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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Workington, working together?

Read more! BT will shortly announce that they have just cherry picked Workington out of Cumbria's roll out. They may have made the announcement already....been busy here.....

This blog post can be read at

This county that I and others choose to live in is being scammed. Big style. As are far too many others. (Or prove us wrong?). Not for the BDUK money per se but for the townships which would then make a rural rollout actually worth playing with. Using the BDUK procurement as a backdrop.

Apparently C&W, who didn't actually show at the suppliers' day in Carlisle recently, are backing out. Read: have left. So, we're down to two players (waiting for confirmation but that isn't due till about next spring) and word on the street is that someone high up in HMG is trying to keep BT's monopoly alive and well. Like that comes as a surprise.

There are questions that need asking at County level about the fitness of some of those making telecom decisions for our next generations. But ask yourself in far more depth and detail what the hell is going on in Westminster that yet another County is down to only (in reality) a single player with two initials?

Yes, a register is required of lobbyists but how about a list of every single ex-BT employee and shareholder who seems to be currently involved in some very poor decision making for the future communications infrastructure of this country?

Hey, we get the need for commercial cut throat games, but why not put in open access infrastructure and then let them chop chunks out of each other?

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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Big Society Hurdle Busting

Read more! I sat on the doorstep of Cyberbarn tonight, waiting for two of our seriously active community campaigners (have you voted for Libby yet?)

This blog post can be read at

When these folk arrived, just after I had spoken to Rory on the train as he came home to his constituency, we took Cyberbarn to pieces and reconstructed it. I am very lucky to have people like this around me. So is Cyberbarn.

Every hurdle we currently face will be removed by our Big Society barrier busting team. And people like Julie and Libby.

Watch this space. Cyberbarn is knocking down hurdles that it seems County would prefer stayed in place for at least another year. No chance. You will be voted out at the next election and we will make sure that your actions about bringing broadband to the Final Third are made public.

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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Expensive IP Transit - Zynga

Read more! Not my forte but did a few quick experiments to try to solve what was becoming an expensive problem here, and likely to become worse if we didn't know the source as we move into the next phase of the CAN.

This blog post can be read at

Over the last 2 years or so, we have fairly regularly gone over our monthly cap dans le village. It has been hard to prove who was at fault. Until now.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, Facebook games which are the issue. Two of my neighbours (oh yeah, and me too) have been using FB games instead of chat, Skype etc, as well as to make life slightly more interesting. The WOW downloads were, I knew, pretty hefty, but actually Zynga has to be the biggest non-paying user of bandwidth that any ISP is facing right now.

I have just set up a quick experiment that involved not actually playing a game and I'm sure this can be confirmed by my fave techie: I pulled 425MB in just under 10 secs without actually playing anything. Considering that these games demand regular check-ins etc, and many do not work over the mobile network (I wonder why!), having 2,3 or more of the Zynga family running at any one time could mean you are pulling a gig regularly throughout a day. Play 4 games consecutively (if you know how they work, you will know this is perfectly feasible) for 3-4 hours and the consumption must be enormous.

On many packages, this would see you pushing the FUP in no time flat on an average month. So, one wonders how many of the so-called excessive users we hear the ISPs calling criminals are simply Facebook's average users?

Makes it quite obvious that a) we need to stop permitting bloated code (compression techniques etc, guys) b) work together so games such as these work as much for LAN and cached as anywhere else and c) open the bloody pipes up.

If 25% of traffic in the US right now is Netflix, you wonder how much of the rest is obese Zynga (or similar) code? And what's in it for them using so much bandwidth? Anyone know of a Zynga/ISP deal, including an affiliate usage that might explain why any single company would want to create something that uses such a phenomenal percentage of the scarce resource at any one moment?

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Lords Committee on broadband

Read more! Spotted a reference a while back to an up and coming HOL Committee on broadband on Jimi Enck's blog.
This blog post can be read at

With many thanks to one of the readers here (don't know if you want naming, but thanks for your great emails!), this has now been confirmed and begins in December.

The sort of topics that Lords may want input on are technical and economic information, legal input on State Aid constraints, investment, as well as specifically rural inputs regarding wireless, satellite and rural finance.

Joint work on submissions is always welcome to keep input succinct, understandable etc so if anyone is interested in a 5TTH submission, get in touch.
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Ready for the next item on the good news agenda?

Read more! I wasn't. And nor were the projects here in Cumbria.

This blog post can be read at

Turned out (Mondayish) that there is an ITT out for consultants to advise the Cumbrian pilots on business plans, instruments etc. Came as a bit of a shock to the projects listed, as you can imagine. But I forwarded it to them in case they didn't know. They didn't.

Staffed by some of the most inexhaustible volunteers who have forged relationships within their communities (literally on their doorsteps), the idea that a furriner would be allowed access.....

Actually, it's worse. A PAID furriner, who knows absolutely nothing about these communities, and has been chosen in a rushed 5 day process (Oct 21st to 26th) could be forced in to Cumbrian communities who have established relationships that telcos, governmental departments and civil servants can only dream of. And not a single one of these hard working people who have already, in some cases, got networks up and running, HAS RECEIVED A SINGLE PENNY YET FROM BDUK.

The mind boggles.

So, I'm applying. Because I'm at least local and know every single one of these communities personally. And I'm in good company who can ask far more important questions than me starting with "Why not us?".

I'm sure we won't get it, although the team we have put together in a few short hours could do this job perfectly, without stepping on any toes or peeing money up the wall. (For those who feel like throwing my outcome income statement at me, I will explain this soon, I promise).

Can these furriners create the so-called Community Broadband Toolkit for the next wastage (sorry, spend) of public money called the Rural Community Broadband Fund due to be rushed through (sorry, launched) by the end of November.... when we find out who has "won" the chance to run the gauntlet of some severely cross Cumbrian communities, I'll post again.

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Hey, it gets better....

Read more! I lied. It really doesn't.

This blog post can be read at

In the last two days, rumours have been circulating on't Cumbrian jungle drums that one supplier (of the 3, or is it now down to 2?) on the Lot 2 list has told some folks that they are doing nothing more for now on any pilot*.

*There aren't actually any pilots** in Cumbria yet because the State Aid issues have not been resolved. We could be the first county to have pilots that come post-procurement. Go, us! For achieving sweet FA since Rory's event, let alone the 7 years or so since the Project-Access-debacle, we should get yet another EU award (I was there in Brussels, PA really did get one and it should be removed/denounced/stripped, publicly, for out and out lying about the success of that nigh on £20M spend, read: #fail).

**Oh and none of the pilots are actually allowed to do that innovative lark we were all so looking forward to. It has to be one of the prospective bidders or get oot. It's beginning to look as though if you don't choose the right one, you will find you have wasted at least a year of your life come next spring (see a future post on the actual date) when/if procurement is actually announced.

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Cumbria...take a very deep breath

Read more! Herefordshire, North Yorkshire, Scotland and every other county who thinks it has won the pools with BDUK, this includes you too. Shall I give you the good news first? Or are you up for the bad?

This blog post can be read at

OK, neighbours, take this in.

Good news first.

The shouting about outside-in has, finally, hit a target. (That's it, the good news). Only taken, what? A decade? Now, let's see if there is some sort of consistency between documents, thinking, procurement..... CCC, BDUK, CALC et al are being particularly tight-arsed with sharing info at present, but hopefully when Jim, Liz and all the others return, who seem to be missing in action right now (holidays and visits on Tuesday by ministers etc), this blog might have some answers for you. I'd far prefer to be doing a different type of digging but needs must....

State Aid compliance has not yet been met. Heard this from 3 different sources last night. So, if you are one of the pilots, leave your hands tied to the chair for a while longer. There is no ERDF dosh coming your way, yet. Personally, I'd JFDI and forget the promises of free cash - it's looking increasingly vacuous.

Still no definition of SFBB in any county, and particularly not ours. Ask your MP about symmetry if all you are going to get is 2Mbps, which seems to be the ambition for this fair nation now - roll back to 2002 or worse, 1984. Question of the day is though: since when has SFBB meant choice of provider before speed of connection?

I'm breaking this into multiple posts as even I am struggling to take this all in now we're past the good news.
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Monday, 17 October 2011

Low Hanging's not urban

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Dutch cows on islands

One of the arguments/myths which has long done the rounds in telco circles is that the low hanging eg profitable fruit is to be found in urban areas. For years, particularly as a rural dweller, I have argued against this. And largely been unheard (Nowt new there!) more...

This blog post can be read at

Well, I am hesitant to say, "No more," but at the Telecom Paper Breedband 2011 event in Den Haag, the urban = low hanging fruit debate was comprehensively trashed in a coffee break by a group of senior telco execs who weren't (I suspect) expecting to arrive at the conclusion they did.

Why is URBAN no longer the place to be?

1) Competition in towns and cities - everyone assumed that urban was the place to be. Now you are all there, it isn't. Because a) customer acquisition and retention is costing you so much b) infrastructure is more expensive - once bitten, twice shy councils etc c) ARPU is insufficient in such a competitive environment to risk an investment. So, you end up as a reseller with little to differentiate you from all the others.

2) Rural isolation leads to desperation and frustration. And high uptake. So...urban with minimal uptake or rural with max uptake?

3) Necessity is the mother of invention. Rule breaking and JFDI means simple models can be adopted in rural areas and problems are different but often cheaper to resolve. They may be out of your comfort zone, but not out of the rural populace's experience to JFDI.

4) First to market. If you are the sole provider in an area with a realistic and (even urban) competitive pricing scenario for a great product, you own the market. All of it. Even with an open access solution - which you can do purely to convince yourself you are a risk taker!

5) Community is strong. Co-operation, collaboration, community and commerce work well together when allowed. Slice of pie for everyone.

6) The actual proven capex and opex figures vs revenue in rural areas have rapidly approached those in urban areas over the last few years. For reasons given above, it is now (arguably - goto comments) weighted towards rural.

7) Loyalty - Communities stick by their own and will support projects etc that are obviously doing good by the local economy and citizens. This is frequently abused by corporate social responsibility depts, even within so-called community-biased companies but rural communities are becoming wiser to these ploys in the tech sector now.

Value of Social Capital in a Rural Network

Social capital will not repay a bank loan directly. The representative from Rabobank and I discussed this in Den Haag at length - a single session with bankers and communities could solve this issue once and for all so the balance sheet works over a longer payback period (10-15 years) than would be required for a strictly commercial loan (3+ years) but it would still work.

However, where the community is benefiting and seeing the wealth generation internally, funds can be directed from blue pound etc to repayment of loans. What can go wrong is when a community-facing company leaves only a "skim" in the community coffers as a feel good factor after enjoying the revenue from all of the above without sufficient to repay the internal investment from within the community.

The big problem is greed. Too many companies seem to believe that FTTH or inferior versions thereof are a licence to print money, particularly in rural areas. Even those that are seemingly community-facing have ended up showing their true colours recently. For what? To gain a few percentage points and short term gains, whilst losing the chance (as many baby bells and rural telcos have proven is possible) to still be in business 30, 40 or more years down the line.

Long term , drip drip drip, solid revenue based on organic growth and an understanding of your customer base, with minimal competition and a technology that is established, proven and future-proofed.....well, we ended up with folks ready to invest in rural!

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A month or two ago, we at B4RN acquired some CPE kit to show at the Parish Parties so people could understand what might be in their homes or business premises once they chose to connect to the B4RN gigabit FTTH network. Typically, no-one showed an interest until it was returned to the kind loaner, LucidOS, after the #fibrewalk. But now....

This blog post can be read at

As B4RN becomes more of a reality and people understand what is involved, questions about CPE are being asked. CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) is of course of interest to the consumer, but getting your CPE right on a project can make all the difference in cutting install costs too.

Since we first met earlier this year, it has been hard not to fall slightly in love with the Miniflex pre-terminated fibre that a consumer can literally plug in once it has come through the window frame.

Not only ease of use for consumers and installers, but the rugged ducting has also so far survived the cow test - lob it in the byre and see what damage your average cud-chomping moo can do in an enclosed environment. If it can survive that, it can survive deployment "in the field", literally.

Miniflex kit bears looking at and tell Graham or Paul that you heard about it from me when you buy. (Every 100m or so they care to donate to the cause as a thank you will more than likely connect another home in rural England so you can feel good about that contribution to the solving of the #digitalbritain problem!).

I'm getting far more interested in CPE, which is one of those areas where very little change has seemingly occurred in the 7 years I have been attending FTTH Council events. Yep, smaller. Yep, cheaper. Yep, more ports etc. But the real change now seems to have come from feedback by installers, which is ensuring that the length of time spent on a single install reduces dramatically.

And that affects bottom line and the fee you need to charge an end user to be connected.

So, on that note, I am adding a short video from meeting Genexis in Holland this last week. And some photos. The Genexis kit is of huge interest not only to projects where DIY is an integral element to the install, but also where having CPE kit that cannot be accidentally damaged and so add to the ongoing opex through maintenance, tech support etc is important. Plus, your installers want something that is simple to get to for upgrades etc, and where a tricky install in a tight corner is not an issue.

Customers are always right so if they want that CPE hidden under the stairs or beneath the desk, out of sight, then being able to oblige them without it causing a problem now or in the future has to be important. And having a cute bit of kit that people are happy with also counts.

And no, I am not reducing the resolution of the images. If you can't view them, lobby your MP, County and Parish Councils for a far better broadband solution than the telcos are currently willing to offer you. There's £530M just for starters in the pot......... make sure it is spent wisely connecting YOU!

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High level thinking in the Lowlands

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Many thanks to TelecomPaper (and particularly Tim Poulus) for inviting me to address around 150 senior telecoms executives at the Breedband 2011 event in Den Haag last week. Telecom Paper had assembled a high calibre of speakers and delegates and I was very definitely on a high by the end of the day with narry a coffee shop in sight!

This blog post can be read at

I went to Holland prepared to return feeling dispirited at the comparable state of British broadband to the Dutch fibre endeavours, which of course many of us are jealous of, and to discover just where it is we are going wrong. Because we blatantly are. Many of those with the answers I was seeking were at the event and sought me out after my presentation, giving plenty of opportunity to quiz them about FTTH in Holland, Finland, Eastern Europe and Russia. (Separate post on all that!)

However, it appears that across Europe there still remains a tricky problem to solve - rural broadband - and B4RN may be one of the solutions which can actually overcome telecom apathy, investor reluctance, government failures, and this strangely mistaken but firm belief that rural broadband cannot pay back, whether public, private or community monies are invested (or a combination thereof).

I spoke after the inimitable Costas Troulos (who spoke in depth about the NBN in Australia) and Gary Mensch of City Fibre Holdings, who developed the plans that CFH have for urban areas in Britain, including Bournemouth, York and 53 other UK cities. It was bordering on completely terrifying speaking after these two, but I am passionate about B4RN, and the business case and technical solution are rock solid now after all this time in Barry Forde's capable hands. Many noted that it was the first time they had been able to access the figures for rural gigabit FTTH so kudos to B4RN for making these publicly available to everyone on

One of the major points to note in Costas' speech for me was the uniform backhaul rates being aimed for in Oz. This is, of course, one of the key stumbling blocks in the UK - charging for backhaul by distance - and I think we would do well to look closely at the aims in Australia (where distances are far larger than here by several factors). Additionally, there were the possible problems with getting NBN onto a sound economic footing after the initial "euphoria" (read: spend), as well as how to persuade non new build property developers to get on board - also lessons we would do well to consider if we are serious about stretching the little money we have as far as possible. Costas' research into NBN Australia is well worth taking into account and I recommend delving more deeply.

From Gary's talk came an interesting discussion post-event about urban-rural tie ups and partnerships which highlighted for me how much BDUK need to get out of the way. The possibilities for syndicates and partnerships in the UK are now enormous, but not if no-one dares invest or deploy in case some publicly funded project comes over the hill shortly after. (This subject has been done to death and I am not doing it again here).

Whilst other speakers at Breedband 2011 covered the cloud, FTTH business cases, govt funding, structural separation (and a few other topics which were in Dutch so I only got the briefest overview of these from a selection of translators picked at random from around the hall - Jos from Routit in particular, thank you very much!), there was only myself and a speaker from the co-operative Rabobank who went into rural broadband - funding, technology, engagement etc - in any depth. The wide range of topics made for a fascinating day.

I was also lucky enough to meet another Fibre To The Farmer, and conversations about rural FTTH were never-ending throughout the day from suppliers, mobile, fixed, consultants and so on. My head was spinning by the end and attempts from a lovely old boy outside who thought I needed educating in Dutch smoking culture were always going to fall on deaf ears thanks to Telecom Paper.

Judging by the number of in-depth questions which filled the lunch break and post event borrel, plus the surprising number of business cards thrust into my hands, it would appear that those of us involved in B4RN have been correct in our assumption that people who live and work a long way from Lancashire are extremely interested in supporting this project. (For those who have not seen the decision made on 07/10/11, the share offer will be launched next month and all are welcome to invest, from £100 to £20,000, although we also plan to launch a micro-support scheme for those wanting to show support without purchasing shares - a sponsor would be welcomed for this scheme if anyone is interested, cost £500, please get in touch).

I did of course throw into my speech that shareholders would be welcomed from the delegates present, and when this resulted in hands being raised to receive the share offer documents when produced, and firm offers to purchase shares when speaking to delegates after my speech, it was heart warming. However, people also came forward with offers of CPE, backbone equipment, sharing of information/knowledge, and even the odd bit of shovel wielding. From all the conversations, it would seem there will now be a few Europeans with a vested interest in a small area of rural England that they had barely heard of before last week!

I rabbit on and on about how broadband affects all aspects of our lives and this support will have an additional add-on effect for Lancashire that all councils would do well to take into account. Especially if they are only planning solutions around USC or SFBB rather than true next generation access of 1Gbps and above. TOURISM. And in particular, technical tourism. Our B&Bs plus local shops, bars and restaurants are likely to all benefit now from visitors from abroad because people want to see first hand how B4RN is implemented, the effects and the changes to local economies and services of true next generation access in a rural setting, as well as to use B4RN as an exemplar to take home and replicate. All being well obviously, but even in the worst case scenario, there will be valuable lessons learned.

Tourism contributes a phenomenal sum as a sector, and whilst we are pretty dreadful at hospitality compared to many other countries, we could begin to focus on showcasing our technical and innovative skills to guests from afar. That is, if we are actually going to play catch up/leap frog and not completely screw everything up by introducing ultra high levels of rushed bureaucracy into the equation through BDUK etc, and permitting uninformed communities to make snap decisions without understanding the big picture consequences. I was deeply embarrassed to explain the BDUK process in the networking sessions. From afar, you suddenly realise how little it is likely to achieve because it is as far from a Big Society, joined-up thinking, logical approach as it seems you could get when you stand on the other side of the North Sea and try to explain it.

Luckily, the ins and outs of our political shenanigans were of less interest than B4RN, and whilst I wish I spoke better Dutch, there were few discussions that could not be translated by one of the many English speakers around me. The RaboBank presentation in particular showed that a co-operative bank can provide invaluable assistance in getting community projects onto a sound economic footing, whilst also recouping their loans, although we did have a rather lengthy discussion over coffee about the bank's need to understand where social capital fits into the equation when setting terms for repayment of cash!

The presentation by Jyrki of Finland resulted in a 2+2 moment that I will try to blog about in the near future, although I am not completely sure I can do it full credit as it really was one of those "You had to be there" kerching moments.

The Genexis CPE kit (see video and photos in next blog post) will be of interest to anyone looking at FTTH, and end to end solutions plus out of the box thinking were available throughout the event. Many became obvious only when people networked and my lack of Dutch meant I missed conversations around me that would, I'm sure, have been fascinating.

That highlighted for me the need for people like Neelie to pick up on promises made by her predecessors to hold and attend an event that brings together regulators, consumers, communities, telcos, suppliers etc to make magical things happen by involving people from across the EU. It is simply no good now to have events in EU which are always poorly attended by those who most need to be heard or to listen. Which far too frequently, sadly, includes communities and consumers. And Brits. (We really do need to get out more).

Telecom Paper and others are now considering a proposal to hold such an event which drags a few Brits (kicking and screaming) across to mainland Europe to hear how things are being done in other countries and rural areas, and to share some of the best practice and innovative thinking which is coming out of the UK despite the best efforts of the telcos and government to undermine them. (Sorry, but it has to be said. And said again).

An EU wide understanding of how to deliver the very best in rural broadband (none of this half-assed USC malarkey) should, if the events I have attended in the EU recently give any indication, be a reasonably simple matter to resolve if the subject is given sufficient space on the agenda and made the priority it must become.

And the Big Society is allowed to play a part.

By this I mean that those who believe their salaries and exalted position give them a status, that at times is undeserved, acquire ears. As well as a level of humility that permits those at grassroots the chance to be heard and understood so that joint ventures become the order of the day.

The appetite to make rural broadband a reality is there, the contacts exist between nations, suppliers, communities, consumers, fixed and mobile etc, and the business case and economic and social value is slowly but surely becoming too apparent to miss. FiWi Pie could easily become dish of the day on the menu if a few people listen to those waiting on.

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Well, well, well, broadband gets awards!

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There are umpteen awards in this country - for everything from sausage rolls onwards. But it is rare (unless we hold the CanDo Awards again!) that broadband innovation gets a look in.

This blog post can be read at

I've just received an email which has led me to discover that two of our number (for we count you as part of the family which will bring the solutions, particularly to solving rural broadband) have been shortlisted down to the Final 50 for the Red Bull Future 50 Awards.

So, I'd like to congratulate Paul Evans of Sharedband and James Collier of Neul for getting noticed in what appears to be a diverse and competitive award scenario.

Neul have also been included in the top ten judge's picks, and I love the comment: "Big? This could be galactic!", and we shall all be looking out for Weightless shortly.

Good luck to both companies, now and in the future, and readers: don't forget to vote!
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Monday, 3 October 2011

The Unbalanced Balance Sheet

Read more! FTTH is TOO say the telcos. Communities can debate this as much as we wish, but until here in the UK we prove the telcos wrong...we are wasting our time postulating about the FTTH lies/unrealistic thinking coming from industry. However....
This blog post can be read at

The hard evidence concerning what happens across the entire fiscal picture once FTTH/P is deployed is no longer a finger in the air exercise.

Anyone who thinks FTTH is about what the telcos get back as ROI, (return from the investment) has missed the reality of what true broadband connectivity means.

Does your Council think that spending the BDUK money is about cutting costs for IT infrastructure? Is your Council looking at cutting a known cost for IT/backhaul through the BDUK process? Has your Council drawn up a balance sheet showing the cost/benefit of installing next generation broadband for EVERY SINGLE DEPARTMENT and CONSTITUENT?

Has any single body been put in charge of looking at the cost savings across the entire County (Council, SME, citizens, education and health, for starters) to judge the value of investment?

Is there a balance sheet that shows where savings over 5-10 years ACROSS THE BOARD are likely to occur by installing a forward and joined up thinking solution for next generation access?

Has that been compared to FTTC or BET or satellite?

NO? Oh, you surprise me.

Name me one company involved in NGA - incumbent, new entrant, public/private partnership, community org - who has actually thought this through to show why FTTH/P is the way forward and why it suits every single player....

THAT is FiWiPie. Joined up thinking, win/win for everyone, nothing at all to do with technology. As the person who in 2004 came up with FiWiPie with Adam Burns, long before 99% of the current people who claim to have anything to do with FiWi, FTTH, Community solutions etc had any involvement, I ask you all to do the maths, accounts, economics, community engagement etc.

New entrants can use the terms such as FiWi as much as they wish, but the reality is if you don't even grasp the basics of where this thinking came from, you are always going to be pretending to be au fait with the core thinking. And making up the solutions.

Does YOUR solution actually solve any problems by addressing the issues? Do you comprehend the issues? Do you have a full handle on the balance sheets for the council whose problems you are trying to solve? Do you have hard core evidence about the business problems faced in the area you are intending to cover? Do you have figures for the telecom costs paid for by every single business in that community? Have you spoken to over 50% of the citizens in the community you are attempting to cover to understand the issues faced?

Or are you just making it up as you go along and pretending YOU KNOW BEST?

Present evidence to my council, or any other. Stop inventing facts and figures. Stop pretending you have a solution, especially where unproven. Challenge the Councils with hard facts from dedicated research. Build demos by investing your own money not taxing rural people to fund unproven and dubious technologies.

STOP treating rural people as idiots. Not one of you has yet put in place a decent rural demo. Until you do, do not expect any of us to believe your claims. We don't believe the Councils etc, either, but at least we know they have no idea what they are trying to do.

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