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Wednesday 24 March 2010

UK broadband, ID cards and why I can't sleep

Read more! “However, we are concerned that the Government’s intention to create state-owned ‘business service companies’ could actually backfire by preventing commercial companies from competing for contracts. It would be better to create a level playing field to encourage competition and efficiency.” CBI, Samknows

This blog post can be read at

I knew someone, somewhere must have put it succinctly. The more I have heard this week, the less I have slept. That quote sums it up for me on a specific issue:

Why is the Government trying to create services that the private sector SHOULD be best placed to assess, research, develop and deliver?

Is it suddenly their job? Just because the UK now has more employees in the public sector than the private sector, should we actively encourage that huge disparity and illogicality? My economics skills are pretty basic because it wasn't taught in schools (is it now? - Sadly, I know the answer, it is a resounding State Education "No") but even I can see the lunacy of pursuing this path.

Dear Govt., Your job is to protect and promote the community well-being of your electorate. Please do not force me to write yet another letter about the Destruction of Trade and Industry based in Victoria St, London. You can change your name as often as you wish, but we will see through it. DTI, Berr, BIS - you are all trying to muscle in on the few remaining industries that can attract external investment and encourage internal investment and growth.

You should not be nicking all of our ideas and implementing them, but be fostering them, enabling communication within industry, introducing industry people in a 'social network' capacity, funding trips abroad for industry people who 'Do', not politicians etc on a career path to nowhere. Some of the most recent quangos exhibit all of this hidden entrepreneurial/career-driven desire; it can only go very badly wrong for the country if it continues.

Yours etc

Let me put one issue into two sentences:

1. It is not the government's job to decide what we want and force it upon us, viz personal websites - hide it behind this week's fluff, but it is online ID cards by the back door.

2. It is certainly not your job to spec and procure it, whatever the ELECTORATE choose, and definitely, absolutely, not something you should even consider in-house with your appalling record for IT projects.

If I could draw, the following would be a cartoon. (I am counting on the skills of the 5tth blog audience to render it).

For those who don't know the UK, we don't need to carry ID cards. Yet.

2010: Policeman pulls me up in the street.
Name? Josephiah Judas Smith.
Address? 94 Azure Acacia Avenue. (You get the idea.....)
Seems the privilege of anonymity may be about to removed.....
2012: Policeman pulls you up in the street: URL?

I think it's referendum time..................stuff the election. Can you be trusted any more with the well-being of this country?

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Brown's speech yesterday

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[It was yesterday when I wrote this]

Am reading the transcript of Building Britain's Digital Future speech as Gordon Brown was delivering it at such a speed that I think some of the nuances require a re-read.

I want Britain to be the world leader in the digital economy which will create over a quarter of a million skilled jobs by 2020;

Evidence and research from other countries indicate that just putting FTTH in nationwide* could easily create that number of skilled jobs, and bring with it the associated rise in tax to the Treasury etc. Therefore, why wait till 2020? Why not start the process today?

Underpinning the digital transformation that we are likely to see over the coming decade is the creation of the next generation of the web - what is called the semantic web, or the web of linked data.

Actually, underpinning the transformation will be the appropriate infrastructure. Whilst we all know that Tim Berners-Lee has been advising Brown extensively recently, this is a bit cart before the horse. Again. Yes, open data is hugely important and there have already been steps taken in this direction. Tim's recent presentation showed off some of the great uses to which people have already put open government data.

But without the infrastructure to access and share this data, as well as the need for everyone to become digitally literate and not drown in the information overload we are already seeing, these fantastic opportunities become slightly meaningless for your everyday consumer.

First to digitalise - to make Britain the leading superfast broadband digital power creating 100 per cent access to every home;

Ah yes, the headline everyone jumped to write. BUT, and this is a very big BUT, neither of the main parties, nor the telcos themselves, know how to do this where 'superfast' is a term which makes 100% sense when looking at the levels of connectivity other nations offer today, or plan to within that same timeframe. As a cynic, "100 per cent [sic] access" could mean that 100% of homes have access to the level of access that is available to many in the UK today, which is only debatably eligible to be called "broadband". ....And then, Ofcom today defined "superfast" as meaning 24Mbps. No mention of symmetrical. Even setting the bar that low, I would suggest, leaves us out in the cold.

The problem is that Andorra, for instance, is on track to beat that ambition THIS YEAR with 100Mbps symmetrical to everyone. There are many other nations who are also more than likely to do so long before Britain can. Even if everyone in the country who was currently doing nothing set to with the right equipment, mapping on the fly, etc etc, we'd be hard pushed to beat other nations to that goal. So, pinch of salt, flung over shoulder.

Third to economise - in the Pre-Budget Report we set out our determination to find £11 billion of savings by driving up operational efficiency, much of it enabled by the increased transparency and reduced costs made available by new technology.

One could argue that these savings could be substantially INCREASED by deploying the infrastructure first which would allow every citizen to interact with government services NOW, not in 2012, 15, 17 or 20. (Whilst no figures are given in this article about the savings made by a Maryland Council, one can immediately see the benefits if councils interact with their constituencies in this way).

The other day I heard how one of Britain’s leading musicians, who spends most of his time abroad, reads his young son a bedtime story from thousands of miles away using Skype. And millions of us can now spend more time with our families because technology allows people to work easily from home.

For many, it is not possible to use Skype (I still cannot make a call to my clients in Canada without using my landline), nor to 'easily work from home'. Listen to Ted's audio clip here for evidence of the problems still faced in so-called broadband Britain for those who want to work from home.

However, Skype was first sold to Ebay in 2005, and is um sort of old hat as an app.

The next stage will be radical expansion and enhancement of two-way communication between service providers and homes that new superfast broadband is beginning to make possible.

As long as we hold clearly in our heads that 2Mbps asymmetrical cannot make that happen.... up the bar if this is the vision you have, GB.

Britain is uniquely equipped to lead the digital age.
Because we have no concrete plan to do so?

This country has always been at its best when it has led the world in its pursuit of creativity and innovation and in the promotion of fairness and liberty. And in so many ways these issues have come together in the extraordinary development of the world wide web.

Allow me to paraphrase: "This country has always been at its best when...our backs are against the wall, like now." I could add to that: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Next para: The UK can hardly hold its head up and say we are developing the most fantabulous web apps nor using even the Web, let alone bandwidth to irs full potential. Actually, I think, without a doubt, that honour has to go to the eastern Bloc and Russia, Korea and China from whence many ideas and workable apps have come. Our digital literacy is astoundingly low, however high our take up of "broadband" has been.

And then we go into people who haven't accessed the Net.

Spot the telco blame??? Nowhere in sight. Spot the blame for Labour policy to allow the competitive market to dictate where we are today?

We can allow unbridled market forces to provide a solution on its own terms and according to its own timetable as others would do.

Yep, that is what we have been doing for a decade and more. Where has it got us??

The result would be superfast broadband coverage determined not even by need or social justice, or by the national interest but by profitability alone. This would open a lasting, pervasive and damaging new digital divide.

Ah, so you recognise that using market forces has failed. Is that because the Conservatives are now proposing to go that route, again? Because you have seen sense? Because you are going to try something different and radical? Because you aren't quite sure what you are going to do next and this sounds good?

By this point in the speech, my ears are bleeding, my eyes are also bloodshot, and my brain is mentally packing my house up to leave the country.

I don't think I need to continue. Any of the good readers here can. Or you can post what you would do for broadband UK if you were PM.

I think the speech highlights the complexity of the issue that this country faces, the numerous toes it steps on, and the need to think big and think holistically.

Bringing 4 Ministers to the meeting didn't exactly simplify this so that the majority of people in the country could understand. In fact, all it did was highlight my palaver the week before last trying to find that raw data - 5 agencies. NO!

If you want to win votes, and support, and encourage action, then you need to simplify and talk concrete solutions to construction problems. And this country needs, more than anything, to start building and stop waffling all around the houses. Especially by people who don't 'get' what normal people do on the Internet, and really, really want to do.

* Far better links are available but I am fitting this in round a book deadline. Would appreciate hard predictions, stats, evidence etc for UK if anyone has any....

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Tuesday 23 March 2010

If you were UK Prime Minister.....

Read more! Right, dear readers, the great British Press and journalists need your help. As do, we are all beginning to suspect, the government and MPs. There is an ever-growing demand for a simple explanation which answers "What are the plain facts of the matter?"

We can point these good folk to the very many blogs etc, but as is the impatient wont of today's human bean, they want everything in one place. So, here's your chance to let them know.

If you were Prime Minister of this country, how would you solve the broadband problem?

Here's your chance to be PM...and get this right for all of us.

Be as technical as you wish or put it in plain English, just attack one single issue or approach the whole problem holistically, look at rural, or urban, or just speak from your own point of view. But speak now about Building Britain's Digital Future or forever hold your peas...

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Thinking beyond just the Internet - news and media

Read more! I've been asked today to put down my thoughts for a 2030 Vision for our region so it can feature in a "future news newspaper article". I had to point out that newspapers won't exist then! And then, this landed....

Here is a fine example of what is already happening in news and media and that must be, of course, worrying for the likes of Monsieur Murdoch, BBC et al.

It's a mashup of the footage of Gordon Brown's speech yesterday with the tweets from the #bbdf hashtag as subtitles. Kudos to Martin Hawksey @mhawksey for putting it together.

It highlights some issues for next gen media.

1. With all their ginormous budgets, we have not seen any of the mainstream media (AFAIK) put together something like this yet. And yet, it is precisely what people are looking for, particularly when it comes to key issues that affect us. So, double kudos to grassroots for JFDI!

2. The closest mainstream media have probably come to this (again AFAIK) is when Question Time permitted text/SMS comments to be sent in during the programme and could be viewed on Ceefax. Now, that was some years ago and as I can't get Ceefax etc to work properly since the digital switchover, I don't know if it still happens. But, those SMS were tightly monitored and controlled. This example shows what happens when all comments from a specific hashtag are put in, AS THEY APPEARED in real time. The box cannot now be shut. This is the way things will continually go from now on. Control has been removed. The people have the voice that GB went on to speak about, and media and Govt need to get used to it.

3. Mashing together the VT and the comments from another channel (in this case Twitter) gives a brilliant multi-channel experience for those who want to access it. Media are going to have to start doing this or they will find people grabbing the output from their TV and chucking it in near real-time on the Net, mashed together with other online channels. Perhaps this is one reason why there is so much 'fear' about symmetrical pipes? Or am I just being cynical?! I know damned well that if we could all run our own servers from home, life would get really rather exciting.

4. Accountability - all of a sudden, having to phone in to A N Other complaints service and be given the run around and left to feel you could well be the only person complaining about a certain issue would vanish. Now, you can not only see that other people are complaining, but you can contact them directly and create a pressure group, louder voice etc. Now, today, whilst it is bugging you. And them. And that will make anyone featured in a TV programme accountable. Be they a goverment minister, a journalist, a programme producer, a company, a council etc. Now, personally, I think this can only be a "good thing" because it means that no-one can claim they didn't realise what their constituents, customers, viewers, electorate, etc thought on the issue.

Media has to change. Whilst certain content producers are protecting their so-called invaluable copyright, others are turning it into TRULY valuable content. You can hide your content from others by putting it behind pay walls, you can control the voices of your viewers by only reading out certain texts or emails, or you can do this sort of thing and face the music, work with the feedback, create better TV, policies, products etc.

Because if you don't, it won't be long before we do it for you!!

The point here is that the reason to want fat pipes is is not about ever higher definition TV that we lean back on our sofas and watch, nor 3D, nor more and more on demand programming. It is about INTERACTIVITY and consumer content creation. It has to be upstream as well as down. You have to become less possessive of your content and allow the consumer to consume and create.

Just because someone isn't wearing a BBC/Hollywood/Fleet Street suit, getting a BBC/Hollywood/Fleet Street wage, and spending some of the BBC licence fee/Hollywood style/Fleet Street budgets, doesn't mean they aren't going to create something immensely valuable, highly compelling to watch, and beyond what anyone else had up to date imagined. We are only going to see more of it, and it will leave present day media behind if they don't adapt.

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And so the mutilation of our language continues...

Read more! Superfast broadband will not be available to everyone by 2012. Will journalists, bloggers, marketers, and social commentators please get their facts straight before putting fingers to keyboards?

"Superfast broadband" should be permitted to be used as a phrase ONLY when speeds of 100Mbps are involved. Not up to 100Mbps, nor 2Mbps, nor 20Mbps.

What is being promised in this week's speeches and headlines, although the detail of how it will actually be delivered is very unclear, is that every house in the UK should have an up to 2Mbps connection by 2012. Mobile and satellite are being mooted as potential solutions where the copper won't deliver, and no-one has been talking about ensuring that symmetry plays a part.

The facts are that it looks like it will be a Universal Service Commitment rather than a Universal Service Obligation (which carries a legal duty), that the actual bandwidth, quality, contention etc currently are undefined, and the depth of thinking which has been done to ensure that this is a logical first step in the delivery of next generation connectivity (which had better truly be superfast or this country will never catch up with other countries) seems to have been minimal.

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Monday 22 March 2010

UK leads the digital world - believe nothing today

Read more! Today, Gordon Brown is going to flog the dead horse which is Britain's leadership of the digital race. Much as I would like to support any party, quango, organisation, telco or anything else about Britain's pole position in the digital economy, we are so far behind that travelling abroad is now embarrassing.

En route to the FTTH Council conference, Lisbon, in transit, I nearly left the airport for a fag. Luckily, the nice Customs officer pointed me to the smoking room which had free wifi. He seemed a tad (x pi add a zero) perplexed that I thought I would have to even leave the airport for such normalities. We had a chat about the UK. I slunk away at the reality of this once great country as other people's honest perceptions in 2010 sunk in.

The smoking thing was one part; the "You don't have wifi everywhere?" was entirely separate.

Once again, today, a news item has landed that leaves me wondering what I am doing fighting this battle here in the UK.

FTTH 1Gbps hits Jaipur . C'mon, let's think this through. I've been all over India. I know how colonial we are about it. I know we think and treat India and its people as a 'developing nation'. So, when Gordon Brown's fab announcements about a webpage for every citizen etc hit the news today, ask yourself two things:

A) How the bloody hell are half the country going to access them with corroded copper and no working internet?
B) Why are most of the countries in the world announcing 1Gbps connections (or at the very least 100Mbps) and we can just about scrape "up to 2Mbps by 2012" as a Universal Service Commitment (not even a legal obligation?)

So, Mr Brown, (and your Tory counterparts) are we really leading the digital economy??? Or are we now so far behind that only the most ignorant who can't actually work out that a mouse should not be used with your toes are left believing you? Your aspirations today will only be real if you have actually taken on board and can counter what is today happening in Jaipur, Latvia, at the top of Everest etc etc etc.

Digital industries that have been in existence in this country for near as dammit 15 years (yes, amazingly,that long and more) are now ready to leave these shores unless you up your game. FAST.

Just because the Labour Digital Strategy was created by a man, who for today will remain nameless, who admitted to me inside No 10 that what he knew about technology you could write on a postage stamp, does not mean that you have to adhere yourself to it.

It is time to work out what this country needs. By my calculations, if you are going for a jolly to the Palace on the 25th to go to the country on the 6th/7th, you'd better get a bloody shift on and start talking to the businesses and citizens of this country like adults and stop assuming we are all morons.

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Sunday 21 March 2010

Challenge on....gauntlet laid down

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In the run-up to the election, and bearing in mind that Gordon Brown is going to try and hit every electoral button tomorrow with the latest "vote winning announcement", (Update: 10pm Sun -in the last 10 mins this page appears to have been taken down, but we happen to have a screenshot) we have a challenge for you. It's open, bring it on!!

We believe in our little world that broadband is at the centre of everything. To us, it is the solution. Whatever the question.

So, the challenge to you is to come up with any social or economic issue in this country and we will tell you why broadband and FTTH is the solution.

Game on! (Oh, and if you want the actual game that goes with this, please let us know. We created it some years ago and it has now developed much further and is a fantastic resource, though we say it ourselves.)

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Thinking beyond just the Internet - telehealth

Read more! Most of the time, when we hear about next generation access, we hear about faster downloads - particularly in relation to watching films (see Ofcom's history and vision of broadband published today). But that is not what next generation is about....

I know I have been a bit lax in writing publicly about my trip to the USA, and some of the many things I have learnt on my recent travels elsewhere, but all of this blogging and campaigning lark is done in my copious free time ;o) However, it seems that sharing this info becomes more timely and not less so, so here goes.

When building a FTTH network (or FTTB/FTTP etc) it is not about giving everyone faster access to t'Interweb. Far from it. What should be at the forefront of any network builder's mind should be the interconnectivity that network will create. Between users. Whether that user is a council, an individual citizen, a business, a doctor, the fire service, a community project, the village hall, the Highways gritter, or even a bus shelter.

A ubiquitous network is the key - it must reach, and interconnect, everyone.

Gordon Brown yesterday issued a statement, which amongst other things, talked about every citizen having access to all government services online. Unfortunately, instead of trying to K.I.S.S. once again the Government are endeavouring to add layers of complexity by including an IT project as well as infrastructure - an approach that will leave many with experience of govt IT projects climbing into a hot bath to get rid of the cold chills in their spine.

Let's deal on a small scale, rather than trying to think nationally for a moment. What are the services that your average citizen wants to access? Today's post is about telehealth.

There are huge environmental and economic savings, so telehealth is a key player. However, many of those involved in telehealth see it far too often purely from their own point of view - benefits, outputs, cost-savings - and far less about the experience and convenience for their 'clients', the patients. As an internet marketer, I am constantly telling my clients to step into the shoes of their website visitors and potential customers, become customer-centric.

The National Health Service needs to look at patient need, not how much it will save the NHS. Whilst creating increasingly complex websites that allow a patient to book a GP appointment may seem ideal to those in Whitehall, from out here it doesn't solve many of the problems we face.

Let's take some examples I have seen recently.

The Mayo Clinic in Florida and Arizona advises on pretty much every type of illness and disease. However, if you don't live in either of those two States, just raising the money or being able to travel there to be diagnosed, treated, learn to manage your health etc would count you out. Ergo, it could be seen to be exclusive. But, the Mayo Clinic don't want to be exclusive. They want everyone to be able to access the incredible range of expertise they offer. So, the solution? Work with FTTH providers to link up directly into people's homes. Bedbound? No worries. Talk directly to a consultant over a secure and private video link. Live in another State? No problem, click here.

Need to manage your diabetes wherever you are? Agoraphobic? Bipolar? Managing heart disease? Whatever your health situation, an online connection can make it easy.

Why leave home if you can't, physically, mentally or emotionally? Do your consultations online. Bipolar and can't even get out of bed today? You don't need to miss your appointment and add yet more guilt to the situation. Run an audio channel to your psych. Simples. Heart problem that needs regular monitoring? Do you need to be in a specialist unit or just a gym? OK, that'll be the latter - wire up the gym to the consultant so they can see real time stats from your work out. Need physio, but snowed in? Do your physio at home, watched over by your trainer on the TV.

At the moment, we are letting people miss appointments, and hence treatments, left, right and centre, for no good reason, and often pandering to the NHS instead of the patient's needs.

I have seen so many telehealth applications in the last few months, from bed sores to paraplegia being dealt with online. It allows people to maintain their dignity, independence, treatment schedules and health. Why sit in a hospital for hours waiting for a consultant or nurse whose Strategic Health Authority is running them ragged between three hospitals? Whilst you await your appointment (a mere 80 mile trip), they are stuck in a traffic jam 35 miles away, unable to work with anyone.

There are better ways to do this.

It is all very simple. It just needs fat pipes.

This is my HD TV channel, I am exercising my limbs after the car crash, without needing an ambulance to the hospital 40+ miles away and the stress of waiting for that, nor putting my life on standby for 1-2 days a week when you, my physiotherapist, are stuck in a different hospital at the far end of the county.

Should I lean more to the left, stretch that muscle more often than I am, or can I just join in a physio session with others as part of a community? Are there people who have been doing physio for so long now that your absence, and their presence, or a little snow, means I can still join in and do some exercise and have fun? We're all at home, but we are together. Is smiling with my new found friends on this HD TV Health network for the physio patients at xyz hospital a "bad thing"? Of course not!

Oh, and whilst you were stuck in the traffic jam, we have arranged a swimming session all together next week....cancel our rescheduled appointments.

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Thursday 18 March 2010

#debill letters to MPS flooding in

Read more! The Digital Economy Bill being rushed through Parliament prior to the election has hit a sore spot. Thousands of people have already written to their MPs about the Bill. Have you?

At least 7000 people have written in the last few days alone according to one website, but judging by the constant tweets under the #debill hashtag, it is likely to be many more.

The majority of the readers of this blog are perfectly aware of the issues, so there would be no point spelling them out. There are hundreds of articles and blog posts across the UK web which can bring you up to speed if you have been off-planet for the last few months!
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Taking FTTH/FTTB to the next level...

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It may be that there is a way to solve many problems in one fell swoop - FTTH, prime agricultural land becoming scarce, lack of green spaces in cities, the energy crisis, urban and rural regeneration, job creation, and no doubt more problems will come to light as we discuss this potential solution.

We all know that Korea, Hong Kong, etc have all, apparently, been able to solve universal FTTH purely because of multiple dwelling units. (We also all know that this is not **strictly** true!!) However, in Britain, we have a huge variety of problems, all of which universal FTTH could solve if we just got on with it.

What we need to do is not build high-speed railways (£14BN starting in 2017 vs FTTH £14BN finished in 2017) but build new farms in both towns and the countryside. Vertical farms. These could then help to re-populate the countryside, create thousands of new jobs, generate electricity, plus demand connectivity for telemetry - has that grass half way up got enough water? Also, this would keep DEFRA busy inspecting the number of tyres holding down the silage sheet on level 42 and whether the tags on every sheep and cow's ears on levels 18-30 are legible.

Especially for @cyberdoyle, here is a potential solution to the Final Third problem. Obviously, some thought is required to go into exactly which level her cows go on, and sheep, pigs, goats etc, but it seems that the current thought leader in all this, mainly because they have JFDI (or part of it), is right here in the UK, in Devon at Paignton Zoo

By creating multi-dwelling units in the towns and cities of UK, we could overcome the UK telcos' fears and give them MDUs to connect. Cows obviously need fibre in their daily diet (see photo) and Fibre To The Byre should help justify investment. Also, it would be simple to put 3G, LTE, wimax antennas on the structures, thereby building a wireless cloud over the surrounding area at the same time, and increasing the sadly minimal mobile coverage in rural areas.

There are several added bonuses to the technology neutral approach in that a byproduct of livestock farming, and one of the top causes of global warming/climate change, is of course methane, for which cows are regularly blamed. By a lucky coincidence, it would seem that methane is converted to hydrogen, acetylene and ethylene when subjected to continuous microwave radiation. This could then be stored and used to power the new hydrogen cell cars which we will need once the oil runs out. In addition, every farmer always needs to weld something so the acetylene should come in handy. There is also an increasing global demand for ethylene, so this should create a whole new industry sector within the UK.

This solution really could solve so many problems, surely?!

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Wednesday 17 March 2010

Still want 2Mbps?!!

Read more! I just watched this film about telepresence and immersion room.


Imagine that in your living room so you can talk to friends and family, your doctor, your new teacher..... it won't be long until these become slightly smaller and cheaper and mass market.

What do we need to do this? Fat pipes, no more. As soon as.....
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Voices from the Final Third

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Yesterday, Radio Lancashire devoted the day to rural broadband. (As well as ironing, oddly). Here are some sound clips from those who are daily affected by this country's (market) failure to connect its citizens and businesses and who are represented by the Final Third First campaign. And from Stephen Timms, who phoned in to be interviewed.

Rachel, who runs her own horse riding and trekking centre and cannot get online even to check e-mails. (I think that counts as digitally excluded, Martha!) 2m50s

Sam, David and Matt, who are teenagers, are trying to cope with the lack of a social life, unable to do homework or revision, be part of a band, conduct Uni research, and suffer disbelief from peers and teachers. Why? Because they don't have access to broadband or the Net. 3m48s

Ted and his wife, Mandy, cannot work and study from home. They also have teenagers, who cannot do their homework, access revision from school. Ted cannot work as the rest of the international company he works for do - from home. He points out that many other countries offer broadband accessibility, even on the beach, whilst the UK doesn't. "We need a centralised approach to the infrastructure. This to me is like electric, it's like water ....we provide that ourselves...we have a generator and a wind turbine. We're not frightened of taking it on, we have the will to be able to do it". 4m59s

Chris talks about the Final Third First campaign, the social impact on rural life (especially for teens) without broadband, Wray network, loans, bonds and funding, and removing red tape to enable the build of sustainable community fibre networks. 4m37s

Lindsey (half awake, thanks Chris!) tries to explain what being an Internet Marketer means without broadband and why I want to take my business out of the UK now after 15 years trying to get a decent connection. I would like to point out that this is no reflection on my ISP who have done their very best to work with the laws of physics and ancient/decrepit BT copper. 3m09s

Stephen Timms responds to questions after Sam, a teenager in Lancashire talks about his problems with school, homework and no broadband.

Your comments on the Minister's interview would be welcomed!!

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Response to INCA & CBN

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Having given some consideration to the most recent updates on the INCA and CBN sites.....

Ask yourself:

Why would I, Lindsey Annison, be running a "campaign" against the very type of community support network that I have already been instrumental in setting up TWICE in my own time and therefore obviously believe in?

For now, because I have no need to be verbose today, and I like misquotes......

"Methinks thou doth protest too much"

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Tuesday 16 March 2010

Point Topic maps true broadband need by constituency

Read more! Point Topic have released an interesting data set in the run-up to the election, showing by constituency how much subsidy is required for what they are calling "superband". It makes for fascinating reading.

Except that, as my constituency figures extremely close to the top, showing that 74.9% of premises here will require subsidy, I am opening an account for donations to enable me to move to Portugal or Lithuania and escape this seemingly never-ending torture.

The big problem, I guess, is that this is a safe Tory seat, and the tech manifesto gives little doubt that they are going to await market failure before freeing up money for constituencies like mine.

My response to that argument, Jeremy and Ed, would be that there is already market failure. Thousands of people round here do not have access to broadband TODAY, and we certainly don't have access to anything like the connectivity available in parts of rural Lithuania, Portugal, Sweden, Latvia, etc etc and at least 20+ other etcs.

Shall I spell this out? The market has failed us with first generation broadband. The market and our politicians are clearly failing us with the required change to the next.

So, would I vote Labour? Nope, not after Stephen Timms responded so depressingly predictably on Radio Lancashire this morning, ignoring the real questions and only giving us the reassurance that even by 2017 at least 10% of this country will not have next generation services. That'll be us then. Deep joy. And that's without mentioning the fact that BDUK clearly aren't going to have enough money to do the Final Third if they only have access to £1Bn to do so.

£28Bn/3 does not = 1, even in my highly chaotic world. Even I know that 3/3=1 and I have never, ever seen a figure anywhere that says it will cost £3Bn to do the Final Third. If it were only going to cost that much, then what are we waiting for?

Meanwhile, what virtual world does anyone live in where 2Mbps is sufficient for most businesses? Have you tried running a digital business, any business, on a connection that impoverished in 2010, Mr Timms? Especially asymmetrical.

Do none of these politicians get IT at all? If I and thousands of other rural SMEs cannot contribute what we should be capable of into the national economy WITHOUT decent or preferably true broadband, there is market failure. Not just telco market failure, but SME failure. And it's RIFE.

We can't afford to create jobs and employ people. We can't compete, not just with our urban peers, but with peers in other countries, even developing ones. As digital or post-industrial exporters, we can't export, therefore we are not bringing in external funds, just relying on the little we can earn here in the UK. Our bottom lines are overloaded with costs no competitor has to face - do you want my postage and fuel bills because I can't upload files and have to mail or deliver them by hand? Our environmental impact is far higher than it need be. And we obviously can't pay more taxes on non-existent revenue.

When you do your sums for how much it will cost to FTTH, I think you should try doing some sums on how much it is costing right now NOT to. And if anyone else tells me to move house, I will point them to my new Paypal fund, expect an appropriate 'relocation donation', and gladly take them up on it.

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Friday 12 March 2010

INCA - request for clarity

Read more! It is difficult to comprehend what on earth is going on with INCA and CBN. BIS seem to have no answers, although they have apparently offered £150,000 to set up INCA as an organisation.

Due to substantial concerns first raised publicly last autumn from a large group of people from industry, community and consumer groups, a Scrutiny and Liaison Committee was set up with BIS approval to monitor and ensure transparency, enforce the need to communicate openly and honestly, and to guarantee a clear separation between CBN (a private consortium of consultants) and INCA - a co-operative membership organisation funded with public money to support community networks.

This will be the third such organisation. The first was the Association of Broadband Communities - a loose support network of community networks. It was unfunded and run by volunteers but we had a stand at the first BSG conference in Birmingham in 2002, which many of you won't remember.

A year later, after Malcolm Corbett attended the Access to Broadband Campaign conference in London in July (another event of mine as a co-founder of both this and the other ABC), 48 of us met at Rural|Net Conference Wyboston Lakes in the autumn, to vote on whether to shift our allegiances and energy to Timms' funded CBN to give it a kick start. We decided it had to be worth trying to continue what we were doing but with funds, and so CBN was born. Otherwise, CBN would have struggled to find any "members" who were not already catered for. CBN was launched at the 2nd Access to Broadband Campaign conference in Jan 2004 at Cisco HQ, Heathrow by Rt Hon Alun Michael MP.

CBN officially/legally ceased to be a co-operative organisation supporting community networks in Jan 2009, after at least 3 years of not actually getting together memberships or signing up a single community network member. It was, therefore, unfortunately unsustainable because it never implemented a business plan to carry out its initial purpose; so it became a private consortium of consultants. And now, it seems to have morphed into INCA.

Judging by the newsletter sent out this Friday 12th March by Malcolm Corbett, the interim CEO of INCA, something is definitely amiss. There is currently only an (unelected) Interim Board in place (until June), and there are certainly no members. You'd never guess that from the newsletter sent out.

.....We have set up a working group to consider an INCA response. We will provide a briefing in mid-March for INCA members and supporters setting out our view of how Government can maximise innovation, investment and engagement, thus getting the biggest bang possible for our taxpayer's buck.

Right, so next week ish, INCA members are going to be informed about INCA's views. Isn't this 'cart before the horse'? Aside from the many other questions this quote raises, there is nothing on the website at; in fact, the newsletter goes on to say,

A membership recruitment campaign and new website will be launched this month.

No-one can point anyone yet to a list of members then? Memorandum and Articles? IPS registration number, perhaps? Membership fees, benefits? Members' application form? Um...anything to prove that this organisation exists in reality and is not just a re-invention of CBN - the names just seem remarkably familiar in that newsletter. Malcolm Corbett, Andrew Macdonald, Marit Hendriks have all been heftily involved in CBN for years. The INCA website is hosted on Adrian Wooster's personal account at MyZen - too many innocent people seem to be being dragged into this whirlpool, determined to get a community support organisation back on track.

CBN has also agreed to licence the NextGen 10 events programme to run under the INCA umbrella. Marit Hendriks and Andrew Macdonald will continue to be the Next Gen events organisers.

Andrew was originally the event organiser for my events (because he is an excellent EO), for both Digital Dales and the Access to Broadband Campaign, both of which were in existence years before CBN was even conceived or funded. CBN have agreed (did the Interim Board ask?) to 'licence' the NextGen 10 programme - AT WHAT COST? Because surely, by running these events through INCA, the consultants/directors of CBN stand to lose valuable revenue so it can't be a free gift or that would be going against their legal responsibilities as Directors of CBN.

I hate to say this, but from here, it looks like either a stitch up in some way or horrendous corporate naivety. CBN appear to have moved at least two of their directors, possibly three, into presumably paid (or intending to be remunerated) positions in INCA, without apparently any procurement or even interview process for the jobs (and prior to an elected Board being in place); licensed the events package run by an independent, but heavily involved with CBN, team; commissioned a website build (dare we ask from which website designer?); and seconded MC from CBN to be interim CEO.

Excuse my cynicism but those costs alone should eat nicely into the £150,000 of taxpayers' money BIS have given over to INCA. Particularly in light of the fact CBN have also requested that they are paid for the "expenses" incurred in setting up INCA - a figure of £30,000 was quoted in a previous email to BIS.

This statement should provide some reassurance, but sadly fails to.

INCA operates as a separate organisation with its own Board.


Have any members been invited to join yet? If not, there are no membership subs being banked although we are now in March and INCA was launched with some fanfare at NextGen09 last autumn, (prematurely, it would seem) and all outlays seem to be being directed to current CBN directors or associates. What exactly is going on???

Should we ask: how is there going to be any money left to do what is required and laid out in both the Caio Review and the Digital Britain report as a role for such an organisation over the next 5-10 years?

If the entire business plan is predicated on member subs, wouldn't it be wise to get those in place and contributing (not just financially) BEFORE expending the existing funds? And checking that there are actually people willing to pay a membership fee first? Has market research been conducted into the appetite for such a membership organisation? To establish what the target audience are willing or able to pay or contribute?

Or is INCA planning to make money purely from 'consultancy' to projects who have sufficient money to pay for such things? Which would seem to exclude many of the Final Third First projects currently envisaged......and replay the CBN scenario rather too closely.

This may all sound like sour grapes but it isn't. I clearly remember conversations with people like Adrian Wooster about how, if you were headhunting the ideal team to deal with Final Third First and community networks, you wouldn't need to look far. You didn't need to then, and I remain convinced you wouldn't need to now. It just needs some jiggling to get the right people in the right places. And to be run in a business-like manner, whether it is not-for-profit or otherwise. There is little difference between requirement for a support organisation and the network viability in such areas, to be perfectly honest.

I sat and watched the approx £1/4M that CBN acquired from public sector vanish in a remarkably short time and achieve very little for the community networks it was supposed to support. It was especially saddening after all that **had** been achieved with no money in either the Association of Broadband Communities and the Access to Broadband Campaign, as well as the many community networks who shared information, advice, support, help, expertise.

I know. I was Membership Services Director for most of CBN's initial existence (paid and unpaid) until I was unceremoniously "laid off" whilst still under contract. Perhaps because I was asking far too many questions about where the money had gone and why we had no members?

Well guys, this time I still have nothing to lose. Where EXACTLY is the INCA money going? Will it now achieve what is required of the organisation so many people would like to see come back into existence? (and I am not talking CBN). It is not about ticking these KPI boxes (which are apparently confidential performance indicators), nor for BIS. Nor is it about creating jobs for the boys, but about creating a wealth of opportunities by finally bringing next generation networks into existence.

Many people have been supporting, FOR FREE, those who require this practical support, clearly identified in the Caio and DBR report, in lieu of CBN activity in the space.

There are so many who want to see the organisation(s) started and which many were involved in over the last 10 years, finally make an appearance as a sustainable body. INCA could be it, if it is permitted to be allowed to form without private agendas taking priority.

This is PUBLIC money. I think we deserve a public explanation, please.

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(Image copyright Lindsey Annison)
To try and bring together all those in the fibre sphere globally, today we started #fibrefriday on Twitter.

So, if you are involved in FTTH, anywhere in the world, add yourself to the list on Twitter by adding #fibrefriday to your Tweet. Then we can all share experiences, news, solve problems, and those of you with FTTH can brag about what you can do now that the rest of us haven't even heard of yet!

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Undersea fibre and national fibre taxes

Read more! Following on from the Pacific Fibre comment earlier, I thought I'd just bring this article about undersea fibre and cable laying to your attention again.

No, it doesn't relate to all of our problems with poles, ducts, taxes etc but for anyone wishing to get a grasp of some of the issues which surround fibre it is required reading.

BTW can anyone, in a country other than the UK, please offer some input about taxes on fibre in YOUR country? Do you charge a tax on fibre, lit or unlit? Has it been waived to encourage FTTH? Does the incumbent pay less than any other provider, as in UK?

We would really welcome some information from other countries. I have certain bits of info from various EU and non-EU countries, but it'd be great to put together a comrehensive post...

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Friday Fibre Factoids and Fings

Read more! moral fibre in uk for FTTH
Quick round up of the latest breaking news. Please add your contributions so everyone can catch up over the weekend.

1. OK, first had to be the announcement about Pacific Fibre's plans to bring new fibre across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia. Here we have an experienced group of entrepreneurs and businessmen (no woman in sight - I'll happily relocate if they need me to balance it out!) getting together to address an issue that is going to face many - next generation bandwidth.

As Oz and NZ governments push for FTTH, the backhaul available could increasingly become the bottleneck (very simple graphical explanation). There are other players who have trans-Pacific cables eg Southern Cross, who seem a tad upset. But that's the competitive market for you, and, of course, the boon of JFDI. Wish I had $900M to help them out or could own a few shares....How does this relate to the UK? Ahem, we have a bandwidth problem too!! We need forward thinking business people to come and take on the telcos, please.

2. This bandwidth problem also came up in "Bandwidth is the new black gold" (Time), which whilst written from a US point of view, should strike some hefty chords here in the UK about potential problems in our move to the next iteration of internet connectivity.

We are moving from bandwidth scarcity to abundance. This is quite a novel position in a way and it is going to be subject to market forces that could derail digital inclusion 2.0. (Assuming we get past digital inclusion 1.0). That is, commercial interests spotting a chance to make loadsadosh out of the abundance.

3. This week saw the National Digital Inclusion conference (I had to miss it, so I hope someone will put out some really good commentary on it, please link to it if you spot it). Many were lucky enough to follow both on #ndi10 and through video streaming. Ironic really that 99.9% of those who it should have been addressing or who could contribute online couldn't of course access it, even if they had wanted to.

4. Which apparently many don't want to, which is why we have Martha Lane-Fox running herself ragged to try to persuade the digitally reluctant, but only in towns because apparently rural areas don't have poor people, to get online. Is it really true she is unpaid? Is every major force for the online good female and unpaid? Gordon Brown, how can you sleep???

On the subject of females, let's mention Helen Milner, because although I think UK online centres (that is a classic example of one of their unusable webpages for a beginner - spot the typos, unusable links, appalling information architecture etc) are a bloody joke and worth less than Business Link - whose website, BTW, costs £35M a year to run, Helen is out there speaking out. Meanwhile, stand up every corporate, spending that much on your website, and show your ROI to your Board. Now, Business Link, show us the ROI please....your Board is the UK business populace and we are NOT happy.

4) This week also saw the Consumer Focus report - Broadband Minded which actually looked at why the digitally reluctant aren't getting online. It turns out it isn't about cost after all, as much as it is about 'fear'. Kudos for a great report that was quite eye-opening.

I think it probably comes as a shock to those in Westminster village that many of us do not have credit cards and are therefore excluded from all the good deals etc you are focusing on with the ad campaign. £150/yr saving means nothing if we can't actually access that deal, y'know? It came as a major shock to me that I have managed to bring my kids up beneath the poverty line when I checked the criteria for free laptops and broadband. Sadly, they are now too old as the government is at least 10 years behind on this initiative, but if you know anyone who might be eligible, please tell them. The chance of them even hearing about it is minimal because the campaign targeting is badly thought out.

I think the people I mix with have little idea what has gone into achieving all that has been done to date by many of us who can't even dream of the wage you take for granted, so it's payback time. Go and tell the single mum up the road what she could have for her sprogs. Please.

Meanwhile, where are the BBC in all of this? 5 minute slots at 5.55pm each day, showing the UK how to be internet savvy and overcome the fears. ITV came along and produced several programmes this week (which @cyberdoyle is going to provide links to....)

5) Meanwhile, I discovered and met Alex and having seen it first hand, I was impressed. It hits a specific demographic (non techie), and I for one know someone who is about to get an Alex computer for their birthday this month as it will stop the family tech support need instantly! Plus, I love the cloud aspect of it all. We never hear enough about this, but everywhere I go, bandwidth requirements are being reduced with localised clouds now. (separate blog post required, I guess)

Back to Alex and Digital Inclusion: Take 10 laptops (recycled from the public or private sector who throw them away willy nilly) into a community centre or hub, dish out Alex on a stick to each user, and all of a sudden, you have got people online. Really easily. However, it needs all political parties, councils etc to deal with the problem that community meeting places are vanishing in rural and urban areas, fast. We are losing pubs and village halls rapidly out here in the sticks, guys. Urban areas are losing funded IT centres too. Solve it.

Then, of course, there is the additional problem that most of us can't get broadband yet. Not just a few of us, but millions of us, and it's getting worse.

6) I came away from a meeting with Andy Hudson with something that has since become a minor obsession. According to Andy, references to the Web occur at least 6 times per hour on any BBC channel you watch or listen to. So far, he's right, in my experience on my trip home (car radio) and since (TV). How does that make someone feel who cannot get on the Net? How excluded, left out, exasperated etc does that leave you? I don't expect answers from the readers of this blog, but I am going out in the village this weekend to ask all those who I know are not online.

7) Right, this election hoohaa. The Conservatives launched their tech policy and I think many of us suffered the same kneejerk reactions to it.

a) First country to get 100MBPs to the majority of the country - have you lot not been into the EU recently, or been listening to those who have and who know the craik?!!! I've just got back from Portugal and the FTTH Council conference. I know that few people were listening last year when I said we weren't on the league table for connecting 1% of the nation, but believe me, we are a long, long way FURTHER behind many EU nations now and unlikely to catch up in a hurry. First? Bloody unlikely. Ed and Jeremy, you really need to get out more!

b) Once again, there is a brushing under the carpet of the Final Third. In this document, it has been reduced to a 1/10th, but let's face it, without a USO (not USC), meeting a 90% 100Meg target before any other nation is a big call without understanding the issues. Sadly, the Conservatives are making the same mistake as everyone. Listening only to those who claim to know how to do this, who have ££££s in their eyes, instead of the UK PLC good in their hearts.

8). In the run-up to the election, Malcolm Corbett, the interim Chair of INCA, who has apparently finally admitted a conflict of interest with CBN (the Community Broadband Network, publicly funded by Stephen Timms, DEFRA, Countryside Agency and others to support communities. MC is a Director and it is now a private consortium of consultants in case you didn't know), has regurgitated a manifesto. 10 months after a fibre manifesto appeared on this blog. Whilst I hold nothing personal against Malcolm, I wish he would share his own ideas occasionally.

9) Meanwhile, Virgin have upped the ante. They're going to try aerial FTTH. Hooray. Not that I can see Virgin coming over my rural hill in a hurry, but every bit of pressure is good. Let's be real though, this is really only in response to BT demanding access to Virgin ducts.

10) The Final Third First campaign continues to grow in momentum and supporters. All are welcome. The Final Third is by no means just rural. When I ran the first Notspot Survey, it became increasingly apparent that many of those unable to get any sort of connectivity were in places I had never imagined - central London, within a few miles of SEEDA HQ (the lead RDA for broadband), inside the M25 etc. That situation appears to have worsened as more people have got online.

Please support the campaign. It has come from a long history of campaigning over this issue, there are some amazing people and organisations involved already, and it really does represent you. If it had a fighting fund, it could be even better, so we are working on that now. With a few quid, it could do things that other organisations have persistently proven themselves unable to achieve.

And a huge thanks to Cyberdoyle for the Moral Fibre graphic. I would love to run a few days of discussion on "Moral Fibre" through this blog, please let me know if you would like to contribute. It can be anonymous, all views are welcome.

Add the news you have found below. Share information, discuss, debate, and have a good weekend!

UPDATE: I missed out the Risk Assessment for NGA Report from Analysys Mason. This should lead you here to the mapping tool and hopefully I will be finally released from my embargo on the raw data behind the A-M report when someone tells me the link to it.

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Tuesday 9 March 2010

The Three Little Pigs

Read more! Once upon a time there were three little pigs - FTTC, Docsis 3 and FTTH.

The first little piggy set off into the wide world of broadband and built himself a cabinet. He was pretty confident that he could do everything required from there but along came the mean old big bad wolf – the consumer - and blew all of his plans out the water with apps and services he had never even heard of. FTTC simply couldn't do what everyone needed to. He ran to his friends and told them he'd underestimated the consumer, I mean, the Big Bad Wolf. His cabinet plans were in tatters.

Out went Docsis 3, confident he could resolve the problems and he told everyone he was doing it over fibre optics. Now, this wasn't strictly true, but to hell with truth, this is telecoms. He tried to solve the problem but once again, along came the laws of physics and consumer demand over big fat pipes, and blew his hopes away. He ran to his friends and told them that he too had underestimated the consumer.

FTTH went out and said, “Right, lessons learned. I'm going to connect everyone to a fully articulated universal fibre network and let's see whether that solves the problems.” Lo and behold, the Big Bad Wolf never showed up. The consumer was far too busy being seen by their GP over an HD TV channel to worry about how FTTH had done it.

And the moral of the story is......;o)
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Dear JON letter?

Read more! Posted by Guy Jarvis: Interesting post from Adrian Wooster of CBN that leaves as many questions unanswered as it offers concerning the "JON" concept -

Comment posted as follows:


To summarise your thinking into a single sentence then -

Public Sector pays a per home VLAN (de facto partial cost underpinning of overall connectivity provision) and this encourages the market to build out Next generation Access networks?

The idea has merit, so long as the principles of the open market apply and that said Public Sector order is not simply bundled into a single national or regional package, otherwise that would have the unintended consequence of market distortion.

Quite how this relates to any need for the deliberate creation of a wholesale market for connectivity (beyond what is available already today in the UK) is unclear and I'm sure many of your readers will be interested to hear more details from you.

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Monday 8 March 2010

UK Govt can't see the wood for the trees

Read more! Just to illustrate this point, take two minutes and watch this video. How many times do the white team pass the ball between each other? When you have the answer, come back here.....

Right, how many times did the white team pass the ball between each other??

Post your answers below.

P.S. Please don't spoil the post. It's an illustration. Enjoy and play the game!

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FTTH - don't call it 'broadband'

Read more! Whilst I was in the States, I was told over and over again, "Don't call it 'broadband'- it's FTTH". The point being that what has been manipulated by telco marketing departments to be a meaningless nothing about speed, contention, services available etc (broadband) cannot hold a candle to what we are all aiming for.

I know there are 101 arguments for FiWi, or I would never have coined the term in the first place, but the reality is that what we are looking to do is not improve a struggling infrastructure incrementally, but go for a major step change instead.

I have just received two articles which bear reading on this matter. Dave Brunnen of Groupe Intellex has been playing with the concept that "This is not an upgrade". In "Comparatively Crazy", Dave explores why we need to stop looking at all of this with an olde school thinking cap on, and instead we need to get disruptive.

In the run-up to the election, we want to see brave politicans tackling the heart of the problem, not taking baby steps away from the old towards the new. In the first year of another new decade, we want to see progress with discarding 100 year old infrastructure and accepting that the time has come to stop allowing the copper cabals (as @cyberdoyle calls them) to run the show that is our lives and business on the Internet, digitally connected age.

If Internet access is deemed to be a human right as the BBC's recent global poll shows, then we need to consider how to ensure that this becomes reality. I personally would add to the question in the poll by saying that what is required is not access to the Internet per se, but access to a communications network which permits us to do many of the things which Dave Brunnen points out in his articles are now possible, plus access to all of the opportunities which are up and coming.
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Sunday 7 March 2010

Who needs super-fast broadband?

Read more! How fast should your next generation internet connection be?

It's a simple enough question. In the last year I've heard answers ranging from 2Mbps right up to 1Gbps. Many people, when not burdened by the economics, seem to be in the 100Mbps camp these days. Perhaps that's because it seems like 100Mbps will be enough for the foreseeable future, but will it?

What does history show us? In 1990 there was nothing much more than simple text flying around the internet that required little bandwidth. Back then, how many of us predicted the arrival of social media sites like FaceBook and Flickr, or the BBC iPlayer or NetFlix? Was the advent of broadband a necessity because of sites like YouTube, or was YouTube a response to the newly available bandwidth?

In 2001 I bought a 2GB hard drive for my computer. At the time it seemed like I'd never be able to fill it. Now I'm installing 2TB drives.

If there's one thing experience of computing and networks tells us, it's that you can never have enough capacity. What seems a lot now may be rendered inadequate sooner than we anticipate. You don't have to predict what's coming, just know that it will.

And something is.

NHK in Japan and British Sky Broadcasting in the UK are proposing an ultra-high definition video format that will deliver a resolution of 4000 lines compared to 1080 for HDTV. Currently it requires about 45Mbps to broadcast in 2D. If the broadcast industry is right this time and 3D is here to stay, that's be even more bits. Multiply that by the number of people in the house watching different programming at the same time. Then there's also the possibility of ultra-HD games running on-demand from the cloud. Suddenly 100Mbps doesn't sound like very much at all.

Broadcast standards take years to arrive in the marketplace. But they will arrive. The fibre we lay now will still be there when they do. Is it time to start talking about gigabit FTTH?

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Friday 5 March 2010

FTTH Handbook

Read more! Getting a bit confused about all the new developments? Trying to build a FTTH network for your village, hamlet, community, region, town, country and don't know where to start?

The Third Edition of the FTTH Council EU FTTH Guide should be your first port of call to gen up on all things FTTH.

There will be a short test on Monday. Have a good weekend!
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UK needs to shoot for the moon

Read more! Classic post about planning the future around gigabit networks, in which Lev Gonick refers to JFK's "We choose to go the Moon" speech in 1962.

With our proposed USC of 2Mbps (up to or at least, we don't know yet) instead of a Korean level USO of 1GBps by 2012, the taxing of NGA assets (wireless and fibre) instead of waiving the tax to get the infrastructure in place, a national failure to create a sustainable long-term plan and hence budget to deliver instead of a forward thinking plan to bring us into the game, are we by any chance trying to create a trip to the Moon with multiple re-fuelling stops en route, instead of aiming as high as we can?

Why are our aspirations so low in this country that no political party has yet come out and said, "Gigabit or Bust" as part of their electioneering? You would be roundly cheered if you did so! If this country is to be Great again, we must aim for the moon.
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Friday Fibre Odds n Ends

Read more! Great interview on Radio Lincs about VONGA, FTTH, fibre rates, the colloquium, and rural broadband generally, by Trefor Davies.

Every radio and TV station should have such regular techie snippets that explains all of this in plain English. Well done, Radio Lincs.

A business model for open FTTH networks is being prepared and there is a thread in the forum now for discussion on this matter.

Meanwhile, if anyone would care to buy me a present, I'd quite like one of these fibre frivolities to wear at the next colloquium!

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Fighting the Fibre Rates Issue

Read more! fibreoptics
Fibre rates (business taxes on fibre optics) have been identified as one of the causes for the connectivity problem in the UK. Trefor Davies of Timico has written an excellent post on the fibre rates inequity. Below is an email from Aidan Paul, CEO of Vtesse. If we are to solve this problem and advance new fibre lay in the UK, required for Next Generation Access, your support is required. Please complete the form at the bottom of the page to receive the documents referred to in the letter.

As you are aware, we have long been fighting for equal treatment with BT under the Business Rates system, under which up to last week we have been liable for between 20 and 40 times the rate we estimate that BT pays on its 11 million kilometres of fibre.

Whilst we lost our last case on a 2:1 split in the Court of Appeal[1], we are determined to continue, not least because of the strongly worded dissenting judgement from Lord Justice Sedley, reproduced below.

We have filed an application in the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the judgement, and we are now asking for your support in this. The appeal turns on whether the burden of proving discrimination should fall on us or on the tax authorities. It is particularly important that we demonstrate that this is of general public importance. Since there is no guarantee that our petition will be heard, the level of public interest is very important as it will be taken into account by the Court in deciding whether to hear our case.

Although the legal route has not yet directly produced the result in law we would seek, the process and our political lobbying with the wide support of others has:-

* strongly influenced Conservative policy,

* contributed to a Parliamentary Select Committee report highly critical of Rates[2] on fibre;

* and secured a substantial reduction in the so-called Tone, the rate applied to fibre, backdated to 2005.

This reduction was produced less than one month after the handing down of the Court of Appeal decision with its dissenting judgement. This is hardly a coincidence.

Many operators will have gained a windfall profit as a result of our, and others’, efforts on reform.

We are therefore asking for your support and for you to write a letter to the Supreme Court. There is a relatively brief procedural window within which the Court will accept these letters so please do so as quickly as possible. We have attached to this email [the docs are linked below this letter] the full address and references, and an indication of what we would expect such a letter to contain. It is important that you express this in your own words.

In rural areas, the tax burden is higher that in urban areas, as the fibre distances are longer, and revenues are lower, so equal treatment is particularly important.

To provide assistance, I have also attached two parts of our Supreme Court submission, the first of which is an overview of the case, and the second is our Grounds for Appeal.

In essence, our case is that having established evidence of discrimination, the VOA (assisted if necessary by Ofcom) should work out what the right level of tax should be that would not discriminate between BT and other operators. It has always been impossible for us to work out the right figure, because we do not have, and have been refused access to, the detailed information which would allow us to make an accurate calculation.

There are various procedural aspects to any letters of support, which we will handle for you. We ask, therefore, that you address the letter to the Court but send it to us and our solicitors as your agents for service will look after the procedures for serving it or copies of it on both the Supreme Court and the HMRC solicitors. Our address is Vtesse Networks Limited, John Tate Road, Hertford, Herts SG13 7DT, fax 01992 582100, or scanned and email above.

If you have any questions at all about this process, then don’t hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Aidan Paul

Lord Justice Sedley said:-
“It is now evident . . . that Vtesse has a tenable argument that, contrary to the VO's case and BT's claims, the 2008 Ofcom report shows that it is possible not only to disaggregate BT's rateable holdings but to assign a hypothetical rental value to their fibre-optic cables. If that can be done, there is arguably a gross disparity in BT's favour between the rateable value of its and Vtesse's cables.
. . . . By contrast, the injustice of allowing the continuance of what may be a radical inequity in the rating system will go unredressed by the proposed disposal.”

BIS Parliamentary Select Committee Chairman Peter Luff MP explained:
“Government intervention at this stage should concentrate on changing policies to encourage investment in the NGA market. Perhaps the best example of this is the business rating system which currently discriminates in favour of BT and against its competitors. We believe that the Government should consider a reduction, or even a temporary removal, of business rates on fibre optic cable. This would be a more effective use of limited public sector funds than direct financial intervention.”




By completing the form below you will receive three documents
The Case Background PDF 395K
The Grounds for Appeal PDF 601K
A Sample Letter to send to the Supreme Court DOC 26K

(Email privacy will be respected at all times and no email addresses will be shared. The only reason for using an autoresponder is because Blogger does not have an attachment facility.)

To receive the documents relating to the Supreme Court Appeal, please enter your email address below

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Thursday 4 March 2010

New national broadband campaign “The Final Third First” is launched today (Thursday 4 March).

Read more! The campaign - founded by a broad range of broadband organisations and champions of wider community interests - will lobby the Government to provide adequate and effective broadband access for the “Final Third” of the UK which currently lacks this vital infrastructure. The campaign will focus on ensuring that all those in the “Final Third” will be able to access Government online services by 2012 and then to facilitate the move towards next generation access.

Dr Charles Trotman of the CLA, who chaired the inaugural meeting, said: “The Government’s universal service commitment to provide broadband speeds of two megabits per second (Mbps) for all by 2012 will be hard to achieve. Those living in areas known as “the Final Third” still receive no proper access to broadband, putting them at a severe disadvantage. This campaign calls for faster action on the progress already made so that everyone can benefit from the Government’s increasing array of online services.”

Lloyd Felton, Director of County Broadband and founder of the rural communities self-help portal said:
"This will add significant weight to our efforts to connect Rural Communities, many of whom rightly claim to be more in need of better broadband than their urban counterparts".

Mike Kiely of said:
" No political party can be serious about transforming public service delivery unless the UK's high speed data transport infrastructure is available to all and capable of supporting key services predictably."

Aidan Paul, Chief Executive of Vtesse Networks and an active campaigner for the Final Third said
"Our own pilot projects (see are proving to us that with appropriate government attention to fibre rates and infrastructure sharing it would be possible to deliver super-fast broadband to the majority of final third residents and businesses. We welcome the additional focus that "The Final Third First" campaign will bring to the issue. One third of the population is a very large minority indeed and must not be forsaken by policy makers."

Christine Conder of Wray Community Communications (self funded Charity promoting the benefits of ICT to a rural community) said:
“Our best efforts are being undermined because the majority of the people around here can't get access to a decent broadband connection. We now represent and help well over 50 SMEs and over 500 homes and families who are struggling with dial up within a 12 mile radius of a city. Many are farmers and SMEs who need it for their business, and children who are getting detention because they can't download/upload homework. We fully support The Final Third First campaign.”

Guy Jarvis, Founder of NextGenUs UK CIC and CEO of FibreStream said:
“I am delighted to support the Final Third First campaign and believe that by focusing on this single political issue then those millions of our fellow citizens currently most Digitally Disadvantaged stand to reap the benefits of the coming 4th Utility, the eNdGAme of World-Class Digital FiWi Services. It is to be hoped that FTF campaign will also act as a driver for the Nation as a whole to swiftly attain and then maintain an enduring World leading telecommunications utility, fit for 21st century purpose, that puts people first.”

Glenn Peacey of Hampshire County Council said:
"Rural broadband is a key part of ensuring the long term economic and social viability of rural communities. Access to the internet enables rural communities to compete on an equal footing with urban centres, enabling smarter/flexible working from home which reduces the tendency towards dormitory villages, increases spending in local shops and pubs and reduces CO2 emissions and road congestion. High speed broadband also has a significant impact on social sustainability, not only does it enable residents to access leisure and media services which they would otherwise be excluded from or have to travel to consume, broadband also facilitates access to online education and learning resources which are so vital to today's school and university students."

Daniel Yates, Managing Director, says “Without adequate broadband provision, rural businesses can't market themselves and engage with customers effectively in the increasingly important online environment. With online booking rates running at over 30%, smaller businesses in remote locations - including many that are vital to fostering UK tourism - are disadvantaged against larger companies.”

Neil Blake for Ewelme Parish Council, Oxon said:
“Public sector websites now take good access for granted. Those responsible should revert to dial-up for a month and watch their children flounder for their course-work, their businesses stagger, and their VAT, tax, social services and DVLA transactions revert to Royal Mail. That is the issue not 50 miles from Westminster. E-government is a good policy but its deployment is socially flawed.”


Notes to Editors

1. The founding members of The Final Third First Campaign are: Country Land and Business Association, Digital Dales, Neil Blake (Ewelme Parish Council), Wray Community Communications,, Vtesse Networks, Rutland Telecom, Broadband Britain, County Broadband, Richard Hull (Chair 3-C Ltd and RATS Ltd), Bob Franklin (, Community Lincs.

2. If you wish to join the Final Third First campaign please contact Charles Trotman (

3. For further information, please contact Charles Trotman on 0207 460 7939

Fiberevolution are also involved through Digital Dales and would ask that everyone shares the information about this new organisation to ensure maximum coverage for such a vital campaign.
Read more!