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Friday 29 July 2011

Diary of an FTTC Install

Read more! Here you go.... this is what happens when your area gets upgraded by BT for FTTC and you order a connection on a new line....

This blog post can be read at

Diary of an FTTC install. Many thanks to a highly respected reader of this blog for sharing.

I am going to do a post shortly about the BT FTTC cabs so if anyone has any photos or info on them they would care to share, I'd be glad to hear from you. Or you can just comment on the post when I slag BT off, which with the info I currently have it is going to prove very difficult not to.

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Thursday 28 July 2011

Competition: What would you do with time on your hands?

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Ok then, let's have some real world experimentation for this first competition sponsored by Geo .....

This blog post can be read at

The increasingly boring arguments about why on earth you would need more bandwidth than is available (to some) right now got me thinking. If I could download/upload the large files I need to for work (let alone the ones my kids would like to be able to for entertainment) far faster than today, what would I do with the time that could free up? After all, driving 60 miles to deliver a CD with a few fat files on is getting rather tedious, as well as expensive in fuel at £1.45 a litre.

So, I thought I'd try downloading a gig of data and see how long it actually took. The process is still ongoing as I write this.... Then, I wondered how long it took other people to do, which is where you all come in!

The link below is to a 1 GB file for you to download, and I'm asking that you time that download and post how long it took you. Bear in mind that 1GB of data is not actually a great deal when you consider that most memory cards and dongles are far bigger than that nowadays. I have never bothered trying to download a movie as it is too tedious a process currently (and don't tell me to do it overnight as that's when I work, as you all know), but at a guess this is approximately what a film is.

Here's a stopwatch for you to time it so post your long did it take you?

Obviously, the purists would say that you shouldn't do anything else whilst trying to download it to give a proper indication of how long it takes to download a gig, but that's not how the real world or most people's computer use functions, is it? Oh, and if you go over your download limit for the month, don't blame me!

Now, I have some prizes here for the best answer in the first of two competitions we are running, very kindly sponsored by Geo.

The quiz question is this: if you had a faster connection eg 1Gbps so this file would take a remarkably short time to download, what would you do with the time freed up by having a mega connection?

The best answer will win some ace Geo goodies, including the Geo Rubik Cube which I am now very fond of and don't even vaguely want to part with! Get downloading and thinking up your answer.

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Chattanooga gets IT - shows UK up.

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As some of you may know, I have been evangelising what is going on in Chattanooga for rather a long time - years rather than months. And it's not just me who gets the train analogy. Yesterday evening, in case you missed it, Jim Ingraham of EPB in Chattanooga was interviewed on Gigabit Nation's inaugural broadcast for all to hear precisely why people like myself believe that a smart grid Chattanooga/LUS Fibre/joined up solution is the way forward. And will always be infinitely better than half-assed solutions such as FTTC or the unproven/disproven ideas of far too many of those who appear to end up as bidders in the procurement process.

This blog post can be read at

All I can say is that if you cannot afford the time to listen to this interview, you should abscond yourself from any responsibility for or opinions about what Digital Britain needs.

Thank you, once again, to all those I met in the USA last year for being leading lights for FTTH.

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Wednesday 27 July 2011

Ofcom broadband speed tests

Read more! Once again, we have an Ofcom report about broadband speeds to peruse.

This blog post can be read at

Samknows has run tests in 1767 homes to create the data upon which this report is based. I know that when the original data set and map was published a couple of years ago, I queried the lack of properties whose lines were being tested in rural areas. This resulted in us being sent the grand total of 5 routers to scatter around the countryside, presumably to balance it out and shut up the rural contingent. Hohum.

It would be good to see the geographic locations of the test sites to grasp whether or not this is (still) a skewed picture of UK broadband speeds by being heavily reliant on urban and short lines.

For instance, if we were to place a similar number of routers into mainly rural homes, and ran 455million performance tests, in particular from 4pm -6pm when the kids come home from school and not from 8-10pm when they should be tucked up in bed, what effect would that have on these results?

It does not take a genius to work out that the national picture would most likely be nowhere near as rosy as this report makes out. Terms such as 'surge', 'boost, and 'superfast' are somewhat misleading to say the least but no doubt the journos will make out all is well in the press over the coming days.....

There has seemingly been a 10% rise in average download speeds from 6Mbps to 6.6Mbps, which should I guess be applauded, even if the symmetry is still missing for upload. The difference between advertised and actual speeds remains alarmingly high. Especially for uninformed consumers who believe what the ads say, and have no way of knowing otherwise until an order is placed and a connection is made. Or not, as the case too frequently is.

The report appears to suffer from creative mathematics, which is never good, except perhaps for those who find that copying and pasting the report without applying even minimal logic makes for good copy. Viz

Superfast broadband services are now available to more than half of UK homes as rollout continues.

Today’s research found that superfast services offer significantly faster speeds than copper ADSL broadband

However, over 75 per cent of UK residential broadband connections are currently delivered by copper ADSL telephone lines.

Superfast >50% homes. Superfast does not equal ADSL. ADSL >75% homes. Spot the problem?!

And as for this sentence:

Download speed is the main performance measure by which broadband services are advertised and is the most important single measure in determining broadband performance.

It leaves me completely speechless. The regulator is really saying this???

At least 25% of those on ADSL are on 4Mbps or below according to this report, although one would suspect that this is a finger in the air figure as BT etc still seem to believe that the so-called commercial sensitivity of line data should come before national interest. That Final Third is supposed to be being addressed by BDUK and local authorities, but there seems to be a distinct lack of vision in doing so even with the plethora of experts this country has available to discuss the topic at the never-ending round of 'talking head' conferences. However, time will tell whether local authorities etc can turn it around and apply common sense (to bypass the hype and spin and guff they are being fed by self-interested parties) to deploy what is actually required in each region.

Meanwhile, NZ are reporting that data usage has increased by a third in the last year, and there is plenty of hard evidence from elsewhere with true next generation broadband connectivity that data usage goes through the roof when you give people quality connections of 100Mbps and above - what the rest of the world calls 'superfast'. Perhaps, Ofcom should start thinking about data caps and how, as Britain gets better broadband, the regulator is going to do something about those so users are not continuously being throttled and prevented from actually using the connectivity they have?
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Saturday 23 July 2011


Read more! Spent an interesting couple of hours yesterday watching witnesses present evidence to the Select Committee regarding HS2 (the High Speed Rail link from London to Birmingham). Trains move people, broadband moves data – the social, economic and environmental parallels between the two types of infrastructure have long been known (and blogged about) so of course I was interested, especially with my family ties to railways. FTTH to every home in the UK and the HS2 link have capex costs in the same ball park – somewhere in the region of £14-17Bn (more on this later). So, let's debate which is the more worthy project for our ever-diminished pot of tax payer's money; although in an ideal world, you would build both. Now.

This blog post can be read at

Much of the evidence presented for HS2 is of direct interest to anyone considering an infrastructure project of the size and scale and impact of Fibre To Every Home or Next Generation infastructure – a mega project - and it would be foolish to ignore it. It is also interesting to note the similarities of terms – high speed, connectivity, communication and capacity apply to both rail and telecomms, and meld these megaprojects ever closer.

My knee jerk reaction is that FTTH is a one off spend which requires little additional lifetime spend from the central or private pots to reach every home in the UK and change the lives of everyone; whereas the HS2 link will affect initially only a corridor and requires more and more spending once in place eg improving the classic rail and road networks to cope with the increased capacity. If there were to be only one megaproject this decade, spending under £20Bn, it would have to be FTTH.

However, the reality is that we need transport of freight and people as much as of data, although passenger journeys could obviously be reduced with the provision of FTTH.

A reduction in passenger journeys could affect the business plan for HS2, meaning it would require further subsidies far into the future to become profitable. Or, it could mean premium pricing on HS2 would could make it a “rich man's railway”, which would inevitably mean a failure to bring the benefits to all. The economic evidence given by the French witnesses clearly showed that pricing management is key to success, and the market share owned by both Eurostar and SNCF over the airlines, including budget airlines shows, once again, the sense in making the product affordable.

Not only does Eurostar now have 80% of the London to Paris market share, but both Eurostar and SNCF have found that the purchase decision of whether to travel by air or train has extended to 4 hour train journeys where it used to be 3hrs ten years ago. This can only mean more customers using the service.

The possibility of increased productive time for business travellers on the train was cited more than once by different witnesses, and personal time savings were a recurrent theme throughout the sessions. Time savings and productivity for individuals and businesses apply equally to FTTH economics, but are often missed out in cost benefit analysis for FTTH and next gen, yet this time saving of even a few minutes between London and Birmingham seem key to pro-HS2 arguments.

The weight this time saving is given on High Speed Networks cannot be ignored. A single stop on a HSN adds 7 mins to journey time so many of the high speed links in France, and beyond to Germany, Austria, UK, Belgium etc, have very limited stops. Why? Because it is the speed of the journey which wins passengers. Now, apply that to FTTH and next gen. Incremental increases of speed (or a few more stops on a journey) can make all the difference in people seeing the benefits and becoming customers, or not. Time savings = increased demand. The bigger the time saving, the higher the demand. So, it does not take a genius to see that 1Gbps will see more demand than a tiny leap to 24Mbps. I expect to see this aspect of time savings added more and more to telcos' marketing material over the coming months and years.

However, there are other factors with HSN (and FTTH) that can be factored in to show why the time saving purchase decision has increased 25% from 3 to 4 hours. Increased airport security, congestion on roads, price of fuel, relocation of business interests (customers and suppliers), regional regeneration, productivity on train vs airline or car etc all act to assist in deciding to travel by train. Or to use FTTH. So, no doubt we will shortly see bizarre viral videos of babies being frisked at airports to justify why you should pay for a premium broadband product.....

Value For Money has been key in Network Rail and other organisation's surveys of passengers, and it is hard not put an additional weighting on this when considering the pricing policy for broadband too. Although the Eurostar market is mature and has almost reached saturation, marketing activities and offers always see a rise in seat sales. In other words, the successful rail companies do everything they can to fill their little fat pipes (trains) to capacity, whereas we know that telcos do everything they can to limit usage with FUPs, data transfer limits etc. And I would say that people complain far more vocally when the fat pipe they are travelling on is full and they need to stand than when data bits are crushed together to reach their destination....

There was a claim that economic growth inputs such as job creation and tax generation have not been considered properly in the HS2 assessment. The same could be said for FTTH. A claim that HS2 will bring £44Bn economic benefit appears to be a finger in the air exercise, and it would be very interesting to see government give serious consideration to FTTH and HS2 economic growth inputs. It seems that KPMG have done an HS2 assessment in Liverpool but I for one would like to see a similar FTTH assessment done in a rural area, particularly one that is on the HS2 path, to show a comparison of the economic benefits of each megaproject, as well as scenario planning to show how FTTH could impact HS2.

In fact, the type of scenario planning that a private investor would carry out if HS2 were a privately funded project are noticeably absent to date. The key threats to HS2 being a success vs a disaster given appear to include FTTH. The worst case scenarios according to witnesses would include:

  • a slowdown or meltdown of the economy
  • a PR disaster such as with pricing policies (rich man's railway)
  • rise in interest rates or capital costs
  • improved communications reducing the requirement to travel.
  • a major increase in road capacity which is free at the point of use ie not toll roads
  • a depression in oil prices which would reduce the cost of motoring

The final two of the above six are unlikely. Of the remaining four, the most likely 'threat' is improved communications becoming widely available eg FTTH, with the rise in interest rates and a PR disaster due to pricing being the next most likely. The pricing problem can be easily avoided, whereas the interest rates and capital costs should have already been taken into account through scenario planning. (Hmm!) And the risks would be substantially reduced by a Build Quickly model, yet it will be 2026 before HS2 is finished. (2 years after the demand for the additional capacity is reached). One wonders how quickly A.N.Other country could deploy either high speed network......because timescales such as this feel like another example of a great British failing with infrastructure projects – timely completion and hence sticking within the budget.

The consideration of the economic impact FTTH would have on HS2 appears to be missing entirely from any business case, and hence the predicted need for future public subsidy for HS2 when it impacts passenger journeys. Railways are heavily subsidised by the UK taxpayer whilst the same cannot be said for FTTH and next gen.

In fact, this raised a very interesting point for me. Whilst broadband is often cited as the 4th utility, there is a utility already in existence which we are funding with taxpayer's money – the public transport system. Without that subsidy for that utility, this country quite clearly would grind to a halt, especially if the freight group and passenger representative's comments are anything to go by. So, actually, broadband/telecoms is probably the 5th utility. (Which I rather like considering the name of this blog!!)

It did make me wonder though why, if broadband is SO important, we are not looking far more closely at it being publicly funded and built as a national network. The witnesses were quite clear – HS2 could not be built by a private investor or company. So, why on earth are we expecting our 5th utility to be built in such a way?

The chairwoman of the Select Committee asked if the HSN in France was considered as part of the overall rail network. “It is a leg of the rail network”. We need to look at both HS2 and FTTH in the big picture and in both cases, the impact of high speed networks goes far beyond the (railway or telecom) lines.

“High speed networks are not a gimmick” The high speed network brings people closer to the big decision centres, airports, customers, suppliers and to address new markets.

SNCF were clear in their point that it falls to local authorities to reap the benefits of the high speed network by making strategic investments into business parks, employee training opportunities, better road links, car parks, regional development etc ie everything indirectly related to the provision of a high speed network in the locality. Ensuring there are sufficient business parks for companies to relocate to is vital, as is offering training in non-railway skills, and improving road links so there is no congestion.

This ripple effect that leads to the big picture applies equally if not more so for FTTH and it often seems frustratingly impossible to point out to local authorities just how many sectors broadband will touch and what the needs and opportunities will be. LAs often seem to get stuck in thinking it will bring new IT companies to an area, whilst totally ignoring the fact that every single aspect of our lives will be touched by better comms infrastructure. Health, Wealth and Learning, and all that those three categories encompass. Just as railways will impact the carbons emissions policy, so will FTTH, and so local authorities need to consider economic, social and environmental impact in their strategic thinking about FTTH and railways.

One thing that became clear as being wrong with both HS2 and FTTH is that Britain, as with many other governments, are bloody useless at the “Predict and Provide” approach. The West Coast Mainline upgrade is a single example. It took 8 very painful years to upgrade, cost £6billion of public money and untold billions of private/business money with all the problems caused, and premium prices for a sub-standard service were the norm during the upgrade (sound familiar?!). Now, within a mere 6-10 years it will be at capacity.

However, the Victorians it seems had a far better approach and many of the tunnels, sewers etc built during that time are still doing the job required. The lessons I learnt about sewer building appear to be increasingly important. We need to over-predict and over-provide for infrastructure, whilst being realistic about possible under-demand when building the business case. Just because a business case for infrastructure may seem to have a longer lifetime payback than would seem ideal ie 15-25 years rather than 3-5, the reason for using the higher spec will become obvious over the lifetime of such a project. Which may, in all reality, be after our lifetimes, just as the Ribblehead Viaduct and London sewers have proven.

This extension of lifetime value beyond our own lifetimes is a concept we currently seem to have a problem with, especially when private money is involved and those spending it want to enjoy the returns. However, when building a next generation network, whether railways or telecoms, that lifetime return is of key importance and shows why cost-cutting exercises or allowing private concerns to hold sway must be eliminated.

The parallels between railway and FTTH kept coming thick and fast. The complexity of pricing mechanisms, the creation of bottlenecks, the need for consumer choice, effect on house prices (but FTTH has a more positive impact when there is proximity to the network than HS2), failure to appreciate the big picture, lack of comprehensive business and scenario plans, need for good local connectivity, inevitability of data/passenger/freight increases, environmental benefits, complexity of pricing mechanisms, tax payer subsidies required, importance of reduced journey times for people, freight and data, need for representatives from all stakeholder groups, interventions must have business case AND funding, quality and reliability of service is essential, must use existing infrastructure, long term view of use of released capacity, need for a big step change, creation of new business markets, make sure the regulator is the right regulator etc.

Hearing that some solutions could be applied now to relieve the problems on the transport network – adding additional carriages, lengthening platforms and loops, improving traffic management to add extra paths, derestricting first class carriages etc – struck an unhappy chord. Sticking plaster solutions that will at best buy a few extra years before massive over-capacity on the network has to be accepted and dealt with. All too bloody familiar for those campaigning for better broadband.

Possibly the most important lessons were those given by Lord Berkeley.

  • Confidence in capital costs and interest rates could give a 20 year investor view
  • Build it quickly – speed is the essence
  • Look at the competition
  • Don't change your mind halfway through [as has happened with the definition of broadband. And 21CN]
  • Having built it, make sure a proper regulator is in place

The current estimate for HS2 is around £17bn, although this figure fails to take into account the need to spend on upgrades to everything else affected – link roads, parking provision, etc etc etc. The lifetime economic return has been variously estimated from £6bn to 44bn, although both these figures seem to be 'finger in the air' and omit many costs which will be borne by private individuals and business during the build and beyond. HS2 will also not affect many millions eg those in the North of England will not travel to Birmingham to cut a few minutes off an overall journey time to London, the South or the continent.

The cost of FTTH using the most recent figures is £14bn to EVERY HOME in the UK, half that which was given almost 10 years ago by Analysys Mason. The additional spend required eg local training opportunities and business parks will be to capitalise on the value of the network, not to resolve problems caused by it.

The lifetime costs (as compared to HS2) and the resultant value from the high speed broadband network in itself would seem to me to be justification for giving very serious consideration to FTTH as a publicly funded, national infrastructure project, just as we are doing with HS2. FTTH will bring untold billions into UK Plc and the national economy during its lifetime. It should not be left to private investors, as the expert witnesses are clear about with HS2 after the lessons of HS1. Figures which other countries have produced for GDP increases from FTTH should be added here, and no doubt will be by my good readers!

The similarities and need for both high speed networks cannot be disputed and long term planning and spend on both is essential. What we need to do now is apply the lessons learnt during evidence given for HS2 to FTTH, and JFDI the right way.

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Thursday 21 July 2011


Read more! How I feel tonight ... Bit odd... But after untold meetings in the City, I think I am homesick. For action, community engagement, seemingly impossible solutions made good, n that JFDI attitude I was taught "at home"
This blog post can be read at

I've already tweeted I can't blog on the move. It may surprise you, or not, but I cannot afford to replace a very old and broken computer. The choice was come to London twice, or replace the eee pc. Rightly or wrongly, I came back to London to fight this corner.

If I could have blogged the last 48 hours, I suspect the interested readers would have been numbered on two paws. That seems to be the size if the rural broadband game right now. Why? Because BDUK and so-called initiatives to encourage competition have achieved the precise opposite.

Luckily, there seems to be a hard core who intervention etc has not taken out. I appear to be inordinately lucky to still be part of that enthusiastic die hard bunch who will JFDI.

But our resources are wearing thin. Even blogging this is a late night struggle in a device intended more for my twins to communicate with than for me to share where we are at right now.

This year, 2011, I have watched as company, org,academic etc made fiver to the home work. Not one of them set off to do so. But there are now multiple 5tth examples out there. Nigh on 10 years in , I am chuffed to bits.

Better still, major corporates are now playing outside of the govt boundaries, proving I think that our society approach has layers if investment and engagement potential that works for business.

What thus could do for BDUK etc .. I think that if it connects real people to future proofed sustainable community connecting networks, it can only be a great thing.

The community has already evaluated, at ni expense to the public purse, the time wasters and eliminated, locally, those wo cannot and will not, in the local vernacular, do owt, at no cost to the public purse.

(If you need naming here, you need better community engagement professionals!)

I miss home right now because no-one here can sell me a solution for the future that I do nor believe my neighbours cannot deliver far better. Thus is not a north-south, urban-rural discriminatory thing, it is FACT.

So, as various projects go live this summer, remember the homesickness when you realise that some of us have done our headless chicken impressions darn sarf on our own dish whilst knowing the truly worthwhile stuff is going on up north. Yep, I'm homesick!!

Typos? It's an iPhone.....

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Sunday 17 July 2011

Cumbria Broadband Slowspots

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We have mapped the identified slowspots in Cumbria from data which appears to have come originally via BDUK. This map shows all those places where properties cannot receive 2Mbps or higher. We do not believe this map is complete and are asking the help of Cumbrian residents and businesses to make sure the full picture is understood, and publicly available.

This blog post can be read at

The full Cumbrian broadband slowspot map is available here.

Zoom in, and if there is no circle near to your house or business premises, or within your postcode area, and a test shows that you receive under 2Mbps, please complete the following form and we will add your postcode to the map.

If you know of others nearby who suffer slow broadband, please help them to add their postcode too and tell others about this map, wherever they are in Cumbria, and the press, the radio stations, blogs, twitter etc.

(Due to some discrepancies with how Google maps renders postcodes, we think some of the postcodes are slightly misplaced on some browsers. We are working on this).

Should this data be available in the public domain for every county? We believe so. Then, use the people who can actually run the speedtests in their houses on their equipment (with whatever limitations that has) to pin themselves to the map to get a far truer picture of broadband in the UK. Ditto for mobile coverage.

UPDATE: BBC are announcing a similar crowdsourced exercise for national mobile coverage tomorrow. Hopefully the data will this time be made publicly available and stay on the website forever.

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Saturday 16 July 2011

Moderation on comments

Read more! Due to spam on older posts causing problems, there is now moderation on comments. Had to be done until the blog is ported elsewhere or Google sorts Blogger out. Please, be patient and if you want something to go thru moderation in double quick time, DM me [Lindsey] on Twitter or FB. Cheers for your tolerance.
This blog post can be read at

All comments (or most) are now moderated. If you have an issue with a comment that has not been published, get in touch. Cheers
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I'd like to know.....

Read more! If everyone in this country was connected to a min 100Mbps symmetrical pipe, or more, by 2015, and let's assume that those who like using the Net level out the usage for those who don't, what exactly would it cost and to whom? Not the actual FTTH solution but the bits that will need to be transported around the much will they cost and what precisely do we need to achieve that aim?

This blog post can be read at

We all hear how scarce they are, these bits, and we know that the core network is struggling anyway, but JANET upgraded their core network recently so we must have actual hardcore (ouch!) figures to play with.

Don't stress over how it gets to each person, just assume it does. What do we need in Telecity, Telehouse, datacentres, bitmines etc etc to achieve what Erol Ziya wrote about all those years ago - the cheapest country within which to move [unlimited - my addition] data?

Which, it seems to me at the end of a long week, is what we surely STILL need to achieve.....

But how to do it practically? The investment needs to come not in the first mile alone (like *that* is happening, ho hum), nor in the middle mile alone, nor in the core alone. It needs to be across the board.

Ergo, my tired little brain would suggest, this requires a cunning plan. A collaboration. A big picture with a road map to the endgame.

So, who out of our dear, expensive analysts has considered this? Who has the requisite data?

Because, it seems to me, that every which way we turn it all seems to be "too expensive" to do. Telcos don't want to do FTTH in the first mile and are struggling to even see the point of less suitable technologies as economic solutions to properties; backhaul is bloody expensive for communities, ISPs, etc; and longhaul seems to be a struggle too if you talk to ...well, pretty much anyone.

So, what do we need to solve the problem of transporting bits around this country in the most economical and affordable fashion possible to help bring a long-awaited end to those arguments?

Your thoughts are welcomed.....

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Friday 15 July 2011

Especially for Somerset - Google tests uber super dooper fibre

Read more! Google have now installed part of their fibre network at Stanford, and the rollout continues apace.

This blog post can be read at

Dear Somerset,

Perhaps you would care to ask some of those on Stanford Campus what on earth they might need such connectivity for and why on earth a company (who should know better according to your arguments) such as Google would pay for it?!

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Is Cumbria JFDI Part 2?

Read more! I feel I can better expand on the Broadband Industry Day last week after catching up with some thoughts of those who were there too this week.

This blog post can be read at

There appears to be a mix of emotions surrounding not just that day and who was (and wasn't) present, but also the procurement process and progress in general.

There is one question which I feel needs to be asked over and over again until we get a reasonable answer: Why has Cumbria County Council chosen the short list for suppliers when the Council does not even seem remotely clear about what it requires and is therefore procuring?

The second question which follows that is: why are IT services included in the spend of a £16.8M pot destined to solve the rural broadband issue, not CCC's infrastructure problem?

It seems the second list is now down to four (CTC have dropped out because they were actually more interested in the IT services list, or so we hear) - BT, Cable & Wireless, Commendium and Fujitsu.

This is an eclectic mix to say the least. C&W, Fujitsu and Commendium all appear to be working on a telehealth experiment in Shap together. (About which it appears Shap know little to nothing). One could wonder if there are actually only two players left in that list? In which case, as CCC are still unclear precisely what is to be delivered, how on earth are Cumbrians to believe that these may be the best suppliers for the still-to-be-defined task? Particularly as there are other suppliers who fail to meet procurement criteria in multiple counties now who could deliver in a more agile and probably cost-effective manner, who seem far more interested in working with the communities.

My slightly more positive feel about BDUK and CCC on leaving in the pouring rain on Friday does not entirely appear to be reflected by others present. And having heard their concerns, I have to admit to beginning to feel as though we are on a roller coaster which may find itself running out of track before ere long. However, there is agreement that there are definitely some hearts in the right places, and support for community broadband. But there seems to be a growing feeling that process and bureaucracy may prove the undoing of the mere mortals/human beans that should be being served by the process rather than vice versa.

The suppliers seemed to have been a variety of - 'scared stiff', 'gobstruck' at the professionalism of the community presentations, as well as eager (or not, in some cases) to work with communities, as well as keen to work with other supplier partners (or not).

There is a concern I think that there will be a power struggle to ensure that the second list do actually deliver what Cumbrian communities need, now and in the future, and do not just pay lip service to what CCC and communities are saying purely to win the bid. This is extremely likely if CCC do not clearly define exactly what needs to be delivered and understand at least approximately what that may/should cost.

PhilT put this rather succinctly the other day when commenting about technology neutral bids when he said that what we should be doing is defining the gigabit connection and then allowing the suppliers to indicate precisely how they would deliver this. Rather than giving the suppliers enough rope to hang the entire county with which is what I think many are concerned that CCC may be doing, inadvertently or otherwise.

I did feel frustrated on Friday that there still seem to be too many on very steep learning curves, very late in the day, and that there simply is not enough collaboration and sharing of knowledge going on. To assume that all the knowledge is within the suppliers' camps is a disproven theory now, and actually it could be argued that some of the information that the communities now hold is far more commercially sensitive than that of some of the suppliers. Particularly those suppliers who are only in this for the money.

I think that as we are a Big Society area and were specifically given instructions by Nat Wei in Kirkby Stephen to kick down the barriers which prevent delivery of the right solutions for this fair land called Eden, that some of those barriers may be about to receive a serious kicking to remove them once and for all. And to be honest, not a moment too soon after the Project Access debacle.

It would also seem that some of the suppliers are treating this simply as a commercial process, which is fine, but in times of tight budgets, cuts etc, one would have hoped (in my little idealistic world) that perhaps the Council would work doubly hard to ensure that the money goes as far as possible. One community has reported that a supplier took away their shopping list to 'shave a few pounds off it' and came back with something that was almost double the original costings.

Which is standard public funding behaviour (think of a number, add a zero, times by pi) but in this day and age, and for community broadband for a county such as Cumbria which has such a high proportion of experienced fibre and broadband folk - that's not going to fly, is it, eh? Or one would hope that the Council would see through such behaviour and stamp on it.

I am beginning to wonder whether I am correct in believing that a growing number of folk are disenchanted with the entire procurement process and are actually planning to JFDI without the backing of the Council. Yes, it could prove inordinately difficult, but that depends on whether the rest of Cumbria understands what is going on and backs these communities. After all, it is not too difficult to vote out those who have been elected in the future if the actions of a few determined folk prove over time that the Council went about things the wrong way.

In reality, it only needs one reasonably sized community to work together with smaller suppliers, who could not even make those short lists, to JFDI, and a spotlight could be turned onto the winners of the bid to ensure they deliver above and beyond what 'hicks in the sticks' can. However, this would mean building a world-class network and not an interim solution; but it seems that there are at least two of the pilots that are already at the required level of knowledge and planning to carry that through. I suspect there are more who are not as vocal or as public who could also be a 'threat' to the Council's procurement over the coming 2-5 years.

And this, to me, is where things may well get interesting. If the communities act together to share information, skills, knowledge, best practice, we could see some best networks built on and in Cumbrian soil that surpass anything that the winner might choose to deploy given a commercial choice. And all of us will be far more interested reading a front page of the Herald that shows people we know, in places we know, digging where they live, than passing yet another BT van at the side of the road.

£16.8M is a drop in the ocean to some of the companies on that short list, but it could still turn dirty. It's not about that funding; it's about landgrab and having customers who may stick with the supplier for 20 or more years into the future. Trouble is, oh supplier friends of ours, this is a very tight-knit community and our jungle drums are far faster than any broadband you may care to install! Dirty tricks will be exposed in less time than you can dip a sheep, and will be shared via our traditional communications routes. And Cumbrians are vocal!

At a time when Cumbrians are struggling to make ends meet, wastage of what is viewed as OUR MONEY, paid from our TV licences, is likely to be taken badly. And if CCC act properly and there are penalty clauses for failure to deliver, this could become a costly exercise. But, let's not jump that dry stone wall before we get to it, eh?

Rory said he wanted to see spades in the ground before the end of this year. Or that's what I heard, but someone else thinks he said before the end of August. That being the case, we have come up with a pilot that could potentially do just that. And to me, that is one of the joys of rural living. Throw an idea into the communal pot, toss it around a little with your neighbours who are equally as passionate about Eden, work out the kinks and details, and then JFDI before moving on to the next project our communities need that no-one else can work out how to fund or action!

Watch this space....

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Wednesday 13 July 2011

Joining the dots

Read more! I wrote a post earlier about the social media surgery today on the CLA stand at the Great Yorkshire Show. I don't get out often (!) so it was quite interesting/eye opening talking to real people about their broadband and IT problems. (Very similar to going to the co-op actually; proving 'you don't need to travel far to see the world' - Amy Mason, interviewed by LAnnison, approx 1995 UWN)

This blog post can be read at

It was properly, stupidly depressing to see SMEs, similar to mine, in the same boat as mine for similar reasons. NO SUPPORT. Zillions of quangos and not a single one seems to have a figurehead who gets IT. With our money. Let alone staff who are delivering what is required on the ground.

It seems to me after an inordinately long UNPAID month that has cost me everything I had for boring shit like food for July already, that the time is nigh for "doing stuff". I've been here before so I have a sort of 'cynic' button that generally kicks in to protect my kids from irrational actions, but this is one of those times where I feel (a globally trusted meter for investment!)/have felt that certain things appear to be falling into place.

However, I have to say that the vast majority of my conviction that this is the case comes from an utter despair at what I keep hearing and a belief that "this cannot go on much longer". Maybe my emotions are just mirroring the news. Maybe, just maybe, moments such as a vast media mongulcorp heading on t'butt down the cobbles towing respected institutions behind does that to you. Or maybe, just maybe, the constant failure of overpaid, smug, fat possums, forces you to think that there is a chance for you to succeed with your great ideas, innovations, inventions, products, services etc that can be achieved on a broken shoestring. Sadly, I saw little to zero of that at GYS today. I've been going there for over 30 years so it wasn't some novel experience.

Even short but intensely wet rides on a motorbike allow you to ponder (Friday) and long but lost trips out (Monday) give you a potentially very long noose to hang yourself with. Both of those trips, and several others since Friday have left me with a certain feeling.

A two sentence background - on Friday, I was told to 'get something in' by a meeting on Tuesday, ie by Monday. Never mind I have two children who sort of could do with seeing my face not my back nor hearing that cussed tapping on my ancient and truly knacked keyboard, or that perhaps my business needs attention. Oh no.

We, the people of this country, know what to do. We have, without benefit of overpaid think tanks, consultants, or year on year budgets to play with, thought through the options. For more than a decade. Mostly, we are roundly ignored. That's fine. BUT, when communities and grassroots people outshine the so-called experts BY A BLOODY MILE and are asked to present our plans to prove that the public purse could be put to far better use than an existing fat-bellied, over-populated cattery can,

and, and, AND are willing to start asap, We JFDI.

Emails which arrive saying, This should be deliverable from April 2012 under the current procurement process....if all goes to plan........ well, work this post out.

What you actually mean, oh governmental quangos is, "Allow us to run you around for at least 12 more months. And blow the pot to smithereens. By the time we get back to you there will be none of YOUR MONEY left"

No. No. NO and no. I've just spent yet another day with people who get a wage packet. I don't. I am your target audience as a rural SME without broadband who is trying to bring up her family as a single mum whilst running a business that blows the socks off most others in knowing what is coming in IT. Have you *EVER* supported me? Or have you bled me dry?

I was volunteered to be present last Friday, I spent all weekend writing a proposal (or two as it turned out, for BDUK), I spent yesterday trying to work out how to get a vehicle through an MOT with no money, and today sitting on the stand of an over-funded body's uber expensive GYS stand and having to work really hard to get a free coffee. I am now, at 3.28am trying to upload photos so my resident trolls and the press have something to play with whilst I try really bloody hard to find a paying customer tomorrow before I am expected to support a local pub by taking my kids and I to supper club (we will be washing up), after dealing with a client who I know cannot pay but I can help, and then to a meeting on Thursday eve that I probably will have no fuel for. I have none now so unless we suss ethanol production by Thursday.....

Big Society? Run in the community benefit? Contribute to your area?

How about, as I said to a handily re-named organisation about 8 years ago and have oft repeated -

"When will you stop running existing businesses into the ground?"

Destruction of Trade and Industry may have come up in the conversation....don't even ask me what BIS stands for.

Do you really think I and many, many others are continuously willing to play a game, providing untold evidence, research, ideas, joined up thinking for you all because ONE DAY you might pay us? Or that we may get a career out of it? Pah, pah, pah and double pah.

I have seen how normal everyday people like the farmer clutching at AI straws today get tret by Westminster. (And yes, that's a word here in Cumbria.)

You are about to waste untold millions of OUR money because you are


Do you know what, folks? It is time to CHANGE. We don't want your bloody money, we want you to STOP WORKING AGIN US. With OUR money.

If BIG Society means anything, it means stand back, pin back your lugs, watch and listen. You lot know NOWT.

And I am seriously fed up of being driven into bankruptcy, and being unable to support my own children, or community, so you can draw your wages and spend my taxes and BBC licence fee.

Here endeth today's rant. But not my work as I have a business to run that no-one else could today or any other day.....................70 hour weeks? In my dreams.

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Saturday 9 July 2011

Is Cumbria JFDI? Part 1

Read more! Spent most of yesterday at Stoneybeck Inn near Penrith at a community and suppliers day organised by East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum (ECCBF) and BDUK, and MCed by Rory Stewart and Libby Bateman. I'm not sure what the other BDUK recipient areas are doing, and would welcome updates from anyone who is aware of the forward motion elsewhere, but here is a summary of yesterday in the Cumbria Community broadband world.

This blog post can be read at

 It may be a recession, but many community people managed to take a day away from work to partake in this event. There were also a substantial number of supplier representatives there, whose offerings range from the whole caboodle through to component parts or services, including BT, Fujitsu, Cable and Wireless, MiniFlex, AFL, Commendium, NextGenUs, Ericsson, and included the majority of those on the procurement short list. Cumbria County Council and CLEO were also represented.

My overall impression is that these structured yet informal events not only bring out the best in people, (as do the colloquia) but also see far more forward motion than a simple talking heads do, such as the vast majority of conferences end up being. Without being party to many of the commercially sensitive discussions which were undoubtedly ongoing during the event, it seemed that the sales pitches went far beyond "this is our standard offering" because the communities have well-developed visions of precisely what their communities want. There is going to have to be a shift towards the centre ground, of compromise, and this event definitely seemed to be pushing things in the right direction by both 'sides'.

Thinking of it is as "them and us" (suppliers and communities) is however inappropriate as it is clearly obvious that what are being developed are partnerships. BDUK and the County Council have made it clear that suppliers are going to have their work cut out ensuring that whatever is delivered involves the communities to whatever level each community wishes to be involved. Whilst what is being built must be commercially sustainable, it also has to suit the communities at least as much as it suits the suppliers. Collaboration and co-operation are the watchwords here.

So, the suppliers, including BT, were "harangued" in the nicest possible way by Rory Stewart MP to contribute, talk to the communities represented, and work together towards the common goal that is next gen broadband across Cumbria using the recently announced £16.4M, the immense goodwill and passion exhibited at Rheged, Great Asby and other recent events, as well as the existing assets in Cumbria, such as CLEO (the education network).

Several communities had been chosen to give updates on their progress and outline their thinking, both to share what was being considered around the county and also to assist the suppliers in considering where and how they could assist in achieving the goals being set by the communities. Fibre GarDen, Great Asby, Eden Valley Digital, Grange and Cartmel LAP, and Northern Fells all gave presentations.

Different scenarios were defined prior to the meeting:

  • The quest for community backhaul solutions
  • Solutions for demand aggregation
  • Build and Benefit schemes
  • Community Data Books
For many, the backhaul issue is still one of the most thorny. Cost by length, firstly, means that for many rural communities the cost of even a limited feed can be exorbitant. The difference in cost between a 100Meg feed and a 1Gig feed is actually minimal, but for most communities the cost of such a feed means the business plan is unnecessarily hard to resolve. Backhaul players need to start thinking more clearly about whether they want one big customer - a community, or no customer at all.

Obvious solutions are using existing feeds in the community - NHS, public sector, schools, libraries etc, but once again we are back to a medley of red herrings - security, contract will not permit sharing, and general faffing by telcos who sometimes would seem to prefer that half the country remains disconnected rather than think out of the box and use existing capacity with a novel approach. 

There are other solutions which were mentioned at more length in the networking sessions e.g. railways - Network Rail, Global Crossing, and smart grid solutions using assets of Electricity North West. The difficulties with all of these seem to be completely surmountable IF the above companies and organisations stop prevaricating and help solve the problems. Doing so would create win-win situations all round, and it is time for these bodies to get with IT and get out from behind the buffers. Network Rail should remember who paid for the fibre assets on the railway line in the first place!! Joined up thinking is not that difficult and many of the problems the larger organisations cannot see solutions to simply require a brief chat with one of the many community people who have thought through all the possible solutions to assess the best approach.

Much more to say, so am going to write this as a multi-part post. (And hope that Blogger's photo app starts working again before I finish!

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Wednesday 6 July 2011

CAN in a BOX

Read more! Once upon a time, probably late at night, I had this idea to empty my inbox of all the questions that were beginning to inundate me, by creating a FAQ, a wiki, a road map, a hand-holding guide to community networks. I think this was about 2000. By 2001 ish, it had a name - Community Access Network in a Box. I was knocking around with artists and musicians at the time, and the round peg in a square hole seemed about right for many aspects of my life, then and now!

This blog post can be read at

CAN in a Box has over the years struggled to see the light of day. (The most recent iteration of it has been living in a box under my desk, and is about 10-15 250 sheet pads of notepaper, handwritten and organised into chapters. Another serious quantity of it is, I think, in a garage many miles away. I hope they have used it to light the fire as seeing it again is not in my game plan).

No-one would fund it, and no-one really cares for my scribblings!

However, there are some ideas which simply refuse to go away. I am getting more than a little accustomed to not being credited for my ideas, and the outright theft of others to suit people's career, income and ego-boosting plans is irksome. But it doesn't stop the ideas waking you up at all hours - day and night - to write them down! And give me the freedom to organise an event, as I have been about broadband since before the vast majority of this country knew what it even was, and I always found an opportunity to push CAN in a BOX.

But, develop a simple term like FiWi (2004, Bethnal Green with FreeToAir Adam - notes available) and the world and his lobster thinks they thought of it in 2008/9. Or was it later they coined it? Oh, who cares? I know where it began.....they were not there.

A network for people doing community broadband (1998 - phone and email, Arwain, John etc in Cambridge, Daniel and a host of others) and a couple of years later, that becomes lost in something which I understand will be launched again in a few hours, by one of the late arrivals whose thunking I really miss having access to, as version 5.2 or wherever we are now to support community broadband. (You heard it here first. CBN v 5.2 is coming at ya! And knowing nothing, I believe this time it may have a chance.....)

But may I yawn?!

Why is it all taking so long? We are not surrounded by total morons, bureaucratic idiocies can be kicked in to touch courtesy of Big Society now (but that's not a new concept for us Brits!), and I came in after a 10 year fight, so it has now been - get this - 25 years trying to do FTTH.

Let's move the pace up, guys.

13 years after I actually finally started to make contact with people who thought like me in the UK - I'd spent 2 years drifting in an IRC world of informed geeks who didn't speak UK English, and civil servants who found me foisted onto them by heads of department and ministers who didn't have a clue about these 'fat pipes' I needed to run my rural business, it seems CAN in a Box may have found a moment in which to reach the real world. And I am sort of hoping that some of the other great ideas like the Association of Broadband Communities, which became CBN, then INCA, may now have found their time to exist in a positive and purposeful manner.

I think this is a record though. I know from experience I am an absolute minimum of 4 years' ahead of what is called 'innovation' in this country in the broadband arena, and every sector that it touches upon - rural sustainability, rural development, eco housing, small business growth, environmental issues, etc. But 13 years? Hell, I can hardly recognise my writing from that long ago!

I know it's summer, but I have barely been out doors for weeks. But the energy does get through my duvet cover cum curtain to inform me that others are bouncing off this extra light we have.

Now, folks, all you need do is direct that light down fibres to every home. Stop believing the BS, stop pandering to people in overpaid jobs who know nowt and do less, in case they upset someone with a massive pension deficit and , sorry, but really, JFDI.

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Tuesday 5 July 2011

There's always a way...

Read more! This wee tale highlights the fact that the current approach by this government to rely on the #fail telcos to put in any level of next generation infrastructure is more than misplaced. It's likely to waste hundreds of millions of pounds and put Britain into the slow lane for years, because the telcos simply cannot get out of the box. Community networks can.

This blog post can be read at

Lovely anecdote from Tim Nulty that hit my inbox last week:

One of our potential subscribers who needs the drop to be underground but doesn't want to pay the big extra cost called to say that he had buried a garden hose in the right place and could we put the drop through it?

I said I'd ask my engineers.

They said: "We can if we can get a pull-wire through it".

I told this to the subscriber--who called back an hour later to say: "I've got the pull-wire in place."

My engineers' reply: "Cool. We'll do it then. First time for everything."

It is dead simple. JFDI.
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Using *what* to lay fibre?!

Read more! And there was me thinking my idea to train ferrets to run fibre through ducts was out the box!!

This blog post can be read at

A while ago, I discovered that Boeing had used ferrets to run cabling through their airplanes. As you know, I have been ferreting for access to fibre for all of the last decade in order to achieve my vision which is Fibre To The Home. In particular, MY home, but also to every rural home!

Now, courtesy of my friends, I learn that there are more practical ways to lay fibre using animals, and it is being done today in Vermont. A place I am regularly invited to visit to see the projects there, and of course, home of my very good friends and mentors, Tim and Leslie Nulty. Whose most recent success in rural community fibre networks you may have heard about over the last month.....

Yep, you heard it here. Get out your horses, return to the ways of the 50s and before and start ploughing!

This horse is laying fibre in Vermont. Not wishing to take work away from our local digger drivers when the rural fibre lay begins, but it is all about using the right tool for the job.

It is country show time, and there are ploughing competitions up and down the country. If you need to reduce your capex by cutting the costs of civils, I would suggest that a day out at one of these great shows might be the source of a most unexpected member of your community network team.

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