Goons, Flying Circuses and UK Comms

by Lorne Mitchell on 14/07/2012

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.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous July 14, 2012 at 13:21

Agree. It is a circus. An obsolete one. Measuring things nobody cares a flying f about. Protecting legacy ass ets.

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2 Mike Thomas July 15, 2012 at 09:27

Lorne,

PSNGB Limited (it is not the PSNGB Governing body, it’s a trade association), is run by Industry, not Government.

The PSN is designed to provide services to the public sector over commercial available networks.

Thanks for the comments though.

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3 Lorne July 15, 2012 at 10:58

Thanks, Mike for the correction. I hope the new version reflects reality a bit better.

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4 Kens August 17, 2012 at 03:03

Lorne,as usual, gives a thorough and well thought through through analysis of the situation. For those of us down under wbo think that countries overseas have solved the problem of getting high speed broadband to the whole population who want it, the situation in the UK, along with recent analysis of the litany of broken promises in the USA, goes to show thatwe are all fumbling around looking for the best solution. In this context I reckon it’s worth giving the government owned access provider a go to see if that model succeeds where the others have failed.
l

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