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Thursday 25 August 2011

FibreWalk - every step a challenge

Read more! I'm not a dancing fool, despite what some may think, and learning all the steps for The FibreWalk has been tough. And it has exposed some of the real problems this country faces in meeting its (broadband) aims. But it has brought the possible solutions far closer. I think it is time to teach many more people how to do the FibreWalk.

This blog post can be read at

Many moons ago, I wrote and spoke about public private community (PPC) partnerships. As I recall, it was just before PFI and public-private partnerships became all the rage. Sadly, over the years, there have been few if any successful PPC initiatives in the broadband arena in the UK - or none that I can think of. In fact, more often than not, what we see is quite the opposite.

Often we get an unpleasant insight into public, private and community "egos" who, instead of working together, pointlessly pull each other apart. Working against each other rather than together. Whether for profit, or pensions, or perks - the motivations ruin any chances of successful solutions. It's time to bin that egotistical and self-serving approach.

We all know FTTH is the optimal solution. We know that there are many reasons that hinder progress. But it is only when you bring together the three ingredients which have been integral to EVERY event I have ever organised or been involved in - Public Sector, Private Sector and Community/Consumer, that it becomes clear what is required to get this country where it need be broadband-wise. I've been quite content to watch the terms I have coined - FiWi, JFDi broadband etc - "borrowed" without even a credit, but where has it got us if you lot all insist on working alone in your silos?

Work together, people.

So, enough talking now - we've talked the talk. Now, let's Walk the Walk.

This week, I was privileged to go on a walk across beautiful rural countryside with people for whom the technological problems of delivering FTTH are their every day bread and butter. It was ace! BUT....what is new to the techies, as it is for many including BT and VM, is rural FTTH. It's very different to digging up urban estates and roads. Literally every step proved to be another reason to stop, talk, discuss, problem solve etc. And at that point, you start to understand why the #FinalFraction is quite difficult. Whether it is 10% or 30% - how do you reach that final fraction with FTTH? That answer is not fully clear right now when so many are playing their own game.

However, projects such as B4RN show it can be done. And the transparency behind B4RN shines a light on the failings in far too many other projects - cards held close to chests, a failure to be open and honest, the focus on money rather than achievements, etc.

What can and must be shared, without it being abused by fat cats and greedy guts, is how the people that live in rural areas solve problems. Grassroots and community solutions have been developed over centuries, especially when these communities are a long way from the decision makers.

The FibreWalk was completely eye-opening. Each step opened all our eyes to both problems and solutions. All surmountable, as it happens, but fascinating in the different approaches taken by each side. I say "side" to emphasise the failures highlighted earlier in this post. There are no sides - we must work together.

Local knowledge can reduce costs. Technical know how can provide insights into the 'right way' to do things, so we can then apply local knowledge to make future-proofed solutions happen from the outset. A dyke, ditch, culvert or beck may appear to need drilling for the professionals. For communities, you go and find where the farmer's water pipe runs under that watercourse. Simple. And we ask the Environment Agency to start looking urgently at consents for works around water courses etc in tandem with the community needs.

Need to know what utilities are in this field? Well, this field belongs to X and according to the farmer I just asked, the owner should be moving sheep today from A to B, so let's look for him and ask our questions. And LISTEN to the answers. Engage the farmer, the person who knows this land far better than any other.

BT can't ask this type of question, nor can VM or any other commercial player. Not without paying. But local people can. And you can guarantee that by the time you have located said farmer, he already knows you are looking for him. Rural jungle drums don't need mobile coverage as much as those who have lost touch with the land - I've decided farmers are psychic!

Want to build a rural FTTH network in the UK to the Final Third, Tenth, Ninth or any other fraction? Then you need all the players to work together. This is not 'divide and conquer' time, nor a land grab, nor a chance for some civil servant to secure their pension on the back of it. It is time to put aside egos and profits, and work together.

We need folks in wellies walking across the countryside, looking at each bit of the fibre route and resolving each problem as it presents itself. Whether that is connectivity into ManAp, TeleCity, EuroIX, or using Electricity North West's poles to cross the countryside using existing infrastructure, or demanding that BT remove the failing copper and aluminium from ducts that need fibre in, or asking farmers to share their intimate knowledge with their own land.

It is time to work together. Stretch the money taken from the BBC coffers (which we have all paid into) as far as it will go to achieve what is required for the NEXT GENERATION.

I am getting bloody bored of saying it now but there is a bit of the FiWiPie for everyone. Even the greedy who are only looking to line their own pockets - and boy, has broadband brought those out of the woodwork in droves.

Stop trying to rip off those who care about this land and the people who live here. We need FTTH, not 11 alternative technologies that will require yet more funding very soon to be future-proofed. Or technologies without sustainable business plans that rural Parish Councils accept because of a lack of professional advisors on their side. Nor State Aid arguments that scare rural businesses and residents from making sensible choices, or ill-informed media reports.

What we need now is to JFDI and Do It Right.

Read more!

JFDI rural FTTH connects its first users.

Read more! Some things just make you cheer!

As some of you may know, I went out to the USA in January 2010 to meet projects who were doing FTTH in innovative ways, as well as in rural areas. I was privileged and honoured to be invited by Geoff Daily and Tim Nulty to the community FTTH event in Salt Lake City, hosted by Todd Marriott of Utopia, and to meet many of the people who have helped me fight for rural FTTH. Some of those people changed my life, becoming true friends in the process.

This blog post can be read at

I discovered you could buy multi-city flights which worked out far cheaper than direct flights, and was lucky enough to visit the Deep South, as well as the frozen north. That decision may be key to other choices which are now open to rural communities in the UK - more on that another time.

Actually, it was far warmer in Utah, Chicago and Denver than the UK at that point! Minus 17 when I left Cumbria. Snow and ice at Heathrow meant the first flight was cancelled with only hours to go and I had to purchase American Airline flights as British Airways did the British thing and ran scared of the snow. It was hovering around zero in the north of America! Warm and toasty ;)

Tim Nulty and I had exchanged many, many emails by this point and I couldn't wait to meet him. His project with ECFiber had become a goal: not just to visit, but to emulate. And Utopia has been on my 'must visit' list since it launched. Todd was a simply incredible host, even if he was convinced he would never get me out of that broadband bus!

The emails recently, after a lengthy 2 years where I have learnt far more about American politics, funding, municipal bonds and much more than I ever expected to, are the icing on the cake. They JFDI!! Well done ECfiber.

ECFiber Goes Live!

SOUTH ROYALTON – Having completed its beta testing, and with the Phase I project nearly complete, ECFiber began connecting its first customers today. Eight customers have been beta-testing the system for the past two weeks, getting sustained 5Mbps symmetrical service.

The Barnard General Store, one of the beta sites, has been offering the experience to customers via WI-FI, and has been finding folks on their doorstep at all hours, trying out the system.

“It’s been amazing,” says Kim Furlong, one of the store’s proprietors. “Because so much more of what we do is online, it is truly a joy to reap the reward of high-speed internet. Dial-up, and even satellite, is such a time-robber. Fiber is very different – you can be more efficient, and that is exciting. At the same time, I have some trepidation. People are going to relocate here more permanently because of what is available, and that is probably going to change the fabric of the community.”

According to Project Coordinator Leslie Nulty, 15 new accounts were opened within the first 24 hours after the doorstep delivery of information packets. Barnard Academy, another beta site, is also very excited about the service. They are planning an open house and community celebration of ECFiber’s arrival in mid-October.

Barnard was chosen for the Phase I project because of its proximity to the central office and its large number of unserved users. Pre-registrations topped 90% before the project started. Phase II, to build out the rest of the town of Barnard, is in the planning stages, with an informational meeting set for Thursday night at 7PM at the Barnard Town Hall.

ECFiber is a group of 23 towns working to build a community-owned, subscriber-funded Fiber-to-the-Home network to provide phone, television, and ultra-high-speed internet services to 100% of the homes and businesses in the member towns.


The problems faced by the project have been strikingly similar to UK project problems. Promises of the Subsidy (BDUK etc in the UK) funding led many to believe in pots of gold at the end of rainbows. Far too many think that established telcos will provide, even when faced with overwhelming evidence that such has not been the case in the last decade (read: 50+ years in America and Britain where the original telecom networks were often initiated, just as other utilities such as electricity and water, by the communities themselves).

Untold hours of passionate volunteers' lives have been wasted with the promise of public funding, just as they are now in the UK. Until finally, one day, you wake up and say: Let's JFDI! (That was one of the best emails I have had from Tim and Leslie!)

But ECFiber didn't go for an interim FiWi solution. We did talk about this at length in 2009/2010, but the figures simply do not stack up. This determination from the word go to deliver FTTH is more than just laudable - it is sustainable too. Especially for those communities that ECFiber connects. There is no need now to find yet more funding, somewhere down the road, to build a FTTH network to remote and far flung properties.

Watch this space for more news of US-UK collaboration and a colloquium in mid-September that you simply cannot afford to miss........
Read more!

Thursday 18 August 2011

BDUK Money

Read more! Have managed not to post the drafts that have been in the wings for several days, and those which were then written when the BDUK announcement became official. But, I will say this.....

This blog post can be read at

The riots were a very visible symptom of much that is wrong in this country - in inner cities, for youngsters, for the impoverished, the excluded etc.

However, there are many INVISIBLE signs of what is wrong in this country - for manufacturers, farmers, those in rural areas, those digitally excluded. Meanwhile, people have been so British - keep calm and chocolate on, #riotwombles, #operationcupoftea, and all those who just go to work as normal. Each and every day.

Yet, has a single Gummint Minister thanked those who did NOT riot, those who cleaned up, those who kept the food and information flowing whilst you sat on your beaches? Have you thanked those bloggers and citizen journalists who tweeted or spoke from the streets with honourable, sensible advice to make up for the lack of central advice on WTF to do? Or have you been too busy slagging off those in opposition and highlighting your own failings?

Right now, to us, the electorate, you ALL look like you are in opposition. To the people of this nation.

Should we, the forgotten ones, riot too to get your notice, to bring you back from holiday, to bring you down to earth?

I've just binned 3 or 4 blog posts about why rural communities haven't. Yet. Rioted. But not just rural peeps, I think I speak for many other sectors too. Our patience is wearing thin with you, Westminster. You are TOO out of touch.

As an example, I suspect that throwing £530M (or a similar combin8tion of digits thereof) at the digital broadband problem will only exacerbate the divides and cracks that are now tearing this country apart. Because, IMHO and probably many others, this "solution" is yet again ill-informed, ill-suited to the problem and so, so, so poorly executed that you (who claim to be in charge) can only come in for flak.

Do any of you actually understand the problem you are endeavouring to solve? Or are you blinded by the glaring tarnish (sorry, varnish) of the glittering last century telco death throes?

Want my honest opinion? What an almighty cock-up you are busy creating. And so avoidable if you were less arrogant and listened to the people in this country.

Do I trust you to spend this BDUK money wisely? Not a bloody chance. You are already deeply in the mire of getting it wrong, and seem to have no comprehension of what results your actions will bring. Nor care.

Whether it is about Broadband or I want JD Sports or unprepared police forces sent to face 200 rioters with no kit - Westminster and local authorities seem unable to make even a simple decision any more from the ivory towers. Individually, some of you are doing well, but collectively - what a bloody shower you are.

Maybe your lofty perches are not the best places for y'all, after all? Perhaps, just perhaps, bending an ear to the ground, where the vast hubbub of activity takes place, is long overdue?

Anyone ready to #JFDI, stick around!

Read more!

Friday 12 August 2011

Why Our Society will win eventually

Read more! It's really quite simple. We will JFDI.

This blog post can be read at

You can throw bureaucracy at us until you are blue in the face. Regulations such as H&S, ASA, Ofcom, VOA, etc etc are no longer scary. If one thing has come out of the riots, it should be that 'authority' needs to realise that its barriers are weak and destructible.

Especially when these restrictions have no reason to be there. I am NOT condoning the riots in any shape or form, but I am saying that if you keep putting unnecessary barriers in our way to allow sensible things to happen in our neighbourhoods, you will face community people who are determined to do what is right.

I don't mean this in an anarchic manner, I mean it in a Big Society /Our Society manner. I sat in a room with Nat Wei when he said we in Cumbria should JFDI and ask for forgiveness later. None of us are planning to break laws. All we are trying to do is connect people and protect MILLIONS of POUNDS of public money from being unnecessarily wasted. Cumbria has already seen this happen once with £19M+ thrown at Project Access (NWDA and Commendium received the bulk of it). The citizens are not willing to see that happen again.

You CANNOT shut our public toilets for the sake of a few hundred pounds a year, and throw millions at poorly thought out broadband projects. What sort of electorate would we be if we permitted you to do that?

The entire reason for the BDUK funding was to look at "innovative rural pilots". The idea was to find potential solutions and run with them, whether they worked or not; we were going to suck it and see.

The intention was NEVER EVER to try to solve other existing problems within county councils' IT systems. It was to solve the Final Third and to see if there was, perchance, a solution for the last 10-30% who need internet connectivity to move the economy and society forwards.

The last few days have proven that society is in a place many of us had failed to recognise. A hell hole. It may be quiet tonight but now an entire generation, and others, know that all you need is 50 or so people and the fabric of this once great country in any locality begins to crumble.

Scary? Yes, and so it should be. We have undermined the structure of this country for so long, hidden behind rules and regulations, pushed hard working and valuable individuals to the extremities of society. For what? So that councillors can earn their pension? So consultants and their chums can cash in our ever-decreasing public coffers? And so that the seriously concerned community activists are undermined at every turn? [Feel free to add your 2p]

What we must do now is open the channels of communication so that this society moves back to the places all of us wish it to be.

STOP trying to spend money for the sake of it because it must be spent by April/October etc. Spend money where it should be spent.

STOP bringing in consultants whose only concern is their next skiing holiday. Bring in those who care about the community.

STOP overpaying for information. If you need to pay to find out how a sink estate thinks, don't fund a consultant; pay the residents of the sink estate.

START using the people who know what is needed in their communities. Employ and pay the community leaders.

START asking real people what they want.

START using the resources in any community - Parish Councils, local newsletters, citizen journalists, press and radio.

START to look at what is actually required: educate the community with demos and videos. Then, and only then ask them what they may want.

START to engage the community bodies so that there is a voice for local people. Demonstrating in Westminster is not an option for 99% of the populace - give them a voice.

START to force councils to work on a push not pull mentality. Go OUT to the people and hear them where they are willing to talk. Don't expect folk to play your game in your chamber. Go and listen instead.

START to JFDI. Whatever it is that you believe in. Do It. Every fantastic project ever has come from an individual's passion. Not from a budget decision. If you care about it in your community, JFDI.

Read more!

Thursday 11 August 2011

Launched! B4RN - Broadband 4 Rural North

Read more!

The Broadband 4 Rural North project has launched. This post will endeavour to give a little background to the project from my point of view as a Founder Member, and maybe, just maybe, persuade a few people from outside the area to get involved as shareholders.

This blog post can be read at

I could write about how long I have known Barry Forde - my first keynote speaker at the first broadband event (AFAIK) in the UK - and why I respect him so much. Or how much I hate the fact that his vision for Project Access was kyboshed till it became an utter joke that remains an embarrassment to this day in Cumbria. Or my regard (read: love) for Chris Conder (aka Cyberdoyle) and all she has achieved and continues to, or my interest in rural broadband, or my long-held conviction that FTTH + FiWi is the answer, whatever the question! What matters is not the past or opinions, but the present and future for rural areas seeking true broadband solutions.

Lancashire is little different from any other county. It has large conurbations, such as Blackpool, Preston and Burnley, as well as vast swathes of rural hinterlands. Attempts to bring true broadband to the county in the past have been piecemeal and on the whole ineffective, despite a few best efforts. Yes, VM and others have reached into the urban areas but there has been little appetite to reach the tendrils of broadband to those who need it most.

Last year, Lancaster City Council decided to apply for £750,000 RDPE funding to run an innovative pilot project to a small patch of rural Lancs and connect 320 businesses to a future-proofed fibre network. The project was cut to the cloth available, as you would expect in a county renowned for its textile history, but only progressed part way across the loom (or Lune). For one reason and another (which cannot be discussed here due to ongoing scrutiny), that project was set aside in favour of the City working on a far more extensive project with the County Council - to bring broadband to the whole of Lancs, spending a minimum of £30M, match funded to £60M by a winning bidder.

The key thinker behind the initial RDPE bid proposal went back to his shed to ponder. (I am beginning to think of him as a cross between Great Uncle Bulgaria and Wellington!). Some time later, our much respected and friendly Fibre Womble appeared in our inboxes and said, "Let's JFDI anyway".

And so, B4RN was (re)born at the beginning of this year. New name, far greater ambitions, a business plan that had taken off from the fledgling idea that had been quite literally knocked out of the nest before it grew wings, and a team who are at the very least determined to give this a serious go. Again!

Do it once and do it right seems to have become the mantra, with a strap line of "B4RN will go the extra mile".

Looking at who has been cced into many of the mails during the past half year and more, I estimate almost 200 years of business, technical and local expertise were involved from the outset. As each day passes, this grows, and grows, and grows, and we must be getting close to (if not passed) 1000 years of experience already from those inputting into the project on a daily basis. Not only is that no mean feat, but it means that B4RN is benefiting from experience that covers a wide tranche of knowledge and viewpoints.

The work behind the scenes has been phenomenal. Opinions have been sought on every aspect - locally, nationally and from world renowned experts in many fields - this is not just about broadband as the project will be community-owned and run.

Every property has been mapped and distances calculated. Suppliers, partnerships and potential JVs discussed, chased up, and the intricacies of the tech design put through its paces. Landowners approached, discussions held, minutiae bandied about to get agreement. Finances pored over with fine toothcombs, taken to expert advisors, and regurgitated with increasingly positive noises. Meetings have been held across the area already, and more are planned for the first two weeks of September because engagement of the local community is paramount. Fliers are at the printers, although many started to be circulated at the beginning of this week. The website has been built and then re-designed and built again. (And this paragraph cannot even begin to encapsulate what has been going on with B4RN in 2011!)

Whilst none of us think that this is going to be an easy task, one of the uplifting threads to all of this has been the willingness to TRY. Lawyers looking at legal details through magnifying glasses, local people with and without knowledge of the internet helping to put each aspect into context for neighbours, online and offline friends offering incredibly useful advice (you know who you are, we will get to it all asap!) ETC.

The T of the SWOT analysis hardly needs to be done when the Local Authority is planning a county wide procurement, but the reality of that deployment is that the 8 parishes involved in B4RN have little chance of getting more than 2 -10 Mbps from that. One of the bidders cannot even tell anyone what technology they plan to use nor what capacity that will offer to this area this week. B4RN is offering a gig.

We can argue round that figure as much as you wish, but the detail is in the Business Plan on the website. We have been as transparent as anyone could ever wish, and possibly more so than could be deemed sensible, but maybe that just shows up the foolhardy nature of constantly citing "commercial sensitivity" with PUBLICLY FUNDED projects. Why hide the detail away? What if the community could contribute if only they knew? B4RN works on that, yes, you, may have something that will help this project succeed so we need to make sure you can see where that might be.

B4RN is seeking no public funding to go ahead. One of the gripes I have had for far too long is that no-one has been pursuing the Public-Private-Community Partnerships that I have been pushing since before CBN days. Use public money, get private sector involved, but use the money of the SMEs and residents in the community too.

In this instance, I am an honorary resident, and you will all be glad to know that my promise to put my dosh where my very big mouth is earlier this year has been more than accepted by B4RN! And I am relieved to finally have a project to back. With similar support from others who fancy a punt, B4RN could prove the viability and sustainability of rural FTTH once and for all. The best bit is that I get to choose which property benefits from my investment and gets 1 year's free connection to B4RN so I've been looking at holiday cottages for working weekends away in the Trough of Bowland and the Lune Valley ;)

So, take a look at B4RN. We don't have £1million or £30million to play with before starting, but we have a serious business plan and vision that few others share right now for rural FTTH gigabit broadband. We are JFDI with this community's support - both the geographic community, and the community of interest around the world who reads blogs like this and want to see a project with heart and brains succeed. Register your interest to receive the share offer doc in October, and why not consider putting a few pennies behind B4RN? Between us, we could connect a fair few holiday cottages and that bit of Lancs is scenic, friendly, and within spitting distance of the coast and the Lakes .... I feel a Gigabit colloquium coming on ;)

Read more!

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Competitive broadband market? Compete with this!

Read more! Seems wholesale prices for fibre longhaul are plummeting, with a 63% drop in 2 years for a 10Gbps wavelength from Los Angeles to Tokyo now costing £22,000 ($36,000) as compared to £60,000 ($98,500) in 2009.

This blog post can be read at

What has caused the drop? Three new undersea cables, mucho more capacity, and a host of new competition. Funny that. The competition comes when you chuck as much capacity as you can at the problem, not the least.

Unity - a total capability of 7.68 Tbit/s
Trans-Pacific Express -a total capability of 5.12Tbps
Asia - America Gateway - a total capability of 2.88Tbps

Individual customers can start with a 10Gbps wavelength. I can feel the need to move coming on again: after all we are now down to less than the price I was quoted for 2Mbps!

When will we see a similar drop in longhaul/backhaul prices within the UK? Or are we going to continue to pursue the scarcity model forever?

LA to Tokyo is 5400 miles, which would be 9 times up and down the UK from Land's End to John O'Groats - as crows fly. So, it seems that pricing by distance doesn't always have to apply.

Read more!