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.
I had to introduce a workshop last week with a bunch of folk who were trying to take on the “big guys”. I opened the workshop with a story which, for me, gives great hope to the small guys who are toiling away to take on the big guys.
Some say the big guys have gotten the world into the mess that it is currently in. So here’s a story to cheer those up who are ploughing their furrow as a “small guy”!
There is an old Celtic legend, a story of two lumberjacks.
Both men were skilled woodsmen although the first, called Angus, was much bigger, welding a powerful axe. He was so strong that he didn’t have to be as accurate for he still produced due to his sheer size. He was known far and wide for his ability to produce great quantities of raw material. Many hired him just because he was bigger. After all, his customers reasoned, everyone knows that bigger is always better!
In spite of his size, the fame of the second woodsman’s (who was called Hamish) was spreading for his skill was in his accuracy. There was very little waste in his efforts so his customers ended up with a better product for their money. Soon the word spread that Hamish’s work was even better than his larger competitor, Angus.
Upon hearing this, Angus became concerned. He wondered, “How could this be? I am so much bigger that I MUST be better!” He proposed that the two compete with a full day of chopping trees to see who was more productive. The winner would be declared ”The Greatest Lumberjack in all the land.” Hamish agreed and the date for the bout was set.
The townsfolk began talking. They placed their bets. Angus was the favorite to win with a 20 to 1 advantage. After all, bigger is better! The evening before the bout, both men sharpened their blades. Hamish strategized to win the bout. He knew he would never win because of his size. He needed a competitive advantage. Each man went to bed confident that he would be declared the winner.
Morning broke with the entire town showing up to cheer on the lumberjacks. The competition started with a the judge’s shout, “GO!” Angus, strong and broad, leaped into action. He chopped vigorously and continuously, without stopping, knowing that every tree he felled brought him closer to his coveted title.
Hamish, wasting no time, jumped into action as well, attacking his trees with every intention of winning the distinguished title. But unlike his larger competitor, he stopped every forty five minutes to rest and sharpen his blade.
This worried the onlooking townspeople greatly. They murmured among themselves. Surely, he could never win if he didn’t work longer and harder than his competitor. His friends pleaded with him to increase his speed, to work harder – but to no avail. This pattern continued throughout the day when both men heard the judge yell “TIME!”, signaling the end of the match.
Angus stood, winded and exhausted, yet also proud by his pile of trees knowing he had given his best having chopped almost continuously since the start of the match. Surely, he was the winner!
Hamish also stood by his pile of trees – though, unlike his competitor, he was still fresh, ready to continue if necessary. He also stood confident in knowing that he had also given of his best and that his tactics would pay off.
When all the trees were counted, it was announced that Hamish had, indeed, felled more trees than Angus and he was granted title of “The Greatest Lumberjack in all the Land!”. He happily shook the judge’s hand and gripped his newly won axe made of the finest steel in the land. Angus (and most of the townspeople) stood in stunned silence at the announcement – for he was far greater reputation, was far stronger and had a much heavier axe!
But Hamish was not that surprised by the result. For he knew that, in order to win against his larger competitor, his instrument had to be continually sharpened. His axe was smaller and therefore each swing must be more accurate in order to produce the better product. By stopping the sharpen his instrument, he had proven, once and for all, that he was the better man for the job. He also knew that, with regular rests, he would be able to endure his technique far longer.
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!)
At the recent evidence for the House of Lords Communications subcommittee, I drew attention to a great piece of thinking which was written-up in a book by Everett M Rogers in 1962 called “The Diffusion of Innovations”. It has since sold more than 30,000 copies, is now in its fifth edition and has become a classic on how ideas spread.
Often, when we think about innovation, we think of words like “new”, “creative”, “first-mover” etc. Diffusion is not really a word that instantly springs to mind. Yet Everett’s research has proved to be a robust model which has stood the test of time across many innovation cycles. Here is a great cartoon which outlines Everett’s five constituencies that need to be convinced about a new idea, product or service:
I particularly like the cartoon because it includes “THE CHASM” as the first gap across which all innovations much leap if they are to be successful and grow beyond the first 15-20% of any given market. How many ideas or innovations fail at this hurdle!
What is even more interesting to note are the different dynamics as you move from up the curve after the chasm has been crossed. To capture the “early majority”, then a “word of mouth” or “refer a friend” strategy is the main mechanism for growth. There are many examples on the internet where this has been institutionalised.
Once the early majority has been convinced, the late majority tends to be more convinced by the opinion of a number of individuals or other social groupings. Once again, the internet has helped to accelerate this in recent years with social media platforms and other types of discussion fora – further driven by well-designed applications that allow people to group themselves together in areas of common interest like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
As the Internet has accelerated the diffusion of ideas around the world, distance has become less important than it was in the 1960s. The fifth edition was updated in 2003 to address the spread of the Internet, and how it has transformed the way human beings communicate and adopt new ideas. How much has changed, even since then!
I have found this a very useful model for all those struggling with marketing ideas, products and services in the age of the internet. It is always worth remembering that the tactics used for getting over the chasm are probably not going to be much use when you have to convince the Laggards. Perhaps the UK needs to understand the model better when looking at how we increase our usage for the internet as a whole – and particularly encourage the laggards to get online. Hence my use of the model when talking to the Peers last month.
In the week that the US space shuttle programme came to an end, the BBC put a cut-down and edited version of the film “Round the world in 90 minutes.
You can watch the older version on YouTube in five fifteen minute cuts:
Let’s hope that the planetary consciousness that the outstanding programme has delivered will continue to see the world as a fragile ecosystem and not as a toxic dumping ground for consumer madness (per the previous post).
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?
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!