The Lords’ Verdict

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!

Source of quote and more on this story at:

http://www.cbronline.com/news/lords-uk-broadband-strategy-heading-in-the-wrong-direction-010812 

http://www.totaltele.com/view.aspx?ID=475352&G=1&C=4&page=3

 

 

Share

Goons, Flying Circuses and UK Comms

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.

Share

Lessons from the Past

“The budget should be balanced,

the Treasury should be refilled,

public debt should be reduced,

the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled,

and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.

People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.”

Cicero – 55 BC

Share

Lorne at the Lords

I gave evidence at the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications on Tuesday – all about the future of UK Internet Access.

There is  a video of it here:

Share

Switch Off: I Will If You Will

On a similar theme of last week’s Global Awareness Campaign, I came across the developing idea of a “Global Earth Hour”.  Surely it is a good idea to spend one hour a year thinking about the Earth?

Started in Australia in 2004, this BIG SWITCH OFF is now held annually on the last Saturday of March every year – so you have two days to prepare yourself!

Worth taking time out to think about how dependent we are on electricity – and it does not take much effort to join in.  Just switch off all your electrical appliances from 20.30 to 21.30 this Saturday – and think about the Earth – or whatever else comes to mind!

The video below is so cute, I had to reproduce it.  Might also convince you to vote for some of the pledges on the site:

Share

Occupy Everywhere!

I had a meeting early yesterday morning at the Frontline Club in Paddington. As I was leaving, some NHS folk were outside the entrance to St Mary’s Hospital demonstrating and making a noise. I did not go up to them and chat – I just took a picture. The window in the top left corner is where Sir Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. As I walked away, I wondered what Fleming would have thought of all the noise?

I headed off to have lunch with an old friend at a restaurant in Paternoster Square – just by St Paul’s. It was a good lunch – and surprisingly crowded (when I had been told that all the traders in Paternoster Square had nearly gone out of business).   After lunch, I had a bit of time before my next appointment, so I decided to walk from St Paul’s down to Victoria.

I could only leave Paternoster Square by one exit – which was the one I came in on. Normally crowded with tourists and city folk, the square has been blockaded in by a squad of policemen and other less official-looking people who seem to be from the tented camp of the Occupy Movement.

 

I was surprised to see the tented camp still pitched around St Pauls. I wondered how long they will hang on out there (particularly now the weather is turning)?  Still, give the Occupy St Paul’s encampment some credit, they were pretty well organised and all seemed quite peaceful.

As I walked down towards The Aldwich, the whole of Fleet Street had been blocked by police cars, police vans and trucks with large sandbags.  It was a very strange atmosphere which I later realised was the end of the TUC march down the embankment.

A bit further on some folk were clearing barriers and a strange tent-like contraption came around the corner that posed for some TV cameras. The banner said “Occupy Everywhere” obscuring the sign for the Royal Courts of Justice. And it got me thinking.

With the world’s population recently increasing to over 7,000,000,000 people (or 7bn for short), in a strange way, we DO occupy everywhere already!  That’s the problem!  And we aren’t doing too well at organising ourselves to reduce the population size.  And there are now so many people getting heated up about all the problems that the planet itself is heating up more than we anticipated a few years ago.

So what’s to be done?  The politicians can’t seem to fix it.  The international banks and muti-national companies can’t seem to fix it.  The Occupy Movement doesn’t seem to be fixing it.  Yet we continue with the old patterns of marching, demonstrating (for pensions that will never appear) – and thinking that someone else will fix it.

So whilst we surely do Occupy Everywhere already, we need better ways to occupy ourselves so we all feel a sense of purpose and usefulness – without having to rely on the consumer-centric values that have held the Western world together for the past 50 years.

Interesting times.  Not sure anyone has the answer.  But I am sure we will work it out somehow!  After all, Fleming discovered Penicillin by going on holiday.  The story goes that some tropical medicine folk were researching on the floor below and penicillin floated up to his labs whilst he was away.  Strange things happen when you bring diverse ideas together and go on holiday.  Can’t wait for the Christmas break!

Share

Opting In To Civilised Money

A couple of weeks ago, I took one of my sons to London. He wanted to go and see the Occupy London site near St Paul’s – during time that the Church of England were digging deep into their consciences to work out how they should react. A few days later, I was in Edinburgh with my daughter and went to the equivalent tented camp. In both cases, I took the time to try to understand what was in the minds of those protesting. There was a peaceful atmosphere in both camps – but a surprising lack of practical things for people like me to do. However, the two experiences got me convinced that the system is broken and that things need to change.
A chance Tweet on Twitter this morning gave me the opportunity to explore the issues further. The Tweet alerted me to a new sort of Peer2Peer investment site called CrowdCube and a new sort of bank – called Civilised Money – who were looking for investors.  The idea took my interest and I read to find out more.

I was particularly struck by the coincidence that the project is the brainchild of Neil Crofts.  I have been a keen reader of Neil Croft’s weekly blog – and applaud his ideas on Authentic Leadership.  On reading more about the Civilised Money idea, is struck me that this kind of Peer2Peer banking is just like Skype was in 2002 – only transposed onto the banking system.  It made a heck of a lot of sense, so I took the plunge and invested!

By the way, I am definitely NOT an investment advisor.  I am not even sure that by the time you read this, the investment opportunity will still be open.  But I am so encouraged that there are those protesting (making the issues clear) as well as those who are trying to find new ways to design banks.

I hope it makes you think a bit more about what you opt in to – and out of.

 

Share

Reasons for the Crisis: Designing for Obsolescence

In a week where the Murdoch media empire appeared to lose its power, I came across this video “The Story of Stuff”- perhaps the most important “News of the World” that Murdoch’s empire was at the heart of ignoring.

Even if you have seen it, watch it again: it will make you think again about how the world works.

It is interesting how, with the launch of Apple’s Lion operating system we are still seeing “Design for Obsolescence” as one of the main design principles from what many say is the best design company in the world. It’s time for Apple (and the rest of us) to re-think design for the 21st century so that we can close the circle, not keep pushing the 99% waste down the pipe. Designing for Pull has to be a major factor in this redesign philosophy – and something I will come back to in future posts.

Share

Innovation at the Edge of Elecricity

Although this is almost exactly a year old and quite US-centric, the video below “Innovation at the Edge of Electricity” was made. It has some great stories that may well make the minds of anyone living in the US or Europe boggle at how true innovation is happening in the developing world without any “help” from regulators or lawmakers.

As technology is forcing industry convergence, it is not just the Western-style Telecoms regulation that is getting in the way, but the rules and regulations from the Electricity and Banking Industries too. For instance, look to Africa, not Europe or the US if you want to see what true innovation is on mobile payments.

Many of the stories are particularly helpful when we think at how we should rollout faster broadband to the so-called “Final Third”. Innovation has always happened on the edge of the network. Surely it is time for us to include some of these new ideas from the “edge of electricity” and adapt them to our own requirements. Or will we let the regulators carry on regulating our service industries to die a slow, painful death?

Well worth watching to the end.

Share

On AV, Bees, the Delphi Method and Other Voting Systems

For those who know me well, they will know I keep bees. Last week I caught the first swarm of the year in a tree in the local town – which was very satisfying. I also have another blog at http://beelore.com In one of my posts on that blog last year I noted the amazing way that bees vote for a new home.  This research even has its own site

Funny thing is that in the UK we have to decide between the current so-called “First Past the Post” system and the “Alternative Voting System”.  Pretty bi-polar.  Pretty bonkers.

What would the bees do?  The scouts would look at many and several voting systems and would (depending on the amount of energy exhibited for each system) come back to the 95% in the swarm and dance the story with a waggle.

It is such a strong idea that a guy called Thomas.D. Seeley actually wrote a book about it last year called “Honeybee Democracy”.

Here is extract from a review:

“In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together–as a swirling cloud of bees–to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader’s influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution.”

So I vote for a new kind of democracy based on 50 million years of wisdom!  The trouble is, I don’t think such an option will be on the ballot paper in the UK elections this Thursday!   I am still not sure whether AV is a step in the right direction – but it seems to be closer to the system that the bees have developed than the current First-Past-The-Post system.

If the internet age is going to really impact democracy in a useful way, then the Delphi Method is a much closer match with what the bees do than the currently proposed AV system. Here is an extract from Wikipedia:

The Delphi method (pronounced /ˈdɛlfaɪ/ DEL-fy) is a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.

In the standard version, the experts answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides an anonymous summary of the experts’ forecasts from the previous round as well as the reasons they provided for their judgments. Thus, experts are encouraged to revise their earlier answers in light of the replies of other members of their panel. It is believed that during this process the range of the answers will decrease and the group will converge towards the “correct” answer. Finally, the process is stopped after a pre-defined stop criterion (e.g. number of rounds, achievement of consensus, stability of results) and the mean or median scores of the final rounds determine the results.


Other versions, such as the Policy Delphi, have been designed for normative and explorative use, particularly in the area of social policy and public health. In Europe, more recent web-based experiments have used the Delphi method as a communication technique for interactive decision-making and e-democracy.

The outstanding issue for me is how do we reform democracy quickly and effectively to keep pace with the challenges the planet faces?  The bi-polar choice we have been given in the UK elections avoids the issue of how we reshape the Western democratic system to become much better at decision making.  I would vote for the bees or the Delphi system over any First-Past-The-Post or AV system.  But this Thursday we are not being given that choice!  All of your thoughts gratefully received!

Share