and 'us' scenario. Them are those who do it for money. Us are the ones struggling to keep our heads above water as we do far too much for 'the community' and not enough to protect ourselves and thrive.

Reminds me of that Quaker poem I can never quite remember about if there's peace in the heart, there's peace in the home, and the ripples spread outwards so you reach peace in the world. If you make sure you are OK, then you can afford to help others around you is one way of looking at it, I think. I'm not very good at this I know because the money side of life isn't of enough concern. I'd rather have mega experiences than be rich and bored rigid trying to work out what to do with the wonga.

No project should be running entirely on volunteer energy. As I keep saying to myself "Volunteers-it'll end in tears" We keep seeing it. There are not for profits who think they should do everything for free and can't reach a surplus or sustainability. And for many this is where the yogurt knitting image comes from, that social enterprises sometimes don't show balance sheets that make sense to business people or our current culture where money is apparently everything for many if not most people.

So, back to this defining community networks. I can't name names as it wouldn't be fair but there are a couple of well-known CAN operators who skewed the results on the Springing up all over survey [ABC/CBN Report presented at a DTI event in London in March 2005 - part of the ABC work delivered as Membership Services Director in CBN's infancy] because they've got several hundred people connected into quite a few of their networks. They've extended way beyond their own patch, because they are in business doing this. Are they community network operators? The communities quite often don't own the networks, but in many cases they didn't want to. They just wanted someone to come in and give them a decent broadband connection. And it has been done.

There are others where the company running the network is owned by its members, who have elected people to take charge of the daily running of the network etc. All profits are spent on extending the network, offering new services etc. Is that a community network? What about all the people in the community who are not members and who may think that profits should be ploughed into other community projects which need help like the playschool or youth club? Is involvement by a subsection of the community enough to say that a community network is owned and run by the community even when it is only a small percentage of that community?

What if there is only one person, a lone ranger, who hasn't managed to persuade anyone else to get involved yet? Or maybe doesn't want the grief of trying to explain to them how it al works? If contributions are made to worthy local causes but the profits are spent as the sole proprietor sees fit, ie to prop up their ailing business because they are too busy climbing on roofs fixing antennas to deal with their clients, is that a community network?

Or is a community network one which has had large amounts of public funding and connected the local council offices and put a kiosk in the swimming pool? Can BT say they run community networks because they occasionally give hard up communities a computer and an ADSL connection?

Can we even define 'community'? Because I think until everyone is clear what a community is, who or whether anyone owns it, runs it, where its boundaries are, who makes sure that everyone has blue fingers, who assesses the impact of each and every one of our actions to [the] benefit or detriment of that community, we are a bit knackered trying to define what a CAN is. Personally.

(CAN= Community Access Network)

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Blue Pounds & Community Broadband

Read more! I wrote this in 2005. With the ever-increasing attention being placed on community broadband projects, it seems very relevant right now as the commercial players leap in to the supposed First Third 'void'. (Call it the Final Third if you wish, but you don't think like that when you live here). In my opinion, much of what is proposed at government and telco level is community asset stripping and can only be detrimental when pursued in line with the current commercially-based thinking encouraged by far too many. ....

This was inspired by New Economic Foundation work, who also laid down the prinicples behind the similarities in railways (moving people) and networks (moving data). For all those designing community networks, large and small, urban and rural, this thinking would seem to apply. Now, perhaps, more than ever.

"Suppose you paint a pound coin blue and watched where it went. Every time it changed hands within a community, it meant income for a local person. If the blue paint were to come off onto people's fingertips, how many people would have blue fingers before the money finally left the community? The more times it changes hands, the better for that community."

Once you start looking at your spending patterns within your own community, ie watching pound coins as they leave your pocket, you realise that not only does that pound coin have an impact on your community - positive or negative depending on where you spend it - but how many of your other actions affect the place you live, and the community you work in.

Social capital has been a big phrase for quite some time and it is very difficult to assess but we all know it is as important sometimes as fiscal capital in its impact on communities. When trying to create a sustainable community project, such as the ones in Bolivia, what other factors will affect them? And what if by the very process of creating a project which is sustainable, you destroy some other vital part of the community by taking away the energy or the pound coins from those facets of life to sustain your project? How much work has been done on the assessment of community projects on the communities they serve?

Many of the projects I have seen or been involved with for deserving communities, even in a peripheral manner, have had initial funding and then folded. The reasons seem to be generally that there wasn't enough revenue funding ie funding the people behind them, and over and over again we see voluntary fatigue. Or the time limit is reached, the boxes are ticked and the project folds gently, or struggles along under its own steam. This constant generation and destruction of community projects must be slowly taking its toll.

What if projects were judged/assessed not on the new jobs they create, or the boxes they tick for NGOs and civil servants, but on how many blue fingers they leave in the community, and how long those fingers stay blue?
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Friday 13 November 2009

Google Wave

Read more! Google Wave invites are slowly but surely invading our world. If you have Google Wave already, don't be shy.

In order to discover a) how useful this is as a collaborative tool for discussions and development of organisations and projects such as INCA, CANs (Community Access Networks), COTS etc and b) how much bandwidth it can potentially use, we need people playing on it.

Come and join us!
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Thursday 12 November 2009

Update on INCA

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Following a productive conference call just now with Andy Carter (BIS), Malcolm Corbett (CBN) and Shaun Fensom (CBN) plus a host of interested parties from community networks, major commercial carriers, community broadband FiWi suppliers and others, I thought I'd update the people who keep asking about INCA...

1. The incorporation of INCA as an IPS is ongoing and should be completed in the next few weeks.

2. Concerns were expressed that the steering group may not be sufficiently representative yet of certain sectors. Obviously, as with COTS, membership of the steering group requires dedication and a commitment of time and involvement, so the proposal is to get a copy of the current steering group members asap and see where the gaps occur.

Then to propose at least 3 or 4 people to ensure the steering group is inclusive and representative of all stakeholders who need to be involved with INCA for the best end result. The consensus of the meeting was that it is in no-one's interest if the steering group is too large, but it must be inclusive of all stakeholder interests.

The approach implemented by Peter Shearman, BSG, with COTS, where there is a wider forum with a tighter steering group, is recognised to have merit and should be replicated with INCA.

3. Anyone interested in membership of INCA and/or to put themselves forward for the Foundation Board (see 4) should contact Steve Spillane or Malcolm Corbett in the first instance. Contact details available on

4. The Foundation Board will not be elected but will be put in place purely for the minimum time required to go through the necessary due process to get INCA up and running.

5. The full Board will then be democratically elected by the membership following no rmal co-operative/IPS requirements under Co-operative UK Green 2 rules.

6. CBN expressed the wish to disengage themselves from INCA at the earliest opportunity to ensure there is a clear separation between the two organisations. In the meantime, however, CBN 'staff' are those to get in touch with if you have any questions regarding INCA.

7. A list of key objectives for INCA will shortly be available.

8. For those attending the conference in Leeds next week, there will be an INCA 'workshop' and a platform announcement regarding INCA. For those unable to attend, there may be problems for the conference organisers with live streaming, but it is to be hoped that someone will video the INCA session and make it available to all post-event, (Fibrestream have offered to do this on behalf of everyone) and that at the very least there will be a Twitter backchannel for remote participation.

9. There will be meetings announced shortly by Malcolm Corbett to ensure that all those who wish to get involved in the steering of INCA have been given the opportunity to do so, and there will be video conferencing facilities available for those meetings. (Courtesy of Cable and Wireless)

10. Anyone who is not on the CBN mailing list is currently not getting INCA mailouts, contact Steve Spillane or Malcolm Corbett until such time as INCA has fully operational, independent adminstrative systems.

Couple of extras: INCA's primary purpose is as an umbrella organisation to provide a national point of reference for independent NGA networks, large and small, urban and rural. There is no intention for INCA to step on the toes of existing or potential commercial and public sector funded projects or activities, but rather to support them.

I am still seeking clarification as to whether membership of INCA is a pre-requisite for seeking public funding from the upcoming pots, but it is hoped that this is NOT the case, as it is essential that those projects who choose to operate independently of INCA can do so without prejudice.

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Wednesday 11 November 2009

No! No! No! No! No! Someone stop BT right NOW!!!

Read more! We didn't christen it OpenRetch for nothing. This latest is sickening.

You cannot possibly put BET on the same website, same press release or in the same sentence as the words "Next Generation Access" without the word NOT featuring prominently.

BT OpenReach have launched a website about -new acronym coming up folks - SFFA (Super Fast Fibre Access) and BET appears not only on the website but also in the press releases.

The front page of the site says:

We're using a substantial part of the £1.5 billion committed to Next Generation Access, by the BT Group, to enable 40% of homes in Britain to take advantage of Super-fast Broadband Access by 2012.

We are supportive of the ambitions of the Government’s Digital Britain initiative and are committed to work to help deliver a truly Digital Britain. Our Broadband Enabling Technology (BET) is one solution which will help us do just that. It's designed to deliver broadband speeds over long distances, where people are either unable to access the internet or can only do so now at very low speeds.

1Mbps, oh dearest BT OpenReach, IS a very low speed. It is below the proposed USO and hence not part of delivering a truly Digital Britain, IS IT?????

This is outrageous misleading of the general public and press and probably politicians, quangos, RDAs, funders, investors, shareholders etc.

Check out the URL of the website - /superfast.

Give me a break. This is precisely the type of atrocious behaviour by marketing departments and telcos which has led to the utter confusion of consumers etc that currently exists in this country.

Next generation access is vital to our current and future economic and social well-being. If a private company is allowed to start at the very beginning by LYING to the public about what NGA is, there is no bloody chance that we are going to get, as a nation, to where we need to.

And if anyone funds BET, they need putting on dial up at home and work for the rest of their given days.

If Ofcom will not lay down the law on this one, or at least issue some guidelines or a Code of Practice about NGA marketing to stop this in its tracks, I will personally pay a bunch of very cheap workers to spend as long as it takes out on the Internet making sure that as many websites as possible have either a forum post, blog comment, banner ad or similar on it saying something along the lines of "BT's BET is NOT next generation broadband. Complain now. Boycott BT." (Feel free to make suggestions for alternative wording).

Believe me, there are thousands of very, very cheap workers who do this stuff day in and day out (I have to deal with the results of their activities in my day job) - that will be one helluva lot of websites.

BT, be warned. This is unforgiveable behaviour. Your shareholders should be ashamed.

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Light Up My Street & Boost My House Price

Read more! It isn't that long since I posted about broadband and estate agents. Now ISPreview have conducted a survey on the impact that lack of broadband has on house prices, particularly relevant at a time when house prices are on the rise......

The ISPReview monthly survey is, of course, a somewhat self-chosen audience to be asking these particular questions to. But it does clearly show that broadband now affects, as shown in my post, the purchase decision of MANY, MANY people.

If you re-phrased the ISPreview questions so that Joe Public didn't get flustered when asked about broadband speeds (eg "would you buy a house with a broadband connection where iPlayer didn't play properly?" might be more user-friendly!) and ran a survey on, say, the BBC website, you would probably find the figures even more illustrative of the reality of the situation in the UK.

Let's just consider for a moment...

If any of us had known for sure when we bought our homes that we would not get a decent broadband connection by, say, 2009/2010 (as many haven't), AND known then how important that connection would be to our daily lives, leisure, families, kids' education etc etc in 2009/10, would we have moved to the house we did? More interestingly, how many would have set to and done something about it earlier eg built a community network, aggregated demand and shared a fat pipe, if we had realised the telcos, govt etc were not exactly telling us the truth about when true broadband would arrive?

Sadly, some of us did know when we bought our homes because we had already been stuck in the broadband campaigning lark for far too long at that point, and we do know that decent broadband ain't going to get here in a hurry unless we do something about it, but there are thousands and thousands of people in the UK who are NOT aware of the reality of the situation and keep believing the hype.

Alston Cybermoor did some work on broadband and its effect on house prices and as I recall the average house price in the area had risen to over £15,000 more than expected because of the presence of the community network.

If I was planning to sell my house, I think I would investigate which of my neighbours might also be planning the same over the next few years and invest with them in setting to and increasing the value of all the houses in the neighbourhood. After all, putting in a pukka broadband connection is really not that different from building a conservatory or following the advice of those weird daytime house improvement programmes which have ruined our mornings for so long.

Aha, I can see a commissioning editor reading this and seeing the massive potential for a programme showing just how much you can add to your house value by putting in true next generation access.......C'mon Channel 4, this should be right up your street. You could call it "Light Up My Street"....

You read it here first....!
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Open Access is good for the market

Read more! During a post-COTS steering group discussion this week, one of the matters under discussion was Virgin Media's network and its closed status. The existence of a closed network within the UK at a time when many are pushing for open networks as we move to NGA is a problem. But is the problem for Virgin or for the rest of the country? This paper....

argues that open access networks are not only good for consumers and nation's economies, but also for operators. Although, it also states that more evidence and data is required to assess the situation fully.

Capacity utilisation is one issue which leads to profitability, and by Virgin's closed nature, the network can only be used by the number of customers Virgin can win - unless wholesale access is made readily available to others. Back in May, Virgin denied plans to offer wholesale access to its network, but one has to wonder why it should refuse to do that? Surely, it is better to be selling capacity on an existing network as more usage means that bit transport costs tend to zero? Additionally, revenue coming from outside the family is a good thing, mitigating maintenance etc costs to other businesses rather than just the VM Group.

Virgin Media seem to run a tight-lipped ship, with little word from them yet on COTS, Digital Britain etc, nor do they seem to be leaping up and down to speak at nor sponsor the plethora of interesting events in the coming months.

It will be interesting to see whether the Hatt/Cornwall trials are part of the decision-making process on this issue. If Virgin believe they can corner a substantial proportion of the rural market ie our First Third (telcos' and policitians' Final Third) with VDSL2, this could see a significant uplift to revenues as well as a land grab, meaning that wholesale open access to their cable network would be less inviting. For Virgin. What it may mean in SMP terms though is open to further debate.

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What the Conservatives are saying

Read more! The Shadow Dept of Culture, Media and Sport seem to have got it.

Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Minister of Culture, was the person who stood up in Parliament on the Digital Britain Report day and made more than a few of us sit up with the fibre broadband beginning to his speech. Now Ed Vaizey, Shadow Minister of the Arts, has delivered a fibre speech to take note of.

Watch this space. (There surely has to be a comment about light and shadows here in our fibre optic space?!)

And to the Shadow Ministers, (now that we know you are reading this blog!) how about you get in on the Broadband Manifesto discussion on Fibrevolution and add your 2p?!
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Tuesday 10 November 2009

Fibre bandwidth coming to a mast near you?

Read more! Some years ago at an event at DTI about community networks, there was an out-of-session discussion between O2, OpenReach and myself about sharing excess bandwidth from mobile masts for backhaul to rural and remote community networks.

The fact that there might even be spare capacity, or that many masts are fed by fibre seemed to come as a surprise to the O2 rep. Now, it seems that in the light of a huge ramp up in consumption of mobile bandwidth (smartphones, dongles, mobile advertising etc), over the Pond there are moves afoot to increasingly feed mobile masts with fibre.

It is likely that similar is happening or will happen soon here. The need to broker that bandwidth between the different occupiers of a mast should surely be a job for COTS? It makes sense to run one fat pipe to each mast to provide for the aggregated bandwidth requirements of each operator. However, it also adds an ideal opportunity to consider the bandwidth needs of others in the locale of that mast and to cater for that as well, thereby reducing the costs for all involved.

Whilst it would clearly trespass on the plans of mobile operators to provide broadband via dongle etc to those in the vicinity, and would require (finally) deals to be struck about the currently ludicrous costs of siting equipment on and access to masts, it could bring next generation broadband much closer to many, many people in the UK. Whether delivered by wireless (eg Wimax etc) or as a closer break out point for fibre backhaul to a community, the opportunities would seem too good to ignore from this approach.

Mobile broadband, as we have said before, has its place. But NOT as the primary mechanism for delivering next generation access. This can be delivered far more efficiently and effectively by bringing fibre as close as possible to the punters and communities, and then using wireless to cover the first mile or inch.

This is FiWi, a term we have been banging on about for ages and are still waiting to see adopted by the masses!

There is also a "FiWi Pie" side of it too i.e. there are potentially win-wins all round with this approach: Those flogging fibre backhaul stand to see more capacity required at each mast thereby generating more revenue, the mobile operators get cheaper backhaul for all their offerings, the mast owners get a cut from additional equipment sited on masts, and communities get affordable backhaul that is not being priced per inch.

Or, we can keep trying to rip each other off and go nowhere fast. I prefer the FiWi Pie approach!

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Life without wires

Read more! In a world where FiWi in increasingly becoming an integral solution for true broadband connectivity, it's vital to have females's Wireless Woman's series on wireless visionaries.....

Yes, here - Wireless Visionaries
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New series of blog posts

Read more! In the run-up to the election and following the Digital Britain report, this blog will be hosting a series of guest posts from a wide variety of those involved in broadband.

Invites are currently being issued and we hope that if you have any suggestions for contributors and contributions, you will let us know. The intention is to stick with the format we have pursued since day 1 for events - a mix of consumers, community, industry, public and private sector. This time though we are adding in MPs!

We hope to bring to you a wide selection of views on broadband in the UK, in our endeavours to see the eNdGAme realised. Some of our contributors are looking at the issues from an international viewpoint, or from beyond our shores, and we welcome their differing viewpoints on what is happening here.

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Monday 9 November 2009

Trains, canals and wayleaves

Read more! Thanks to MB94128 and his comments, this post is ever more timely, which I guess is more than can be said for our trains! It is about railways and FTTx. One particular railway at this moment, who don't get broadband....but it's bigger than that.

As some may be aware, I have an unhealthy interest in railways and canals. (Blame the parents). F'rinstance, Wensleydale Railway PLC is about moving people in rural areas, I want to move data in rural areas.

Technological revolution compared to industrial. The railways often cropped up in our first Access to Broadband Conferences, with many likening the new fibre and outdated copper networks with the advent of the railways leaving the canals to die off. (Luckily, just as the canals have found new life with the leisure trade, so copper can be similarly jewellery, kettles etc!).

The railways stand to play an important part in the next generation network, being obvious and logical conduits to connect up the country with longhaul. More so than that though, when you look at where railways run, even those which Beeching closed, many of which Sustrans have breathed new life into (leisure again), there are correlations between the rail network and notspots and / or the digitally excluded. Railways and fibre go together remarkably well, seeking to go as straight as possible to work properly.

Ditto canals, so let's not exclude them from this picture too. When I lived in London, I discovered canals in the most unexpected of places on the numerous occasions I missed the bus. For those with time to spare and a chance to get out of the city, there are canals galore in this fair land of ours, wending their way through the countryside, past otherwise disconnected homes, farms and businesses.

So, not just longhaul, but backhaul and first inch connectivity too.

However, as we all keep alluding to, there is still a major lack of co-operation between the required players for the next generation game. (Nick that phrase and I'll sue you! I have plans for it!) Perhaps it is purely that so many people still haven't got it.....and cannot grasp just what broadband can do to lives, businesses, communities, etc?

This week's tale comes from a deeply rural area, where it has to be said, some of the necessary players really have got it eg councils, communities etc. Running through this rural area is an heritage railway line. When approached about laying fibre up the line to reach a couple of distant parishes, enthusiasm was expressed, in particular because the benefits of the existence of this fibre along their line were clearly laid out to them - future signalling requirements, superfast wi-fi hotspots in stations, PR, corporate & social responsibility angle, etc etc. As Churchill says, "Oh yes."

Over the intervening period since the initial approach though, things have taken a turn for the worse. It now appears that, having sought advice, the original wayleave offer is insufficient and the railway want more. The amount being asked by said railway per metre for wayleave actually equates to more per person in one of the parishes to be connected than the CPE!

It is easy to see where the advice has come from - those who run railways between major urban centres eg London and Edinburgh, as the figure is similar - negotiable between £2-3 per metre. However, this amount would mean the project hits an instant stalemate and could not proceed to connect people over the coming 3-6 months as intended.

In essence, and particularly considering the additional revenue this heritage railway could make from station hotspots etc, the wayleave being asked is either greedy or ill-informed.

I could go further, and point out the negatives. Those in the affected parishes will have to be informed about the railway's response - it affects the scope and complexity of the project, and the community have been involved from the outset. This can only be negative PR for the railway. Blimey, you know us English, we can hold grudges for years. There may be grandchildren of the 'afflicted' who never ever use the railway, even though the detail of "Why" is lost in the annals of time.

Lost revenue - not just from the grandchildren, but this is a heritage railway. It relies on tourists and visitors. It needs to add value to its services at every turn. Being able to upload your photos from the train over a £1 day pass for wi-fi could be a winner. Love where you are? Want to stay? Want to find a hotel or B&B for the night? Hey, just check it out as you travel between A and B on the train.

Virgin want to provide HD TV etc to the communities the train passes? Let's start talking about you using our fibre, Mr B. If that fibre starts to generate further revenue, it can only be good for the railway, who would be within their rights to up the wayleave.

What is going to happen though is that the fibre won't be laid because it is not COMMERCIALLY VIABLE at that rate. Hence, the railway gets a big fat zero. No revenue, no benefits, no added value services, no future exciting developments.

This needs to be a reminder also to all those of you who insist on charging by the metre for rural back and longhaul. You are currently getting the same big fat zero income. We cannot buy backhaul from you if it is so expensive that it is beyond our pockets.

Work together. With us, the users, the communities, the consumers - at the end of your network but the beginning of ours. OK, it may not seem much now in revenue, but we all know what happens when you build it. The users do come, they do use it (or there wouldn't be a single FUP in place in this country), and they do pay.

For any other railway, BWB, landowner, telco, etc, it's be nice to think this may be a salutory lesson for you too. "Better summat than nowt"

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Why 2Mbps simply is not enough

Read more! We have got to come back to this AGAIN.

If we bang on about it enough, those responsible for sorting out this country's infrastructure have got to sit up and take notice. After all, if you are an ISP, these are potential customers you are missing out on and if you are government, these are taxes and revenue you are losing. If you are an RDA, a local council, an MP - can you really ignore your constituents forever on this issue?

Back in June, according to the FSB, their research showed that a third of small businesses already have 2Mbps. Here's the important bit though....
...yet struggle to do core, day-to-day business activities

FSB goes on to state...
By 2012, £1 in every £5 will come from online commerce

The USC or USO, whichever side of that particular fence you sit on, of 2Mbps is going to hit our economy HARD if businesses are unable to conduct business online to their maximum capabilities. The reality though is that it is hitting us hard, NOW.

I know that my broadband has been insufficient to run my business since the exchange was enabled. Because I run a digital business, until I get fibre (at the very least to the street cab), the poverty of the broadband will restrict the earning potential of my business. I need symmetry and SPEED, as do thousands and thousands of other small, rural businesses.

We are not ignorant muppets leaping on a bandwagon and claiming we need the equivalent of other countries because it seems to be the done thing to do. We KNOW we need far better broadband to run our businesses. We know HOW it needs to be delivered, and, in some cases, we know WHAT actually needs doing, physically and financially.

We are often ignored. Too few of us to speak out and get the reality of this situation through to those who can solve the problems. Well, the numbers are growing and growing. How long can you ignore these voices??

The telcos keep telling us there is no economic case, but come put FTTH to my home office and see how much I'm willing to pay. In all these years, none of you have ever actually asked me, so I can guess you haven't asked others who are crying out for decent broadband. BT just announced out of the blue there was no call for SDSL but who was asked??! The shareholders p'raps? Telcos have said for years there is no demand for super high speed all singing all dancing broadband, but that is blatantly untrue when so many column inches of the press are currently taken up with articles and comments from the public on the subject. Ditto Twitter, conferences, pub conversations, websites, fora, etc etc etc.

The government seems to be ignoring everyone on the USO issue and fibre - why? Do they really think this country can operate effectively with a mere 2Mbps asymmetrical connection? Which in many cases won't even be that if the mobile operators are brought in to deliver rural and remote, and no effort is made to set up a reasonable mapping system that actually finds out the truth about what is available to every property in the UK. If we keep relying on the telcos to tell us what speeds are available and where, we will continue in the misinformation era we are currently in.

Who advised Carter that 2Mbps would be sufficient? No wonder he has done a runner TBH. And why is Timms, who previously seemed to be exhibiting signs of getting it, still stating that 2Mbps is the Government aim?

Back in January, Computer Weekly reported that "the long term future of the British economy may hinge on...[the Digital Britain report]"

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), a government quango, extrapolated South Korea's experience to suggest universal UK access to high speed broadband would create 600,000 jobs in information and communications technologies in four years, and boost GDP by £18bn.

How much evidence do the government and telcos need to get it? 2Mbps is not high speed. The copper can't deliver next gen broadband anywhere, let alone across the country - IT IS THE WRONG TOOL FOR THE JOB. Mobile wireless is not the right tool either for first choice broadband provision. We need fibre, we need a much higher bar for the USO, and we need informed thinking so those jobs are created and our GDP increased.

Seems to me that if we continue like this, the economy is going to lose phenomenal amounts of money and suffer more than it need to as the recession passes. We as a nation can only be yet further digitally excluded and I don't envy Martha Lane-Fox the task of sorting all of us out, but someone will need to.
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Friday 6 November 2009

View from an ISP on Special Faults Investigation.

Read more! Good article from Andrews and Arnold - an ISP view on SFI charges

I am also pretty fed up today having yet again fight against unfair high Openreach engineer costs that were not made clear to an end user with a PSTN fault.

Does anyone else wonder how strange it is sometimes when no fault is found, end user gets billed, not because it's his/her wiring or equipment but because no fault is found only then to find the fault mysteriously dissappears?
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Thursday 5 November 2009

Special dispensation from VOA on wireless tax etc

Read more! Some people seem to have missed the point of the post about property tax on wireless. Yes, we all know that ducts, poles and masts have _always_ fallen under the property rating rules, but the point is that no wireless (wi-fi etc rather than mobile) or community network has to date been required to pay it, until now.

Yes, it was undoubtedly an oversight by VOA, and it certainly hasn't been flagged up in the last decade since community networks etc started to be deployed. Luckily, the lack of this tax has allowed 'many flowers to bloom', lessons to be learnt, awards to be won across the EU, innovation to have flourished, and standards to be set that are now expected within that sector. However, the enactment of the tax at this stage can only have negative effects on those who are most likely to deliver and receive the "Final/First Third" connectivity required.

We are about to pour a toxic solution onto our beautiful and potentially to be envied community and co-operative, open and wireless networks flowerbed. The Rochdale Pioneers, responsible for so much of the phenomenally successful global co-operative movement, would be equally as aghast at this short-term and greedy thinking from within our own shores as many of us are.

The reason why the First Third is receiving the attention it is is primarily because of the fact it is the hardest to make an economic case for and therefore the commercial operators have it last on their list to provide connectivity to. Ergo, there is much talk of the intervention required in order to ensure that it happens, sooner rather than later.

What government needs to do is to think of **ALL** the ways in which they can positively encourage that First Third to be attractive to investors and those involved in deployment. Adding additional financial burdens and further weakening the business case is not going to encourage the First Third investment and must be seen for the lunacy it is. Whilst it may well fill up the VOA (and hence Treasury coffers) with a pitiful sum of money, it will be the death knell for much that has been proven to be great over the years and has led to so much innovation in the wireless and rural broadband sectors.

So, for instance, the creation of the levy to help that investment happen ought to be part of that joined up thinking. Sadly, though, it seems the initial proposal was to tax ALL telecoms, including mobiles, and hence raise far higher revenues but this has been dumbed down to just landlines. However, all of us know that the administration of that fund and ensuring it reaches the parts other broadband operators won't, is going to cost too much of the fund and will therefore reduce the available capital to an amount that will achieve little of what is actually required.

So, to strengthen the economic case for sustainable networks in the First Third, it is imperative that all the areas where there are currently issues and hence associated costs are addressed and, where possible, removed. For instance:

*Those who are involved with planning issues need to be engaged in reducing the stresses and costs on those seeking to install ducts, poles and masts in order to deliver to the First Third. Currently, it can take months or even years to negotiate the location of a street cab, duct or mast - all of which costs money and eats into the schedule for deployment, unnecessarily.
*Those who are endeavouring to deliver open networks through co-operative or not for profit mechanisms need to be considered and encouraged through reduced financial burdens eg tax relief, special dispensation from rates etc. The long-term benefits of these approaches seem to be ignored in favour of hardnosed, greedy, commercial practises that benefit a very small minority. It needs to be the other way round.
*The property rating on both of the essential elements of FiWi Next Gen Access - Fibre and Wireless - needs to be carefully considered with a long-term view to the harm it may cause to UK PLC economy if it is applied to all ducts, poles, masts and network models at this stage.
* Aggregation of telecoms within regions for public, private and community sectors needs to be given much more thought than it has been to date. Why pay with public money to connect a school if the pupils and parents are then restricted from using the same backhaul when it is dormant? Ditto councils. Fat pipes that do nothing over weekends and after hours when the citizens the council serves could be using those very same pipes is an idiocy. And a terrible, immoral waste of public money.

Unless a lead is taken in ensuring that joined up thinking happens across all sectors involved, all departments, all agencies, all organisations, all of the COMMUNITY, we are heading for an expensive fall that will leave many in this country with substandard connectivity far into the future. This country is in more than enough financial trouble without exacerbating that further in the broadband arena.

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Wednesday 4 November 2009

What we are up against

Read more! Sometimes I think we all forget how much we know about broadband......

If I could get over crying over what it says about UK internet users, I think I would laugh at the following question - "How do I transfer my broadband to the laptop?", and toggles! Classic. And we think the Parliamentary Committee don't get it?!!
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Tuesday 3 November 2009

Roads and Broadband

Read more! Each year, we go up to Scotland for a quick razz around on the motorbikes. Part of our route is to Cape Wrath, over Laxford Bridge. Just over a month ago, that bridge suffered major structural damage when an Army transporter fell off it, leaving those who live nearby, deliver goods, go to school etc via that bridge were faced with a 60-100 mile detour. And what, you may ask, has that to do with broadband?

Imagine that Laxford Bridge is a telephone exchange. The closure or 'throttling of traffic' at Laxford Bridge will have caused unnecessary expense, time delays and isolation for the haulage companies, businesses and citizens who use that bridge, including impacting the school kids. There will have been no compensation by the Army to those affected, nor seemingly did the Highlands Council pull their finger out and get the bridge repaired as quickly as possible to limit the impact.

UK broadband is facing similar problems. Some people are finding 'road closed' signs, many others are finding there is only one lane of one way traffic. Far too many are spending countless hours, days and even months attempting to get throttled or broken connections repaired. Those in rural areas are the most heavily affected, because of course, there are less people using those 'routes' to make enough noise to get those whose responsibility it is to solve the problems quickly.

Those who make decisions about the capacity available through an exchange, about the number of customers to put on each tail (often hundreds, increasing the contention massively and slowing down connectivity speeds), where to put investment, deploying fibre etc etc etc, are often incapable of seeing the consequences of their actions to the bigger picture.

Whilst you at BT or Virgin may be thinking purely about your bottom line and shareholders, those who are impacted by your decisions are having their bottom lines threatened, their daily lives disrupted, and their choices reduced. This also affects UK Plc, rendering many incapable of achieving what they could to put this country back in a position of economic fortune, and competing on the global stage in regards to the knowledge and information economy.

For those in government, often far removed in their shiny civil service offices from the reality that their decisions mean for everyday people, it is often seemingly impossible for you to realise how widespread the effects of and potentially devastating some of your ill-informed policies can be. For those of us outside of those offices, we look, often in horror, at the cost of implementing many of these policies, the lack of return on investment from our taxes, and the failure to achieve what is required. (Get Online Day seems to be a prime example of that failure.)

In this country, we seem to be very good at NOT looking at anything holistically. How the actions of one person, department or company have a knock on effect on other, seemingly unrelated people, departments or companies. Those two gunners are probably unaware of the personal lives and businesses they have disrupted, but you can guarantee that their actions have had a negative impact on many of those who live, work and play up at that end of the country. It may have been one diesel bill too many for a haulage company, a loss of footfall too far for shops, cafes, B&Bs etc on that route.

We know that road closure and roadworks adds huge strains to our business community, as well as stress to commuters etc. We know it costs the economy millions and millions of pounds each year through waiting in traffic jams at roadworks and the disruption on our road network. We should be applying similar thinking to just how much the low level of broadband and the jams on the network in this country are costing the economy, not just in pounds sterling lost but also the social capital.

Where there are broadband Laxford Bridges, it is in the interest of all those involved in opening them and keeping two way traffic flowing over them at peak rate to do so. That includes councils and government, telecoms companies, investors, and communities working together to do so. It means thinking holistically about where our money would be best spent and which boxes we are actually trying to tick.

All very well saying how wonderful the Internet is, but not much use if most people can't use it as others can in other countries. And zero point spending oodles of dosh trying to persuade the digitally reluctant to get online if, when they do so, the connectivity is so poor they can't actually do even half of what they have heard about.

Oh, and apparently being grumpy is good for you so I intend to continue as I am - about broadband, anyway!
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