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Sunday 31 October 2010

Another Friday night and I ain't got

Read more! no internet... Another big system failure, but it also says something about how the internet is viewed by the media
This blog post can be read at

On Friday night there was feeling of Deja Vu. Three weeks ago my internet slowed to walking pace, on Friday night it stopped altogether. It seems, that once again the fault lies with BT, a `node failure' was to blame. The number of people affected was reported by the BBC to be tens of thousands... elsewhere 1.2 million was quoted. The twitterati went for the higher figure and judging by the fact that the effects seemed to go wider than just BT's own domestic customers, I saw Plusnet given as an example, and I'm with Virgin, that higher number seems feasible.

Offering further comment on the fact that the whole episode was down to a failure (probably an equipment failure) at a BT exchange is probably superfluous.

What did strike me was how long it took the conventional media to report this story, and not realise the importance of it.

When my main internet supply failed, I plugged in my Orange dongle and went in search of references to the outage. There was nothing on any of the news websites, so I did what I would normally do in these circumstances.... I turned to Twitter, searched `outage' and slowly at first my suspicions were confirmed... and I have to say that I was relieved to find that it wasn't my wireless router which had blown up.

The first hint that the conventional media was across it was a tweet from the Guardian's Charles Arthur, saying that something seemed to be amiss and saying he would investigate.

As Mrs H pointed out to me, if everybody's internet had gone belly up, then they would have been prevented from reporting it on their websites, because those websites would have been `unupdateable'

Fair point, but there didn't seem to be anything on the broadcast media either.

Eventually a small story appeared on the BBC News website at about 2300, the outage had occurred about three hours earlier.

I have to say that it struck me that if the figure of 1.2 million users being left without the internet was correct then this is a much bigger story, but it did happen in Southern Scotland and Northern England, so it was a long way from London... Even if it was tens of thousands of people, rather than 1.2 million, that lower figure would have been newsworthy if it had been electricity which had been lost, so why not internet?
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Wednesday 27 October 2010

Essential reading on fibre tax in Scotland

Read more! Three cheers for Scotland. The Digital Scotland report puts in plain English (is that a misnomer?) the case for derating fibre and returning telecoms buildings to standard business rates, amongst other equally logical solutions which will lead to the right endgame.

This blog post can be read at

There are times when you really wonder why any of us do all of this. After all, there are a number of us who don't want to own, run or even have anything to do with networks - we just want fibre through our window frames!!

The ups and downs over the last 10-15 years have been particularly trying. However, there are days when you think there is a light at the end of the tunnel and today is one of them.

With many thanks to Pauline Rigby for the heads up that it might be worth reading, in detail, the Digital Scotland report, I have now found the three pages which have stuck a rainbow in my office for the day. pp 57-59.

For more detail, you can read this blog post on Computer Weekly.

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Tuesday 26 October 2010

Fibre tax and my licence fee

Read more! I've got a bee in my bonnet again. Sorry folks but I think this stinks.....
This blog post can be read at

Broken Telephone - Why are we pissing away £120M?
and also Is Govt robbing the BBC licence payers?

Would welcome a different viewpoint on all this, if there is one!
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Monday 25 October 2010

Big Bucks for Broadband

Read more! Rory Cellan-Jones thinking on the latest announcements
This blog post can be read at

Big Bucks for Broadband The latest blog from Rory Cellan Joanes
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Friday 22 October 2010

NOW I feel like cheering!!

Read more! All it took was a single meeting. (Two, actually!) Of community people who don't take shit (oops, sorry dad!) from Westminster......

This blog post can be read at

The communities who most need broadband are no longer willing to sit back and await solutions from London.

Three cheers for Cumbrians, and folks from North Yorkshire, who in the last 24 hours have turned this crap on its head.

Digging is about to commence in the first mile. People suddenly have realised what they need to do. There is going to be no waiting about for funding decisions.

Reality has struck that BT do not need to be involved, that every community can do its thing, and that all of this next gen stuff can belong to US and our next generations.

Am feeling quite upbeat......and hope that other communities around the country pick up on what is now going on here in the north......

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Wednesday 20 October 2010

Why I don't feel like cheering

Read more! I ought to be upbeat and positive but I have this growing, nagging feeling of doom after the Chancellor's (hardly unexpected) announcement....

This blog post can be read at

Part of me is over the moon that Cumbria is getting some money for next gen broadband. Because I feel that if anywhere could show the rest of the country how it should be done, it is here.

But, part of me has this gnawing feeling that it could all go completely pear-shaped. And is probably likely to, if past experiences are anything to go by.

Firstly, there are people already leaping on the bandwagon who haven't put anywhere near as many hours into thinking about how to solve the Cumbria problem as others. Educating those people, (some of whom think they know it all already, others don't have the time nor the inclination to listen) is going to be an uphill struggle. And may fail.

Secondly, it's now about money. This shouldn't be about money, it should be about the endgame - which is ensuring that citizens and businesses, wherever they live, get a future-proof service. But the vultures are now circling, and their endgame is different. Theirs is much more selfish than that, seeking 'a pot of gold', in their own words.

Thirdly, there is only one man with whom I am entirely in agreement about what should be done in Cumbria - Barry Forde. Every other proposal I have heard is (sorry, dad), bullshit. He should just be permitted to get on with it, just as he WASN'T with Project Access - which was an almighty waste of money and a right royal cock-up. He already has the full support of MANY communities, and soon will have many more. If we could elect him as the North West Minister for JFDI Broadband, he'd win any vote hands down.

Fourthly, there is enough will in Cumbria to deliver a project which is self-sustaining, which generates sufficient funds to be independent of any requirement for future 'grants' or subsidies, which can expand from the surplus it generates because it is run in a business-like manner by Cumbrians, and which proves once and for all that the £28BN figure is a number generated to satisfy the incumbent's desires, and not based on what others can deliver ubiquituous next gen FTTH for.

Will we learn from past mistakes here in Cumbria? Somehow, something inside me is refusing to accept that we will.

I am hoping that the coming months will prove that Cumbria and Cumbrians are capable of shooting the vultures out of the air; hearing the sane voices not just the loudest, greediest ones; of ensuring that this pot of money is well-spent and well-spent several times over, not just once; and that the end result is a MODEL for others to follow, not dismiss as a failure.

I'm also hoping that the lessons learnt during this project are openly and honestly shared. One of the biggest short-comings the grant funding 'crack' we have become addicted to has engendered is the need for projects to gloss over issues or problems, not seek help elsewhere in case word leaks out and it upsets the funders (future and present), causing others elsewhere to re-invent the wheel, unnecessarily.

I'm not sure why I am feeling so despondent. I think I have joined the leagues of cynics. Must be my age!

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Changing the culture in govt

Read more! Whilst cuts etc are understood, what is incomprehensible is the lack of joined up thinking in the civil service.....

This blog post can be read at

Here's an example. It took me 23 minutes on hold on the phone the other day whilst someone worked out how to email my council tax bill to me. Now that the council has worked out that their system can do this, it should be possible to save money by emailing everyone with an email address rather than posting envelopes which eat up trees and petrol in their delivery. Using existing software, citizens could update their own email address, and confirm receipt of their bill each year.

As a business person, you are constantly looking at ways to cut costs and increase profits. Any entrepreneur who received a suggestion that they could be saving money by emailing all their invoices rather than posting them would accept, consider and apply that way of increasing their profitability.

Suggest such a thing to the civil service and you are immediately threatening the envelope stuffer's job. The assumption being, surely, that a citizen's concern for spending public money is misplaced. However, what is misplaced is the assumption within the civil service that a) it is not our money and b) councils etc should not be run in a business-like manner.

Wastage needs to be knocked on the head and despite the cuts, we will still see wastage of public funds whilst the "thoughtless" culture continues within those organisations who spend our money.

This to me is what #BigSociety should be about. Each of us taking responsibility for the mess this country is in, in whatever capacity we are able to. Exactly the same as we should all be taking responsibility for cutting our electricity usage.
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BDUK announcement

Read more! So, the rumour mill was right that we should listen to the speech. The 4 areas have been announced - Cumbria, Hereford, North Yorkshire and Highlands and Islands.

This blog post can be read at

Here's hoping that we are going to not see a repeat of other fiascos with public dosh that tend to surround broadband in this country. It is time to turn the tables and make the digital divide one which shocks the urbans and telcos into action, not vice versa. (Although, I see that BT's plans are being forced forwards by all our noise at a speed they are unaccustomed to........BT to announce FTTP at £21.50/month from March 2011)

I repeat my call from the other day:

  • Any project should be 100+Mbps symmetrical

  • A model not a pilot (The technology is too mature to pretend it needs testing and the business case has been proven elsewhere)

  • Community-owned not a further monopoly (think community in a wider sense that just a few people in wellies)

  • Future-proofed

  • Small but effective - proving the case, not thinly spread jam

Fingers crossed we won't be disappointed....
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Tuesday 19 October 2010

Practical Get Online Week

Read more! It's all very well persuading people to get online, but it's not much good if that is a physical impossibility in their location. As ever, it is not the uber-funded who are out there JFDI!

This blog post can be read at

Once upon a time, we built a network in a matter of days - Wennet - with a SWAT team who came together to connect a notspot using funds destined to be spent on pointless and probably unread case studies. The story of that is in the book JFDI Community Broadband Wennington. (Note, please do not order from Amazon. You will never receive a copy).

However, once you get a few people online on a decent connection (that puts the incumbent to shame), others start to hassle to be connected too!

So, progress has continued. Connecting others in the vicinity, both with fibre and wireless.

Once again, there is another video of the practical work being done to bring broadband to deeply rural areas of the UK - more FiWi Pie from Lancashire.

And it's nice to add that Rory's Reivers contributed their travel money from the #rbc10 conference to buy these nanos. Far better use of the money than giving it to over-paid suits on expense accounts. So, one month to the day since the conference and two new links have been put in as an interim measure until fibre can be laid to bridge that gap. However, fibre backhaul may be arriving via a different route, and then these wireless bridges will be re-used to connect up the next two communities who are waiting patiently for any sort of connection.

See? FiWi Pie, we love it!

(Oh, and UK Online Centres.... these videos are exactly what you should be using to promote Get Online week. Tweet them and share them! We have got to work together. That includes those with wellies and no dosh, AND those with posh t-shirts, badges, flags, banners, balloons etc.)

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Monday 18 October 2010

I never thought I'd say this...but

Read more! Well done to the CLA
This blog post can be read at

The Country Land and Business Association, is actually one of the most active pressure groups when it comes to getting decent digital coverage into rural areas, and they seem to be the only mainstream organisation to have picked up on the flagrant shortcomings of the `Get online' week. This is a press-release which landed in my inbox earlier this afternoon.

Don’t forget rural-urban digital divide, says CLA

The CLA today (18 October) issued a reminder not to forget the rural-urban digital divide during Get Online Week.

The Association warned that businesses and communities in rural areas without an adequate broadband service continue to be digitally disadvantaged.

CLA Yorkshire Regional Director Dorothy Fairburn said: “One in five people in rural communities is still unable to connect to the internet effectively.

“Broadband access for firms in rural areas is essential for their businesses to grow. Without broadband it will become harder for rural business to compete effectively with their urban counterparts.”

Miss Fairburn added: “Internet service providers must help to close the rural-urban digital divide. Broadband is an essential tool to help UK businesses recover from the current economic crisis.”

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Simple acid test for BDUK

Read more! We have multiple examples from around the world now of costs for rural FTTH so....

This blog post can be read at

When BDUK get to choose which projects go forward, this should be a very simple way in these times of cuts and best value spending reviews to judge them:

On average, the maximum that rural FTTH to a property should cost is £1000. In the majority of cases it will be under £750.

Therefore, using my now infamous mathematical skills, £230Million divided by £1000 is 230,000 homes. Divided by £750, it is 306,667 homes.

If the proposed projects cannot GUARANTEE to connect up between 230k and 306k homes with FTTH, don't choose them! Or we will be wasting the digital dividend dosh - we only have it the once.

And don't get me started on how much further this digital dividend money would go if we took the VOA right out of the equation and waived all fibre tax / business rates on these projects. That is, as long as the choice of who will deliver these pilots is not made on who can come up with the fanciest tender bid (as possibly was the case in Cornwall?), in which case, we probably won't get any rural FTTH at all.
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Saturday 16 October 2010

Radio Lentil - Guy Jarvis from NextGenUs reflects on Rheged

Read more!
Guy Jarvis talks about some of the issues facing those who want to get fibre to the final third
This blog post can be read at


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Friday 15 October 2010

Showing some moral fibre in the UK

Read more! Few of us are willing to pretend that sweating the copper asset is good. Because it is only good for BT shareholders. And even that is now debatable. It certainly isn't an option if we want to take on the world. Right now, with the plans available from our incumbent, the UK would struggle to competitively take on anyone for FTTH by 2017.

Is that what we want as a nation?

This blog post can be read at

It really is time that people stood up to BT in this country and made inroads into the necessary infrastructure investment and deployment that is required to get us back on the road to innovation and implementation.

We can pretend that FTTC, Cornwall, Infinity, and multiple other farcical announcements are good for the country. Or we can JFD what is required. Luckily, there are many who believe that copper is only good for socks, kettles and bracelets, and who know that BT is not required to deliver any level of 21st century network deployment.

New non-BT exchanges are being built as I write, and it is time for every community to realise that you do not need, nor want, BT Infinity if you wish to get to a Chattanooga or Korean level of connectivity. Not just sooner rather than later, but AT ALL.

It is time to take BT out of the first mile entirely. There is a place in FiWi Pie for them, but as a wholesaler. Openretch has had its day.

We need to climb out of the box, and understand that the biggest 'drag' on this country's move into 21st century comms is the company we gave an ageing infrastructure to, and failed to apply functional separation to.

Luckily, we no longer need that ageing copper-based infrastructure, nor the companies around it, and each and every community can build its own community broadband network in this day and age, without requiring the incumbent's involvement. We don't need new quangos either - time to JFDI.

So, let's start.....

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Thursday 14 October 2010

Broken Telephone

Read more! It is with great pleasure that I can announce that I am now blogging for Computer Weekly on the Broken Telephone blog.

This blog post can be read at

It would be difficult to ignore the state of UK comms, so I am very pleased to have the opportunity to comment on some of the areas where problems can be found, and to discuss some of the solutions to the issues. Please follow me on Computer Weekly as well as here, and I am, as always, open to suggestions, comments, and (vigorous) debate!
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Tuesday 12 October 2010

Nice campaign to get the reluctant `online', but at least the line is on in the first place

Read more! A well intentioned article in the Guardian looks at the challenges faced in urban areas with those who are frightened of technology, but what about those who don't have the technology
This blog post can be read at

Making connections to get the country online
Sunderland is way ahead in the race to get even its hardest-to-reach residents online. Can other areas learn from its approach?

This article deals with a serious problem, namely that even when there are good internet connections some people are reluctant to use them. This is a very fair point, and if there was good internet connectivity in rural areas there would also be a fair proportion of people who would be terrified by the prospect of using the internet.

What is being described here though ignores the fact that there are vast tracts of our green and pleasant land where people don't even get the chance to be terrified of new technology. For many the problems being tackled in Bridlington and Sunderland would be welcomed with open arms in the depths of Cumbria and North Yorkshire. Perhaps Ms Lane-Fox should be invited to come and see the situation where the spirit is willing, but the connectivity is weak.

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Go Cataluña!!!

Read more! Some years ago, I spoke about rural broadband at a conference in Callus, near Manresa. In Spanish. Over the following days, I proceeded to try to learn Catalan, whilst speaking a bizarre mixture of Spanish, French, Italian, English and Catalan with my multi-lingual guides who showed me round the region. And then today, I read an article about Manresa and Callus....and cheered!!

This blog post can be read at

It is difficult to explain what happens on trips like this. This was the second conference where I had been asked to fly out and speak about broadband in Spanish. And then come home. (The other time was Santa Cruz in Bolivia where I refused point blank to come straight home after giving a 30 minute speech! But that is a whole other story).

I had passed through Cataluña many times before when living in Andalucia, but the trip to Manresa, Callus and then Girona, Figueres and Cadaques (Dali land) started a lifelong romance, I suspect. Not just the scenery but the people and the innovation. Plus the fact that the Catalans know how to stick two fingers up at Brussels (or Madrid) to get what their citizens need, not what some faceless bureaucrat thinks the box tickers require.

Callus had BIG plans. There was already a wifi network based from the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), but the alcalde (Mayor) took me under his wing - especially when we discovered Callus and Lindsey had both ropemaking and railways in common - and I heard more inspiring plans than I could possibly have expected from this man and his community. They went like this:

Fibre up the railway line, which used to transport the salt from Cardona Mines, turn the mine into a tourist attraction. Link in an industrial estate up the road, which would double up to create present and future employment for teenagers as website designers and multimedia whizzes. The kids would spend summer doing websites, etc for the businesses in the business park, and winter as ski instructors, learning a variety of people skills as well as video techniques for one on one ski lessons.

I recall there was a waiting list at the secondary school because parents were moving their families and businesses to be on the end of a fibre connection. Even I was tempted to go back to school! The tunnels on the railway line were no issue for wireless connectivity as they had trialled leaky coax and found it worked just fine. So, now I think of it, this was a classic example of FiWi.

Anyway, Callus has little in the way of accommodation, so I stayed in Manresa. And this is the point of the blog post. These guys have built an open access FTTH network, because the Generalitat de Cataluña have vision. And the first to come along is Orange with a triple play FTTH bundle that sort of defies belief.

For those who don't speak Spanish: 50Mbps symmetrical, all landline calls free, wifi router, HDTV decoder plus 60 channels (bear in mind they don't have Freeview), a mobile package, and the all important Barca or Real Madrid matches, for €44.95 a month. That's £40.

The technical details of the project in Viladecans show that there is a cost of €768,324 to pass 2358 homes and businesses. Which is €326 per HP (Homes Passed). No mention, obviously of any fibre tax as the Catalans aren't as moronic as our Government. They get IT and they know how to make IT happen.

The best bit was finding this article about Xarxa Oberta (Open Network). Yes! Callus has been included in the Digital Territory project and is getting its FTTH network. There are approx 1500-1600 people in Callus as I recall. Interesting that their Government sees that as viable (In fact, every urbanisation over 50 houses is getting at least Wimax) and ours hasn't got their heads round it yet. (Except in Cumbria, of course!)

Even so, I think I'll pack.....let's toss a coin...Chattanooga or Callus?!

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What's the link?

Read more! Quick quiz: what is the link between the following two items?

This blog post can be read at

My sitting room carpet which was here when I moved in the house

And this:

No need for answers on a postcard. It's simple.

The day both these items leave my house for good will be one of the happiest of my life.

Update: In response to MB94128

What that carpet hides!! One day, when we all have broadband and I can go back to work, I will have a beautiful recycled floorboard floor over all this cabling!

Cat 5 overkill! I don't actually have 24 devices to plug in, but maybe one day.....

Cat 5 subtly running up the doorframe to the attic where the meshbox for the neighbours is plugged in.

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Ofcom's WLA statement

Read more!
Ofcom has published a statement about the review of the Wholesale Local Access market.

This blog post can be read at

There is plenty to take in, but I'm just going to highlight a couple of points.

Firstly, because I know we have readers in Hull, you may find section 1.29 of some (galling) interest.

"However, we are not at this stage requiring KCOM to provide any specific access products, such as access to its duct and pole infrastructure. This reflects the continuing limited interest among CPs in competing in the Hull area."

There are others who are better placed to make comments about the (mis)perception that there is 'continuing limited interest'..... Hull City Council as representatives of the citizens and businesses, for one, may wish to step in here...

Secondly, access to BT's ducts and poles

"1.34 Further industry discussion is also needed on the details of the PIA products that BT should offer. The obligation requires BT to produce an initial RO for duct and pole access, describing the services to be made available, within just over three months from the publication of this statement. Significant OCP involvement will be needed, to take BT's proposal forward."

Just over three months from now includes a lengthy Christmas break for many. I'm sure the timing is not deliberate as all of us want to see BT put something useful together sooner rather than later. OCP's = Other Communication Providers, and for the very many planning to get on and build networks that will invariably compete with the incumbent, particularly in the Final Third, it is vital that we all seek involvement in helping BT to create the RO (Reference Offer) which is due by mid-January. (Para 1.23)

I sincerely hope that the initial RO will be a draft, and subjected to industry and community / consumer stakeholder scrutiny before Ofcom acceptance as the last attempt would have made OCP engagement with poles and ducts an almost impossibility. Not that we haven't investigated many of the ins and outs of putting in our own poles and ducts, but it would be preferable if those of us who are determined to make all this happen did not have to clutter the countryside with yet more poles ......;o)

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Monday 11 October 2010

Free Spot Cream for All

Read more! We the `pimpled' will rise up and free the citizenry from our Marr-sters
This blog post can be read at

Andrew Marr says bloggers are 'inadequate, pimpled and single'

There is something rather sweet about the smell of fear amongst the establishment, not just in the morning, but at any time of day.

I remember, when I first started out as a journalist there was a huge degree of prejudice against anybody who had not spent years being scarred at the coal-face of the newspaper newsroom, abused by the fearsome (often Scottish) benevolent tyrants who ran their newsrooms with a rod of iron.

I was fortunate to learn what I do from a slightly different angle, in radio learning the technical and creative side of the art first, and the editorial in time. It helped my career that many of those who came into radio from the local newspapers had little clue about the technicalities of how the equipment worked, a situation which was made even more interesting by the migration from the world of quarter inch magnetic tape, to a world where ones and zeros are lovingly re-arranged into beautiful sound.

In recent times the younger generation has actually found this adaption to new technology much easier as it is remarkably similar to the software that they use to do their DJ mixes. What has been an irritating constant throughout my career is the way that Oxbridge graduates were fast-tracked through the system. This was largely because those in charge came from the same background, as with any organisatioin with its routes in the establishment, and modelled very much on the civil service.

The same technology which has allowed people to make their own DJ mixes has also allowed them to speak out and have a voice. What Andrew Marr is complaining about is not that single people with spots are speaking out, I think... But at the heart of his fears is a worry that the establishment is losing its ability to control the flow of opinions.

Yes, sometimes there is more heat than light shed, but in fora like this one, the people who are writing often have more light than most to shed on what is happening, or rather not happening. What establishment figures like Andrew Marr fear more than anything else is that they become irrelevant.

The Sunday morning AM programme may be seen as being a flagship for journalism, but in the trade it is what is known as `a clip machine'. Sunday is a quiet day for news, and the main job of the AM programme is to provide fodder for the bulletins later in the day. It's a kind of mutually beneficial relationship. Political parties target their weekend messages in interviews for The Andrew Marr Show, the show gladly gives them airtime because it gives the show Kudos when it credited on screen in bulletins later in the day.

The important thing about blogs like this one, is not that they allow ranters to sound off, but they give a space for discussions about topics, like rural broadband, which the mainstream media often find boring, believe me I've lost count of the times that I've had suggestions for stories about Broadband/fibre in the countryside knocked back by programme editors who said that listeners wouldn't be interested.

I once fought bitterly to get a piece on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours about the difficulties facing rural communities over internet access. Grudgingly the editor agreed to run it. That story got the biggest listener response of that week. I think at the heart of what Andrew Marr is saying is that only the people of his background have the right to set the agenda. That is becoming less and less tenable as access to the dissemination of information and opinion broadens.

Oh....and I am neither single, nor have spots.
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BT takes IDNet down

Read more! No-one else seems to have reported it, so I will. Last night, just before 8pm, IDnet, which serves a considerable number of homes and businesses around the country, went kerflump.

This blog post can be read at

Last night, after trying several different routers, I for one was damned glad to have an ISP who answer their phone at 10pm on a Sunday eve. "Yep, we're all down. It's something to do with BT Central, and no time is yet being given for restoration of services." So, early night then as unable to work. (Oh yes, that'll be because the mobile coverage in this rural area isn't sufficient to make mobile broadband an option, and there is no 3G here, whatever the coverage maps say, nor is it possible to have a second broadband line to the office as...yep, you've guessed it, no spare lines in the village!).

This morning, the system is back up and working and the idnet network status messages read as follows:

"2010-10-10 20:21: Both our Primary and Backup Broadband links into BT are currently down. BT are aware of the failure and are investigating. We do not as yet have a time estimate from them for a fix. We will provide an update as soon as we get one."

"2010-10-11 01:46: Service has now been restored. We are demanding a full explanation from BT.
2010-10-10 23:59: BT confirm both circuits tested OK. They are now diagnosing their internal network routing.
2010-10-10 22:18: BT now have engineers onsite in the Exchange diagnosing the problem."

But better is yet to come.

"2010-10-11 08:10: BT have admitted that someone removed the configuration for our circuits yesterday. We and (sic) demanded that they investigate why this happened, what safeguards will now be put in place to ensure that it can't happen again and why it took them so long to resolve the issue."

idnet downtime, BT fail

I don't know exactly how many customers idnet serve, but if it hadn't been a Sunday night, no doubt there would be others reporting the outage, including Govt agencies looking at that link above.

I look forward to the explanation from BT. And it clearly highlights how no country should rely on a private company that could prove to be the single point of failure.
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An every day tale of farming folk.

Read more! An important video
This blog post can be read at

Why digital technology is important to me. And my family. And my farm.

This video has been made for Sheffield Docfest Digital Revolutions to highlight how technology has changed a farmer's wife's life. Watch, enjoy, comment, tweet, and share!!

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Saturday 9 October 2010

East Coast Wi-fi Fail

Read more! Oh dear, as I feared... The improved service isn't improved very much, and now we have to pay for it.
This blog post can be read at

As I mentioned on an earlier blog posting East Coast Trains are about to introduce, and indeed have introduced charging for their on-board wi-fi.

I'm sitting on board one of their stationary trains and I've just had a go with their new 3G/HSPA chargeable wi-fi and it's not very good. It's marginally quicker than what went before, but there aren't many people on board, so pretty low contention ratio.

I'm now using my 3G dongle which is much better. Would I pay £4.95 for an hour's use? Er, no when I can get something much better for £5 a month.

I suppose the bottom line is `How many people will pay?' given that many nowadays have 3G dongles and a lot can be done with a Blackberry or i-Phone.

It'll be interesting to see how long before it's switched off.
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Thursday 7 October 2010

Into Africa

Read more! This will be an interesting one to watch
This blog post can be read at

This could provide evidence of the economic benefits of a good fbre connection
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1 week reminder for call to papers for FTTH Council

Read more! If you haven't been already to a FTTH Council conference, make 2011 the year that you do. And if you haven't submitted a paper yet, remind yourself you have just one week-ish until 15th.

This blog post can be read at

This will be my 4th FTTH Council conference (first was Amsterdam and I still have my torch!), and I know that it is now beginning to get very embarrassing about the lack of delegates, let alone speakers, from the UK. Many others will support me in saying that it is time we Brits got ourselves to this conference to learn from the very valuable information that is propagated at this event. Not just from the stage, but the networking is also truly astounding.

I might submit a paper "Why the UK is sooooooooo far behind all of you in Europe and ROW"....wotcha think?!

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Wednesday 6 October 2010

Satellite broadband in the final third

Read more! Ended up "helping out" (also known as passing on a message!) a far flung neighbour who has a satellite connection from BeyonDSL today. We have some pretty inclement weather up here in Cumbria, and recently we have had some seriously heavy rainfall and winds....

This blog post can be read at

The satellite connection stopped working yesterday, which is rare, even with our weather. I'm not a satellite tech support service and would never claim to be so, and sent a text message to Mike Locke, the MD of BeyonDSL to report the problem on their behalf. The BeyonDSL service was used to supply backhaul to Rheged for Rory's Broadband Conference so I finally met Mike there at the colloquium. (Aside: how come one of Cumbria's major conference centres and visitor attractions, within spitting distance of the fibre up the M6, didn't have a decent connection until BeyonDSL stepped in?)

Anyway, the MD rang the farmer, who belayed the mesage to his own techie, Terry, up the road (who shares the connection through a wireless link which had to be set up to go under the Settle-Carlisle railway bridge between them!), and using the diagnostics tools, they found a break in the cable where it comes out of the farmhouse. I hesitate to add that I know this satellite cable runs into a high turret on this 15th century farmhouse, so I dread to think where Terry was, but you can imagine the cable has taken some gyp high up on that exposed wall.

Before the break showing a really marginal signal of 8.5dB

satellite connection before repair

satellite connectivity after repair

and then Terry fixed the cable and the second photo shows after the break - an excellent signal of between 11 and 12dB

The points being that:

1) This hamlet doesn't have sufficient phone lines into it for the number of houses and BT seem reluctant to provide more without someone parting with the odd arm and leg and three, and no mobile coverage to speak of for most networks. So, satellite is a TODAY solution, wherever you are.

Yes, there may be some issues like latency, caused by the fact that the satellite is roaming around the earth at a height of about 20,000km, but for many users a satellite connection means you can do the internet basics such as email, watch iplayer, surf, make a VoIP call etc. You can't game if it's about split second timing, but some of us would lose the battle whatever connection we were on!

2) You can't beat a problem being sorted out this quickly and at no cost, apart from a phone call and the Big Society approach to getting, and keeping, everyone connected.

If you haven't considered satellite, then take a look at the packages for BeyonDsl - they do work out at the same as a mid-range ADSL connection (cheaper than mine but I wouldn't swap my provider for the world - SWBB - especially not for some dreadful customer service which many other ISP users report, regularly). And for all those organising conferences espousing satellite as part of the solution for the USC, don't forget that BeyonDSL provide conference backhaul at very short notice as well as being good speakers!

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The energy and thinking behind the paradigm shift

Read more! Graham Small of AFL Fujikura has contributed after he 'let slip' that AFL Fujikura were involved in the Chattanooga smart grid.

This blog post can be read at

Unless you have been off-planet, you will know by now that Chattanooga in Tennessee launched a 1Gbps network on 13th Sept to residents and businesses. It has been a collaboration between the electricity company, the community and a global fibre company. It shines the light for every other country, region and community to follow.

Graham writes:

When the utility companies get together with high tech fibre companies then real paradigm shifts can occur….

We have a huge communications and utilities infrastructure in the UK that reaches just about everyone in our nation. Every utility we have provides some means of delivering an optical fibre into someone’s home. Some are tried and tested – a physical drop into a customers premises via duct or aerial means, via the water system (mains or waste) or via the mains gas (optical fibres are inert, non-radiating or likely to produce sparks). The associated trunk infrastructure provides the ideal highway for core and backhaul if we have the wit but to utilize it. BT isn’t the network – there are alternatives!

Once every home has an optical fibre then the possibilities are endless. From the utilities perspective this is an ideal medium for “smart metering” and a huge cost saving in sending a ‘man in a van’ to every household to check the gas, electricity or water meter. We already have bundling of gas, electricity and telephony through utility providers so why not the fourth utility? Indeed, do we even need computers to enable the internet? Cloud computing suggests that we don’t necessarily need our clunky old PC to do everything we want to do “on line”; how about “Smart TV” that provides a fully integrated communications platform offering Telepresence and truly Unified Communications?

This is the dawn of the age of the Stupid Network. Fibre is the conduit that can provide the catalyst for a new age. Think Caxton’s printing press through to the age of manned space flight. We are at the start of another exponential growth spurt breaking down barriers between people, communities and countries; between the voters and their Governments; between health professionals and their patients; between entertainers and the entertained.

OK people, let’s get smart - the view that connecting people to the internet is all about Facebook and Foxy Bingo is dead wrong. It is the catalyst for social evolution and a template for building an Arthur C Clarkian utopia. The industrial revolution was a catalyst for major social change, fuelling the brawn drain from rural communities to the “dark satanic mills”. The communications revolution will fuel a mass migration back, mitigating the need for mass conurbations and providing opportunity for our talented youth to develop 21st century businesses based on 21st century technology.

It takes a BIG Government to enable a truly BIG Society if it can appreciate the BIG picture!

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Radio Lentil - Lloyd Felton

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The Rural Broadband Partnership does what its name says on the tin!
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RBP was founded by Lloyd Felton, who is Director of County Broadband and is now supported by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Country Land and Business Assocation and many other regional organisations.

The website offers all communities and parishes who are planning a community broadband network, or who already have one in place, the chance to join with others. The map clearly shows how many communities are getting on with providing high speed broadband, and not all are rural. There are quite a few missing though so if you know of a project, add their details or encourage them to add themselves to the community broadband map.

RBP has presented parishes and communities with the ideal resource for accelerating deployment of next generation access, both to rural and urban areas. As it moves into its next stage of development, with growing support from a wide range of organisations, RBP will be bringing together the information required for any Parish to self-organise to bring NGA to its community. The Final Third First campaign highlights what an enormous issue the potential market failure could prove for this country - both economically and socially.


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Radio Lentil - Miles Mandelson

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Great Asby Broadband, a small village broadband network in Eden, Cumbria, is a prime example of community JFDI. Miles Mandelson is the Chairman.

This blog post can be read at

Miles is responsible for producing the Parish Guide to NGA which is essential reading for any Parish Council.

Great Asby has received RDPE funding to both extend its network and increase the backhaul capacity, so exciting times lie ahead! Mark Holdstock interviewed Miles for Radio Lentil-Miles Mandelson Part 1


Miles Mandelson - Part 2


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`Big Society' hits stormy waters?

Read more! Could The Big Society face problems over its credibility, in the same way that the famous Labour idea of The Big Conversation did?.
This blog post can be read at

There are a lot of hopes pinned on The Big Society being at the heart of the provision of fibre to Notspots, by the people in those Notspots, but this article in the Guardian sounds a warning note about the concept. One of the biggest challenges facing politicians is tapping into The Zeitgeist, tuning yourself into the way that the majority of people are feeling.

As the article above shows, there are signs that The Big Society could be seen by some as another part of the cuts armoury. The Zeitgeist could turn against it.

Whilst those involved in the Fibrevolution know it is something very different, a means for achieving the aims of dragging the country, and the countryside's internet provision into the 21st Century, we must be alert to the fact that if it becomes politically inconvenient to the government, or used as a symbol of the unpopularity of the cuts, it could be dropped quite rapidly.

I suppose that what I'm saying is that there should be a Plan B, just in case. Perhaps focussing on the removal of obstacles to communities putting in their own fibre networks, something which can be de-coupled from the Big Society if necessary, but still achieve some very useful things . The removal of obstacles is far less politically vulnerable, as it isn't directly associated with the cuts

Lots of shouting at one public meeting may not spell the end for the concept, but it could cause problems further down the line, especially if it is widely picked up by opponents of the spending cuts, and at the moment feelings are very fragile amongst many people who may have voted for the government. Watch the Zeitgeist very carefully.
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Tuesday 5 October 2010

Infinity and Beyond

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For those of you who don't use Twitter....big up to Ali @fit_to_print for this tweet!!

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Care to respond, BT?!

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Race to Infinity?

Read more! Don't make me bloody laugh. An infinitely long wait for anything approaching what other countries have is what the latest BT marketing campaign will achieve for most.

This blog post can be read at

Seen all this before. Look what the trigger levels did for huge swathes of the country? Kept us tied into a private company's infinitely slow roll-out of 'true broadband'. In fact, we still aren't there yet as few have a symmetrical connection, which is what is required to use the Net, services and applications.

I refuse point blank to link to the website promoting this farce. Anyone who registers on it instead of investigating the options for DIY FTTH is permitting a private company to lead this country into yet more years of broadband darkness. This type of data harvesting in private will lead many investors to hesitate to put money into a badly needed utility instead of JFDI.

Personally, I think that what is required is a concerted campaign to either
a) pull this website immediately OR take it from BT's greedy little paws and put it in the hands of an independent group who have the well-being of the nation not shareholders at heart

or b) insist that all data is made open access for all (exactly as any FTTH network should be) immediately the competition ends. After all, if these people want better broadband, they won't mind being contacted by EVERY COMPANY willing to get on and do it in their area, will they? It's called CHOICE. It's called a COMPETITIVE MARKET. And it's what every consumer in this country should have a right to.

In addition, what should be put on that site are links to every bit of news and information about FTTH that BT can lay its hands on to ensure that any website visitor is given full and unbiased knowledge about just what is feasible in this day and age without BT needing subsidies from the public purse. BT are gathering data from every single exchange in order to justify doing 5, which won't even be in the Final Third, which would have made the most sense to show the level of demand in rural areas and the true commercial viability of such exchanges.

AND there ought to a clearly laid out promise that BT will do ubiquitous FTTH, and not FTTC or BET, to any exchange area that it decides is viable from a 75% trigger.

Watch 2012 be the year that BT makes approaches to every regional source of funding declaring certain exchanges are not viable....

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Monday 4 October 2010

Interesting articles in the papers

Read more! The troops are being lined up against LTE, and BT strives to show how much it really cares. I love the smell of fear in the morning.
This blog post can be read at

There's an interesting couple of little snippets in the papers this morning firstly in the Independent, there's the dire warning that `New generation mobile phones will ruin cable TV signals' and then on the BBC website that `BT competition seeks out UK's next fibre hotspots'

What is interesting about these two stories is that they give a strong sense of the dinosaurs shaking their fists (or whatever these early reptiles shook) at the asteroids hurtling towards the earth, which would eventually wipe them out.

The cable companies have a lot to lose from LTE, because it could deliver exactly the same sort of content, but at the same time be portable. The scenario is that with one account, and one piece of kit you could get all the internet you need, and when you go on a camping holiday holiday you just take your phone, and the associated wireless router with you, and it's laptop heaven for the kids who can surf their evil social networking sites till the cows come home, or perhaps trample the tent.

The other story is interesting because it gives an insight into the mind of BT. There will be some people in the organisation who will see some of the broadband/Fttc/Ftth projects which have been set up by local community interest companies, which in effect largely exclude BT. Newton Upon Rawcliffe is a prime example, where people have in effect by-passed BT to get a reasonable speed of Broadband.

When you get up to 5/10Mbps you don't actually need a phone, Skype and similar packages become just as convenient. The fear in BT is that if they don't act soon some reasonably sized communities could simply by-pass them, and be lost for good.

LTE may not be the ideal solution where Ftth is the Holy Grail, but it might bring some comfort to rural areas when it becomes available. It could offer possibilities if it is rolled out alongside the main motorway and rail networks.

The closest comparisons to the chill that the conventional providers may be feeling is telephones in hotels. Remember when making a phone call from your hotel room cost upwards of a pound a minute, well does anybody actually use hotel telephones now, since the arrival of mobile phones?

The warning is stark to the established industry, provide or die.

There are parallels with mobile phone coverage. When I first moved to Teesdale sixteen years ago the only network with any kind of coverage was Orange. I changed to Orange, and most of the people around me signed up too. Now Orange is the dominant network, because even though others have improved their coverage Orange got there first and like banks, most people are reluctant to change.....

There is a lesson here for the established internet telecommunications industry.

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Saturday 2 October 2010

Comments on Cornwall

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It seems that the latest (supposedly) super-fast broadband tender has caused a huge furore. If you want to comment (named or anonymously) come and have your say, and join the throng. Are you a resident of Cornwall? How do you feel about the process and result? Are you a supplier in the South West? Are you a business in the Digital Peninsula? Were you involved in the tender process? Come and have your say on 5tth....

This blog post can be read at

Oh, next week should be fun! I am trying to get hold of Kevin Lavery (ex-BT and now CEO of Cornwall Council - interestingly, or oddly, based in York according to LinkedIn).

If you have a question you would like to put to him, please add to the comments - you can post anonymously. This is not going to go away I said previously....other areas, beware.
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New Media (isn't) in Eden, Cumbria

Read more! "Mum, can you post me a copy of the Herald?" (our local paper) "I can't find out what is going on at home at all".

This blog post can be read at

So I did. And then I googled our area, as did John Popham after his recent Big Society visit to Eden.

Sproglet is right. There's little to tell her online about what is going on up here, and the local newspaper site is pretty awful. Worse, the lesser-known Eden Messenger still doesn't know there has been a broadband conference here that everyone is talking about! (Until they catch up, I refuse to link to them).

So, hell, let's have our say:

Dear Sir/Madam and everyone involved in the Herald

Once again, we have just witnessed an exodus of our youngsters to colleges, universities and new jobs outside of Cumbria. The debates about why this is necessary could continue long into the winter months and beyond.

What is telling is that they want to keep in touch with 'home'. The cwherald website fails utterly to allow them to do that. How many times do I need to send a copy of the Herald (by post) to Wales and West Yorkshire to my offsprung, whilst other counties manage to update their websites, run Facebook pages, set up Twitter accounts for breaking news etc? I don't want to use up scarce environmental resources just to send a paper version of the local news. It seems wrong.

Many of us understand the economics of new media and we struggle to understand the Heralds' failure to keep up with the requirements of today's audience. Three stories from each edition on the website plus a couple of letters is never going to encourage anyone to purchase the paper edition. All you are doing is forcing potential purchasers away from your paper to online, live, dynamically generated news publications, such as those produced automatically through

I hope those in charge of the Herald will accept that the next generation of readers are out there, using the next generation of applications and services to stay in touch with home. iPhone apps, Twitter, and Facebook pages are how these youngsters (and oldies) want to access our local news. Please, catch up, or your sales will only drop, and others will step into the breach by providing up to date, online, Cumbrian news.


I'm not holding my breath. I suspect the Herald is run by a bunch of people who, like many others in the 'industry', believe we are all going to tire of our new-fangled phones and computers, and go back to buying recycled paper......
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Friday 1 October 2010

Off the dial, in the Notspots, the only source of culture could be the fridge

Read more! For the tech savvy the new cultural revolution is here, but if you've got a crap connection you'll be left behind.

This blog post can be read at

I sit here on a Friday night listening to an album which is rather delightfully entitled `Swallow This Turd'. It is a sampler album of American `Popular Beat Combos' signed to the Tic Tac Totally label, which has been heavily featured by the excellent Tom Ravenscroft (the son of the late John Peel) on his BBC 6 Music show.

This is where I am so thankful not to be in a Notspot. Being an anorak I consume my media in a very different way to how the broadcasters, and indeed the music industry intended. For instance the original radio programme which featured the album was recorded onto my computer from the BBC i-Player, strictly speaking a bit naughty, but essentially it's no different from taping it. Infact I used to have a DAB radio (since deceased) which would record DAB direct onto an SD card as MP2 files and those could be converted to MP3 in i-tunes and put on my i-pod, which is then plugged into the USB socket on my car stereo.

In essence I can record programmes, some very good programmes which are broadcast late at night, and then listen to them at a time of my choosing. Radio 3's outstanding Late junction programme has on occasions been my breakfast time listening.

To be able to do this, from the i-player I need to have at least 2mbps, otherwise it buffers, and pauses every couple of minutes. To get at this free download, which is actually rather good, I had to download a 135Mb zip file... On my connection it took about 20 Mins, which is quite bearable. My laptop is female and it can multi-task, although waking up in the morning is more of challenge.

I can also download podcasts, videos, and other AV stuff where I access more of my culture these days than TV.

The simple message is that the delivery of culture is becoming more and more dependent on digital connections. Without a good connection people are missing out, and potentially the arts are suffering.

In part the BBC has to be aware of the fact that there are a lot of people who can't `listen again' or use the i-player, and pressure has to be put on the corporation to, in turn to put pressure on the DCMS to ensure that everybody who pays the licence fee has the ability to access the content, and at the same time on-line campaigners should take the opportunity to get the arts onside. Many bands make it via Myspace and other on-line music sites. And a lot of music is also sold on-line

I'm only listening to this lively little sampler LP because I can get 2Mbps, in the past it wouldn't have stood a chance.

If the title `Swallow This Turd' provokes your curiosity it's here type in a valid e-mail address and it will send you a link to the download.
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