To bomb or not to bomb. That was the question.

The arguments raged for ten hours in the House of Commons.  The vote was cast.   The MPs agreed by a sizeable majority that it was a good thing to let the Royal Air Force bomb Syria.  A few hours later, the Tornado Jets were set loose like the dogs of war.

Tornado

The rest of the country stood by like a confused onlooker.  Whatever your beliefs, whatever your fears, however good your knowledge of the situation: none of those would count.  In May, the UK’s democratic system transferred our voting rights for another five years to a bunch of elected MPs to take nearly all decisions on our behalf.  We’ll all get a vote on whether or not we want to stay in Europe – but that will be equally confusing too.  Just like the Scottish No vote last year.

David Cameron’s timing for the bombing Syria vote was lucky.  The Paris atrocities a couple of weeks ago certainly added considerable weight to the case.  His party held the line, and increased a narrow Tory majority by doing whipping deals with selected allies and the vote for the “ayes” was further buoyed-up by the schism in the Labour party.  So the “ayes” had it and the NATO alliance held together because that’s what allies do.  Stick together in hard times.

What other solutions were put forward?  What other creative ideas were framed?  What other, more effective ways of preventing further bloodshed were considered?   What were the real options to stop further escalation the a tit-for-tat of a bomb in a beach resort or another vulnerable European city versus drone attacks and bombing raids on strategic Daesh targets in Syria?

I remember visiting Beirut for a day in 1978.  I was in transit from Egypt to Cyprus.  Middle East Airlines put me up for a free night in a four-star hotel as part of the deal of flying via their country.  It was a great deal for the penniless student that I was at the time.  I took a taxi around the central part of the city on the way back to the airport.  On every street corner there was a burned-out armoured car and a different faction guarding their patch.  Nothing much seems to have changed since then.

The UN Climate Change Conference, which started in Paris this week, has given some hope that we might be reaching a level of consciousness that understands that climate change is going to continue to hit random parts of the world as a knight moves around in a game of chess.  Although ridiculed by some newspapers for his views, I can see the connection that Prince Charles made about climate change causing drought in Syria which in turn causes a shortage of natural resources (like water),  which in turn cause a refugee problem in South Eastern Europe.  The world is so connected now – more than it ever has been, perhaps.  It is the butterfly effect in action.

We need to think differently and organise ourselves differently if we are going to solve the complex problems that the world is currently facing.  I used to think that X causes Y was the only way to think.  I’m not so sure anymore.  Just look at the weather.  Everyone’s weather in the world is apparently affected by changes in water temperature just off the West Coast of South America with the El Niño effect.  And so it is with international politics and relations: everything is connected.

I’m sure computer modelling and technology can help here – but we need a lot more than “big data” and analytics and advanced aerial killing machines directed from many thousands of miles away to solve these problems.  In particular, we need to understand that each of the world’s primitive fragile systems of fresh water, clean air, natural energy resources and inhabitable land are themselves so interconnected that together they will have the greatest impact on the world’s population migration and quality of life of all of us in the coming twenty to thirty years.  Southern Europe is currently under siege from migrants who themselves are refugees from a part of the planet that is fast burning-up.  Areas which have traditionally sustained life, but which can no longer do so.

What to do?  Commentary by analysts simply isolate the issues.  Linking them together does not seem to happen so much.  It might be my associative mind, but the inter-dependencies BETWEEN the systems mean that the gaps between the systems might just hold the answers.  As regular readers will know, one of my favourite expressions is that: “the answer lies in the space between”.

On first glance, it was very encouraging to see Mark Zuckerberg give up 99% of his fortune to charitable causes.  Line up all the rich kids and strip them of 99% of their fortunes.  Job done!  Yet, reading between the lines, the vehicle Zuckerberg will use will be a limited liability partnership (LLP), not a charitable foundation.  The LLP will be allowed to lobby, make a profit and won’t have to give away a pre-determined amount of cash to other charities every year.   Smart man, Zuckerberg.  Maybe he is onto something.

It is time to think afresh about how we take decisions and how we control the excesses – whether they be banking bonuses, lobbying for vested interests or pollution.  Relying on individual human nature won’t solve these problems.  Traditional economically-driven regulation won’t hack the course either.  The current systems are so stuck in the past; they need a complete rethink.

Waging war by throwing deadly flying machines at an enemy who can only fire back with machine guns and suicide bombers will only dig us deeper into the proverbial.  It may well take Zuckerberg, Gates and a few others with purposeful family-centric LLPs to crack many of the problems that our more outdated institutions have failed to solve.

Then again, I suppose that rich families and the dynasties that they create have always ruled the world.  All other structures are impermanent, insignificant or mouthpieces of the ruling classes.  Mr Zuckerberg for President, anyone?

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The Single Most Important Ingredient for a Great Product Launch

This week’s “Thursday Thoughts” is one in a series on Product Launches – a subject that I find fascinating and so important to growing a successful business.

So, what is the single most important ingredient of a great product launch?  We need to look no further than the film (or movie) industry – and to a quote Shawn Amos:

“Every major summer blockbuster that is released is essentially a product line being launched across multiple verticals. However, the centerpiece of the product launch is a big, beautiful story whose job is to entertain.”

I believe that the single most important ingredient for any successful launch is to frame a “big, beautiful story whose job is to entertain”.  Think about it.  A story that describes a personal journey.  Your personal journey with all the ups-and-downs and trials and triumphs that go to make us all human.

Our Story

And so, in the closing two days of Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula (a once-in-a-year opportunity to see the master in action), Jeff has offered two personal but quite different stories that show how changing the way you think about a product by re-framing it around a product launch can literally transform people’s lives.

The first story is from Barry who overcame a life-changing accident to go on and organise and teach those who make a living from entertaining.

The second is from Shelly – a very different story of a mother trying to juggle the three forces of family, paying work and passion.

Watch the videos and work out what you can learn from each of them.  See how the personal stories create a different way of thinking.  By building your business around a series of launches (and great stories), rather than flogging a me-too product, you can create a new sense of drive and momentum.  Think hard about how you can apply the learnings to (re-)launch your own products and services and create a new sense of purpose and heartbeat to your marketing campaigns.

Of all the research I have done into this area, Jeff’s strategies and teachings are second-to-none.  And it can be applied to book launches too!

If you think that there is value in digging deeper into the Product Launch Formula, then I thoroughly recommend that you sign up for Jeff’s programme – which will only be available for the next day or two.  Otherwise, you will have to wait another year for the offer to come around again!

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Into the Vortex

After the feeling of being stuck. Of being bogged-down. Of going round and round in circles, the thought changes.  What if round-and-round gets you somewhere?

Water twirl 20110903-7(210).jpg

Life flows. Events line up. Coincidences happen without any effort. Dreams start to crystalise in elegant ways that you had not expected.  You deepen your ideas on where you are.  Present.  Alert.  Observant.

Life speeds up. The pace of change shifts from first gear to fourth – apparently without going second or third. Patterns emerge that you have been working on for months – or even years.  Life becomes effortless.

Tempest in a teapot.

You give up control, because otherwise those tiny rituals that were once so important will stop you from riding the wave.  You surrender to the Universal stream of Life.

Then things go quiet.  The entry into the centre of the vortex creates an intense sense of peace. You are in the eye in the storm.

blue energy tornado

All is clear. All is aligned. You can make choices that you’ve never seen before.

Play with the energy.  Feel the power and use it for the good of yourself and your community.  Point the axis to where you want to go.  New openings will appear.  New guides will arrive to help you on your new path.

You are not just in the vortex.  You are the vortex!

4809979-small copy

 All images from Crestock.

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Crowds and Power

The recent events in Iraq and the rise of ISIS as a regional power makes one wonder what all of the Western intervention in the region has achieved.  It reminded me of reading a book written back in the 1960s – Masse ind Macht (or Crowds and Power) by Elias Canetti.

Canetti was not an academic.  He was an intelligent observer.  I read the book after visiting Koln for a Beerfest.  It made me understand a lot more about why and, perhaps how, Hitler came to Power.  I’m not sure if it is a particularly German thing.  But if you get a load of folk from that part of the world, give them beer and get them roused by a speech from someone you can barely see the other end of the room who is booming on a loudspeaker, then the binding, tribal atmosphere becomes extraordinary.

The entry in Wikipedia about the book is short:

.

(The book) is notable for its unusual tone; although wide ranging in its erudition, it is not scholarly or academic in a conventional way.  Rather, it reads like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power.  Unlike most non-fiction writing, it is highly poetic and seething with anger.

On asking questions: “On the questioner the effect is a feeling of enhanced power. He enjoys this and consequentially asks more and more questions; every answer he receives is an act of submission. Personal freedom consists largely in having a defense against questions. The most blatant tyranny is the one which asks the most blatant questions.” 
.

The thought I particularly like is the idea that, for every question asked, the questioner has an enhanced sense of power and those who give answers are each time submitting to those in power.  For me, this is a subtle definition of personal freedom.  We have choices to submit or not to submit.  To answer questions or to have a defense against those questions.

In the context of the current world order, then, who asks the questions of those who are bullys?  Perhaps that is another dimension to the problem.  But certainly, in the businesses that I work within, the person asking the difficult and cleverer questions is the person who sees him or herself in authority.

It was brilliantly articulated by a friend of mine this week who related the story of an ex-boss of his (now very senior in a UK PLC).

New Boss:
 
OK, please show me your plans.  How exactly are you are going to achieve your objectives by the end of this financial year?
 
Subordniate
 
Stutters, shows plan (covering up the areas that he does not want unpicked).  Relief at presenting plan.
 
New Boss:
 
OK.  thanks for that.  Now tell me what question I should have asked you that would have exposed the real weakness in your plan?
 
Questioners and Bullys.  The world is full of them each seeking their own power.  The question for the majority of us, surely, is how to expand the footprint of personal freedom whilst ensuring that the spirit drummed-up such as that described in Canetti’s Crowds and Power does not promote dictators, terrorism and crime.  The pictures in the video above have an uncanny resemblance to the atrocities that have been happening in Iraq in the past few weeks.  Yet the strategies and tactics to prevent such acts seem to have developed little in the past hundred years.  Time to think of a better way.

 

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The End of the Break

As we come to the end of the summer break, for most of us, school, university or work starts afresh.  I say, for most because, like with all generalisations, there are always those who break the rule.  An increasing number of friends seem to be moving into “retirement” or “semi-retirement” – breaking the pattern of a life-time by taking more time off.  Two of my children are starting University – a break from the long years of study at school to the less structured, more fun time at Uni.

And the little word “break” got me thinking.  It seems to have so many meanings. It runs to many definitions in the dictionary – both as a verb and as a noun.  It can be:

  • destructive (as in – “break a glass”)
  • illegal (as in “breaking the speed limit”)
  • liberating (as in “break out of old patterns”)
  • exciting (as in “breaking news”)
  • disappointing (as in “break my heart”)
  • the point of profit (as in “break-even”)
  • time to eat (as in “breakfast”)
  • very confusing for someone not fluent in English (as in “break a leg”)

For such a little word, it has so many different subtle meanings and so many different ways to combine itself with other words to mean so many different things!

break-glass-in-fire-sign

Yet, with all of this, I always see the start of September as the opportunity to break from the past and focus on the future.  For some reason, even more so than with Christmas or Easter.  Perhaps we are all subconsciously programmed by the school year – whether as students, former students or parents.  Yet there are those who will always break the mould and find other beginnings and endings in their year and not agree with me.

Great word “break”.

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Holiness or Wholeness?

I got into a discussion with a friend yesterday about religion.  You know the sort.  It became a discussion about basic beliefs and ideas about what had happened in the past with facts that neither of us could prove.  I capitulated, not wanting to tread on ground that was sacred to them, yet still holding true to my own beliefs.  In past times, I might have argued the point.  But I was tired and did not see the point.

It got me thinking about this religion and holiness and that sort of stuff and reminded me of a phrase my father used to say to me: “All great religions die with their founder”.  He was a spiritual man with his own religion.  He is now dead.  So I suppose, in his own way, he was right.

holiness-title-slide

In so many things in life we seek out the differences.  And religions are often a major culprit.  If you believe in one version of history and someone else another, then you are different.  You have different religious beliefs and are not of the same system, creeds, language etc. etc.  And even within a religion, there are sub-sectors, different interpretations and different organisations supporting them.  Yet what is common between religions is far more powerful than what makes them separate.

And so it is also true in the business world.  We have finely-tuned sensors to work out if another company is a competitor or a potential “partner”.  What are the “differentiators” that make you special?  We have defined a set of rituals for ignoring or attacking other businesses.  Just as in human relationships, these reactions can be commanded on a whim.  Defined by tiny variations in perceived behaviour or circumstance.  Individual differences are to be highlighted.  Sameness is boring.

Yet there is a counter-force which is found much more commonly in nature.  This is the unifying force which finds similarities and which seeks out common ground in any given situation.  It requires a different way of thinking and a different way of feeling about a situation.  More inclusive.  More holistic.  More local.

I am not an economist.  Nor will I argue the pros and cons of globalisation in this short piece.  Yet it seems to me that with all the rational arguments for globalisation and free-trade markets we have lost the ability to balance the world with this holistic energy – because responsibility has been taken away from what makes sense at a local level.  We could blame Adam Smith and his ideas on how to increase the quantity of pins produced in pin manufacturing – so aptly celebrated on the British £20 note:

AdamSmith20Pounds-A450

It is as if the new religion of global banking and global economics has become the new church which must be obeyed.  Making money at the expense of making things whole, rounded, sensible and appropriate at a local level.  With differences, of course, but much less important in this context.  Much less expensive, for sure, because it does not carry the burden of national or international overheads.

And so it was that I was browsing a book, “The Nature of Order” by Christopher Alexander, one of the greatest architectural thinkers of our time.  He describes wholeness as a series fifteen ideas or factors which are represented in the diagram below:

CA Wholeness

The Elements of Wholeness by Christopher Alexander

So, I wondered, with these fifteen design ideas, what would a new bank look like?  What would a new economic system look like?  Globalisation ideas don’t fit very well with concepts such as “Boundaries”, “Local Symmetries” and “Inner Calm”.  Then again, that shouldn’t be too surprising!

If you are a wordsmith, you will notice there is a lot more in common between the words HOLINESS and WHOLENESS.  The only difference is that makes the first unique is the letter “I” and the second that has the letters “WE”.  Not that I am pushing one over the other, but it makes you think, anyway!

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The Ultimate Purpose of a Bee

Last Sunday, I took my friend Sam to visit my bees.  He has been trying to keep bees for three years – but to no avail.  The last swarm that I gave him on his birthday two years died off the first winter he had them.

And so it was, I was completely charmed that, on Tuesday morning, he rang me to say that a swarm had gathered on the window of his office – exactly above the desk he works at!  We set about to catch them later that day – and yesterday we installed the swarm in one of his new hives not so many miles from here.  I’m sure the bees will stay with him now.

This evening, I came across a beautiful piece by Tolstoy about the ultimate purpose of the honeybee – which I thought I would share with you.  

 It has been a magical and charmed week and the honeybees have truly touched my friend, Sam and me with this amazing encounter.  Long may the honeybees swarm into people’s lives as they did for me so many years ago.

Bee Banner

“As the sun and each atom of ether is a sphere complete in itself, and yet at the same time only a part of a whole too immense for man to comprehend, so each individual has within himself his own aims and yet has them to serve a general purpose incomprehensible to man.

A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people.

A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers.

A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey.

Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race.

A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence.

Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee.

But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern.

The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes, that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension.

All that is accessible to man is the relation of the life of the bee to other manifestations of life. And so it is with the purpose of historic characters and nations.”

Extracted rom Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace: Chapter IV

You can also find this, and other bee stories on one of my other blogs – http://beelore.com/2007/08/07/the-ultimate-purpose-of-the-bee/

Photo from iStockphoto

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I Met Her Once….

I met her once.  We had been waiting expectantly for half an hour.  She was late.  When she finally entered the room, she surfed on a wave of power and authority – like the entrance of the Queen of Sheba without the music.

Calm, collected, nose in the air, she frowned with complete disdain for the cohort of journalists who were between us and the doorway.  The flash-guns had fired like a set of uncoordinated fireworks as soon as the door had opened.

I remember vividly the soundman for the BBC camera crew who had a long, extended microphone covered in a sausage-shaped, fluffy sound muffler.  He was lying on the floor to get out of the way of the cameras that were pointing at her.  She virtually kicked him and made a comment (I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like) “that’s where you guys belong – on the floor”.  She could easily have said “scumbag” – but I don’t think she did!  It was all part of the drama.

She gave her short speech for the evening news and the twenty or so journalists were ushered out of the room with the sense of urgency that a hassled mistress of the house would want when letting her servants  sweep the floor after a spill or a mess had been made by the dog.

Thatcher

She said “Are they all gone?”  There was silence.  A few nodded their heads to affirm they had all left.  The atmosphere changed immediately.  Less formal.  Yet still quite tense.  She was on a mission.  She wanted answers to questions.  She was impatient.  Dennis just wanted a drink.  He relaxed everyone by saying something like “Good, let’s have a drink”.

She was born the same year as my father, in another era, another age.  What was important then is now no longer so important.  What was pressing then is now, in hindsight, much less pressing – even trivial.   Yet, at the time, she had the power.  She had the authority.  She had the sense of purpose.  She got the attention and wanted change.  Yet, for all the words, my longest-lasting memory was the feeling I had when she entered the room.  Words cannot describe the electric presence she exuded.  I’ve seldom had that feeling from anyone, man or woman, either before or since.

 

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Spring Forward, Fall Back

Last weekend, for many of us, the clocks went forward and we lost an hours sleep.  Many in the West celebrated Easter – either by going to Church or gorging themselves on chocolate.  Perhaps both.  March ended and April began.

Today remained bitterly cold – and although some of our smaller daffodils are out, the larger ones are still tight in their spring green wraps.  We seem to have been locked in a strange weather pattern in the UK for a year now – with March being the coldest on record for 40 years.  Many forget that this time last year we had 18 months of drought.  Whoever did the rain-dance this time last year sure did a good one!

In China and other countries in the East, it was a holiday – the Qingming Festival.  This festival has various translations including: Pure Brightness Festival; Clear Bright Festival; Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day.  Traditionally celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox,  it is a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and to tend to the graves of their departed ancestors.

Tomb sweeping

The festival’s origin is credited to the Tang Emporer Xuanzong in 732. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. Emperor Xuanzong, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming.  The observance of Qingming found a firm place in Chinese culture and has continued to root itself in many other parts of Asia.  Any excuse for a holiday!

The idea that we come out of the winter and into pure, clear brightness – and spring-clean the tombs of our ancestors does not really have an equivalent in the West.   The Christian Church displaced many of these more pagan traditions for  celebrating Spring by defining it as the most important festival of the Christian calendar: Easter.  The chocolate companies partly displaced this with Easter Eggs and everything chocolate.  We don’t really have an equivalent celebration or holiday to go and sorting out our ancestors’ graves on one particular day of the year.  I suppose the closest we get is the idea of a “Spring Clean”.

Whatever your belief system, though, Spring is a magic time of the year (if is ever  going to be allowed to break free from the cold clutches of winter this year).  It is a time of hope.  A time of renewed energy.  A time for cleaning those parts of your life that need cleansing.  A time for being positive and leaning forward.

Spring is sprung and the green shoots are surely going to break through soon!  Happy Qingming Festival – and may your ancestors’ graves be much cleaner today than they were yesterday!

Source: Wikipedia, http://www.chinatouradvisors.com (picture) and my Garden

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To Be Open or Not To Be Open? That is the Question!

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.

open

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.

Extracted from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldhansrd/text/130318-0002.htm#13031837000212 – Columns 472-475

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