Today, the Parish of Goudhurst and Kilndown in rural Kent (which is where we live) came one step closer to achieving what most others in the UK have access to…..
It wasn’t fresh water. That has been flowing freely from boreholes and the local reservoir at Bewl Water for quite a while.
It wasn’t gas. Goudhurst used to have gas – but the Gas Works blew up in the 1948 – a few weeks before all gas works were nationalized. Coincidence or dodgy insurance claims, no one quite knows.
It wasn’t electricity. That has been delivered to all of the Parish since about 2006 when the folk in Bedgebury Forest came onto the Grid.
It wasn’t being connected to the mains sewage. Our house still has a septic tank at the bottom of the garden.
What it was that we came one step closer to getting half of the Parish – perhaps more – onto Superfast Broadband.
The next stage of the scheme is due to go live next week – in time for the end of June go-live for four of the cabinets in the village to be fibred-up to Superfast Broadband. And the spectacle today was watching the fibre being blown down the plastic ducts that have been laid under all the key roads in the village.
The event went off without an audience – large or small. Simply two engineers diligently waiting whilst the meter showed how far the end of the fibre had been blown. The fibre wrapped over the right arm to give it control as it entered the plastic duct pipe.
Looking forward to the fibre being lit next week. Come on, light my fibre – or something like that!
I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.
Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.
The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.
At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.
There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.
I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.
When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.
I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.
There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions. The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path. Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open. It is not. Never has been. Never will be. Clever marketing.
In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime. Definitely not the best way to invest government money. Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently. Only in the House of Lords.
I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council. You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!
Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.
For those who have followed this blog for a while, you will know I presented evidence at the House of Lords’ inquiry on the present UK’s government’s policy on Next Generation Broadband. So it was at midnight on Tuesday, the Lords published their report which can be found <HERE> entitled “Broadband for all – an alternative vision”.
Lord Inglewood was interviewed in a video:
“Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset. The Government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy.
The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come.”
The report has had a mixed response. Supporters of a truly open-access fit-for-purpose National internet Infrastructure applauded.
Other analysts were eless complimentary:
Matthew Howett, lead analyst of Ovum’s regulatory practice, said many aspects of the inquiry’s report are “simply odd”.
“With nearly 50 recommendations and no indication of costs or how they should be met, it’s likely to be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe dream,” he said.
Odd it was for me that so many Peers took the time out to learn about the industry and the pros and cons of various options for technology and business models. It was a piece of work that involved many hours of their time to see the problem from different perspectives. It challenged the status-quo and came up with an alternative vision for what the UK’s national internet access infrastructure might look like. It was bound to be unpopular in certain quarters as it threatened the status-quo.
Sure, the government and BT’s in-house analysts might dismiss the ideas as pipe-dreams, but one wonders where the whole BDUK process is heading. It might be the Games in London – but this particular game will go one well into the Autumn after all the athletes have left London.
It is definitely time for the status-quo to be challenged. BDUK is at best a strange construction and at worst a totally bonkers policy for a government set on Localism and Community Engagement. The Lords’ report went to the heart of this matter and has suggested a framework for a truly revolutionary approach to fixing the monopoly of BT’s infrastructure – particularly in the middle-mile.
At times, I think of giving up banging this drum and doing something more conventional and toe-the-line. Yet at one minute past midnight on Tuesday, I had a new surge of enthusiasm that the ideas that we have been working on for several years now are getting some traction and that a body of revered and highly intelligent Peers actually understood what many on the fringes of the industry have been saying for a while.
If only the Government could stand back and listen to some of the concerns about the current vision and understand that they have alternatives that are better, faster and cheaper that will help the UK’s international competitiveness, we might actually come up with something that really does get the economy back on its feet in a fairer way, based on an infrastructure that no single part is too big to fail. Surely there is a lesson here from the banking system that is staring us in the face?
Come on, Jeremy. Put the bell head back on the stick, put the bell down and start listening again. Unless, of course, you get reshuffled – in which case it is round-and-round we go!
At the end of a very busy few weeks, I managed to miss the announcement that OfCom, the UK Communications Regulator had published its annual review of the UK Communications Market. Just under £30 in paper format, it is free to download online <HERE>.
The summary on page 11 (which I have copied below) for me, says it all:
It is fascinating how many of the things that OfCom measures are moving so slowly: take-up and satisfaction of Digital TV; listening to the radio; Internet penetration and usage and satisfaction; mobile take-up and satisfaction etc. etc. This smacks of a mature market and a set of industry measures that somehow miss the next wave of development needed to make (some in BT would sake keep) the UK truly competitive.
If the truth that “What gets measured gets done”, I fear that Ofcom sits in a world of complacent self-satisfaction – not challenging itself to measure the key drivers behind the next wave of technology upgrade, not worrying about how to reposition the UK’s digital infrastructure to create jobs and make the UK more competitive, not concerning itself about how to use its extensive skills in economic analysis and drivers to cover the final 25% of the UK population that is not online. The only new measure is satisfaction on the speed of postal delivery. Hardly a measure that is ground-breaking! What about a “new” measure for the speed of traffic in Central London?
With the current very strange (nearing on ridiculous) process that is being run out of DCMS to gather suitable (politically-guided, politcally-correct) evidence for the up-coming Comms Act, neither the Government nor OfCom are creating the right environment to tackle many of the REAL challenges that face the UK comms industry in the next eight years. Nor are we getting enough debate on the REAL issues so that the government gets the necessary buy-in for the changes.
It was therefore refreshing to attend a seminar run by the Public Services Network Governing Body (PSNGB) on Thursday. Finally, I can see a new model emerging where the industry (as represented by the PSNGB Trade Association) combined with a part of government (run out of the Cabinet Office) create a new way of working and a new way of thinking about Government ICT procurement. Excellent organisation, excellent objectives, excellent vision to transform public services so they look like the commercial internet. The trouble is that we can’t use this network for commercial gain – as Europe has a set of crazy procurement rules – some of which are tying the well-intentioned DCMS/BDUK programmes up in knots!
Another organisation that I have found that is trying to get some momentum behind the final 25% is the phoenix that has risen out of the ashes of the”Race Online 21012″ campaign. They have chosen the interesting campaign title of “GoOn” – which many will read as GOON. I many ways, Monty Python and his Flying Circus would do a better job at getting the UK’s Communications Industry better organised for the challenges that lie ahead in the run-up to 2020.
The current circus is no longer amusing. The self-satisfaction on measuring things past, the arrogance to think that what is being done now will suffice and the closed-shop thinking being conducted on the Comms Act needs to be challenged loudly. I wonder if the House of Lord’s review will carry the weight that is needed to rattle the cage? Or maybe that is simply another act in the Circus? I hope not. In any case, it is definitely time for a reshuffle after the Olympics. The Future of the Telecoms industry needs to be debated and taken more seriously than it has in the past year – over-shadowed by the Olympics, Digital Rights and the Future of Museums. The only way to do that is to get it out of under DCMS’ brief and move it to a more enlightened part of government – perhaps back to BIS, or, more radically under DCLG, a Ministry for Infrastructure or the Cabinet Office.
After having dug to a depth of 10 feet last year, French scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 200 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 150 years ago.
Not to be outdone by the French: in the weeks that followed, American archaeologists dug to a depth of 20 feet before finding traces of copper wire. Shortly afterwards, they published an article in the New York Times saying : “American archaeologists, having found traces of 250-year-old copper wire, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network 50 years earlier than the French.”
A few weeks later, ‘The British Archaeological Society of Northern England’ reported the following: “After digging down to a depth of 33 feet in the Skipton area of North Yorkshire in 2011, Charlie Hardcastle, a self-taught amateur archaeologist, reported that he had found absolutely sod all. Charlie has therefore concluded that 250 years ago Britain had already gone wireless.”
Just makes you bloody proud to be British, don’t it?
(Thanks, Richard, for sending me this on an email. I thought I would put it on the blog to share it more widely!)
I was doodling the other day and came up with this ABC of Fibre-to-the-Alphabet:
Fibre to the Antenna
Fibre to the Business, Basement
Fibre to the Cabinet / Community / Church / Carpark / Community Hub
Fibre to the Device (what happened to LightPeak?)
Fibre to the Ethernet Port, Exchange
Fibre to the Farm, Fridge, Flat
Fibre to the Garage, Golfcourse
Fibre to the Home, Hospital
Fibre to the Island
Fibre to the Jacuzi
Fibre to the King's Head
Fibre to the Library, Laundrette
Fibre to the Mast
Fibre to the Notspot, Next Billion
Fibre to the Organ
Fibre to the Pub, Post Office
Fibre to the Queen's Head
Fibre to the Radio Mast, Radio Tower, Rock
Fibre to the School, Surgery, Steeple, Spire, Sheep
Fibre to the Third Place
Fibre to the University
Fibre to the Village Hall, Village Pump
Fibre to the Wellington Boot
Fibre to the X (as in FTTX) - X as in "Anything"
Fibre to the Yellow Brick Road
Fibre to the Zebra Crossing
Please add your thoughts on other destinations below!
With the debate about what “best” looks like as in “The UK will have the best broadband in Europe by 2015”, I looked up some famous quotations on “best”:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.”– Helen Keller
“Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.”– Dale Carnegie
“The government is best which governs least.”– Thomas Jefferson
“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”– Sir Winston Churchill
“One of the best ways of avoiding necessary and even urgent tasks is to seem to be busily employed on things that are already done.”– John Kenneth Galbraith
“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”– Buddha
“Sometimes the best gain is to lose.”– George Herbert
I live in the country. I live in the so-called Final Third. Ofcom call it a “Market 1” area – because BT is the only fixed-line service provider providing the physical lines that broadband and telephony run across.
This week, three different views hit me that have changed my whole view on how we roll out broadband to the final third. I expect many of my readers will have switched off by now – but bear with me – because I think it might interest you.
The first view was from Adrian Wooster’s blog – where he has produced a really interesting picture of what the spread of the UK’s broadband looks like by postcode – one image of which I have copied below:
Click on the image on Adrian’s blog site to see each scenario – it loops back at the end to highlight the gulf between where we’re starting from to where we need to get to. Each spot of light represents a postcode.
At the moment the image only covers England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own statistical output area systems which individually need resolving to postcode level.
The interesting thing is that most of the “final third” remains in the dark – even at 95% coverage!
That got me thinking. What will be available from WiFi/Mobile/Radio technologies by 2015? Regular readers will know that I am interested in LightPeak – but there have been two other announcements this week that are very interesting and makes you think differently about broadband for the final third in 2015.
The first was from Alcatel Lucent – who have just announced the launch of the lightRadio cube which can be installed wherever there is electricity.
So this little device will dramatically reduce the costs of deploying mobile phone base stations – whilst allowing extended coverage of 3g networks to areas that are currently far too expensive to cover.
The second was from an In-Stat Report – stating that a new Wi-Fi technology standard called 802.11ac has been developed to provide Gigabit speeds across WiFi networks. The report predicts 1bn devices shipped with this technology by 2015 – which will allow streaming of high quality video to the TV set – or downloads of BlueRay DVDs in 6 seconds.I expect that many, if not most, will be mobile devices of some sort.
Add these two developments together and you get a very interesting set of technologies that may be able to provide 1Gbps speeds (depending on availability of backhaul) to most households in the country that are not provided with a direct link – i.e those who are in the dark areas on the map. That is 500 times faster than our current unambitious target for 2Mbps….and will require the cooperation of mobile operators and fixed-line operators who can provide much faster backahual speeds.
Exciting stuff – but I wonder if today’s #digitalbritain thinking is really embracing such ideas as these to create a truly competitive infrastructure for those in the power of the Dark Lord? As these new technologies are enabled, the bottleneck may well move to the backhaul. Which is why the current ideas around Fibre to the Community or “Digital Village Pumps” will become even more important. Then again, I would prefer to redefine FTTH as Fibre to the Hamlet – like the one I live in – or Fibre to the Clachan – as they say in more Celtic countries!
Once upon a time in a land not so far away there lived a Queen. The Queen had ruled for many years in a land that had plentiful supplies of food and fuel. She was a good ruler and let life carry on beneath her.
However, in the last 10 years, times had become hard because the Exchequer had not been managed the country’s finances at all well and the country was at war in a foreign land.
In the past year the First Minister had been replaced with the day-to-day matters of state being handled by two brothers – David and Nicholas. They had put their efforts into a new vision for the country called The Big Idea…..but few really understood what the Big Idea was or how it could be made to happen.
One of the most critical matters of state was the control of information and each of the six Barons – each with their own Baronial Halls were constantly battling each other to control the information to the masses. The six barons were:
House of Hunters – led by Baron Jeremy – who was closely related to the Prince of Com and had a good degree of influence in matters of government House of Living – nominally led by Baroness Liv – but the real power was with her uncle Baron Stone House of Virgins – led by Baron Branson who had many interests and many females dressed in long red dresses House of Skydivers – led by Baron Murdoch – who also owned many newspapers and town criers House of Oxygen – led by some Spanish guy who had no name and lived far away House of Chatter – led by Baron Dun of Stone – (but no relation to Baron Stone in the House of Living)
The rules under which these six Houses were controlled was led by one of the Queen’s Princes – The Prince Of Com.
Now the Prince of Com actually had very little power over the barons because the Queen was weak and the barons were strong.
continuation of the story suggested by David Brunnen…..
And, moreover, the country was only just recovering from a plague of rational meerkats who had, over the past ten years, destroyed the infrastructure of the country so that anyone intent on building new foundations for the future found that the ground kept collapsing beneath their feet and that no end of short-term fixes could solve the problem.
Then came the day when the Barons battling over control of information to the masses suddenly found that the citizens were not listening or reading because their old copper connections had collapsed and (to make it worse) the libraries had all closed down. And the Bossy Barons said ‘We are agrieved – the Prince of Com has been delinquent’.
But Baron Hunter said he had a plan to banish the Prince of Com to outer darkness (or at least beyond the visible spectrum) – but only if all the other barons stopped arguing and pledged their loyalty to the Queen and David & Nicholas’s Big Idea.
And the story might have ended happily right there except that one of the Baron’s underlings (from the Isle of Mob) got wind of this secret agreement and made headlines.
The people revolted – saying ‘What’s the Big Idea?’ and ‘The government is revolting’ and from that day onwards they all went round and round in circles until someone put up his hand and said ‘Excuse me, but I have a very Small Idea’ and they all stopped to listen.
And, for the first time in ages (well, as far as anyone can now remember) the entire country was very very quiet –
Thanks, Chris, for the next contribution:
until one small boy (whose mother should have kept him in doors) said “Why not build a network ourselves?”
All the councilors in Mordor were horrified.
You could hear their squeaks through middle earth, but the little boy persisted, and soon others started to listen, it was like a fairy tale, but soon the people started to realise it was a dream that could come true when he explained how it would work.
He put it in a pdf so everyone could read about it:
Now the Prince of Com and the House of Hunters were keen on this small boy’s ideas, but many of the Baronial Houses were not so sure as they would lose power to these new upstarts. So they started to develop new strategies so that they could keep control of their lands in the future.
In the meantime, the small boy decided to go into the countryside and talk to many folk in the land about the opportunities that these new ideas presented. The small boy, whose name was Lux, was accompanied on these travels by his loyal dog, Fico.
Everywhere that Lux went, his dog, Fico, was sure to follow.
Now, as Lux travelled the land, he discovered many people had the same problems. They were all fed up paying taxes to their barons for little in return and many were becoming very interested in leaving serfdom to become Free Men and Women – if only they could be brave enough to do it. Some small villages in the borderlands started to declare independence and the Barons became concerned. The House of Living – which had tremendous powers over many parts of the land was particularly concerned at the declaration of these new “Free Communities” – and the Prince of Com became ever more worried about the eventual outcome that this new way of thinking would bring.
There was deep unrest in the land.
Thanks to Guy Jarvis, for the following addition to this exciting story!
Much was the talk and grumbling in the digitally deprived communities, known as Notspots, for they had neither bit nor bucket.
The first community to break free from the Baron Telecom’s thrall was an ancient place, settled since Roman times and in all likelihood well before.
Abandoned by Baron T, anyways beyond the reach of his digital dog whistle, the good folks of Ashby de la Launde decided that action was required.
The question was what to do and the answer provided by the Wizards of Witham (South) seemed too good to be true:
“There is a 4th utility enterprise looking to invest in the first community ready to dare to reject the old copper gods and turn towards the light”
And thus became nextgenus.net/bookplus and that is another story.
Baron T fretted lobbyingly about choice and adoptability in the hope that the House of Living and Prince of Com might yet lose faith in the pure glass path and return to the coppery legacy of yore.
The stakes were high and the standoff Mexican until Baron T gained a taste for the FiWiPie and learned to share and that is another story too.
Please add your ideas on how the story continues in the comments block below!