Digital Scotland and The Royal Society of Edinburgh

by Lorne Mitchell on 09/09/2010

Just returned from the Next Gen ’10 roadshow in Edinburgh.

The most interesting thing for me ( which I had compeletely missed before I went there) is that Scotland has approached this whole problem of upgrading the broadband network by commissioning the Royal Society of Edinburgh to look at the problem afresh.  Unlike The Royal Society (based in London), the RSE has maintained the “Scottish Generalist Tradition” and have brought an eclectic set of wise folk to apply new thought and rigour to working through the issue of broadband in Scotland so that it serves the wider context of society and the economy.  Technology is a means to a greater end, not an end in itself.

The Digital Scotland interim report can be found by first clicking on the RSE logo below and then clicking on the link right at the bottom of the page “Read Interim Report”:

Unlike the Digital Britain report which was written in the time of a dying administration by economist-politicians, bureaucrats and quangos, and then attacked by the new administration to become a nearly totally ineffective set of recommendations, Scotland has approached the problem with refreshing renaissance-style method that only a body like the RSE can do.  It is an elegant combination of mathematical logic combined with rounded, objective reasoning – and moves the debate forward so that Scotland might well take the thought-leadership position when it publishes its final report once the current comments have been digested.

One conclusion that I came away with is that the whole debate about where fibre goes should be re-focused around Fibre to the Community.  Many of the more rural areas in Scotland would benefit tremendously by digging a single fibre into the community.  The current ambitions of Jeremy Hunt and the Con-Lib coalition government for the UK to become the leader in Europe for broadband by 2015 – without any central government funding – becomes even more challenging when one compares us to Finland – which was very well articulated by Professor Michael Fourman in his detailed analysis backing up Digital Scotland at the conference.

One of the strange things is that the interim report talks of Fiber, not Fibre.  I am not sure how this American English has managed to get into a perfectly good Scottish-English Language document.  But Hey Ho – the world moves on!

The Scots, Edinburgh and the RSE have a long tradition of great invention and enlightened thinking.  This blog will keep a keen eye on developments North of the Border.

(P.S.  The talk that I gave on Sir Patrick Geddes will be put onto this post once I transcribe and edit it.)

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 cyberdoyle September 9, 2010 at 22:42

Funny you should say ‘fibre into the community’ because this is just what Rory Stewart is planning for Cumbria, and LCC is doing in Lancashire! great minds think alike.
There is already a grand scheme to get digital parish pumps into every village, and the first is being built in Lincolnshire. Working together and learning from each other we can soon get the final third a futureproof connection. Who needs telcos?
We can do IT.
chris

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2 Lorne Mitchell September 10, 2010 at 08:54

Thanks, Chris. I love the idea of a Digital Pump in every Parish! After all, communities in the Middle Ages certainly used communal wells, waterholes and pumps before houses got hooked-up individually. The analogy is great. In siting the Digital Pump, there are various options – and I believe every community should decide for themselves where the best location should be. Seldom will it be in the telephone exchange – because BT keeps that secure and it is not a very nice place to work.
More likely it will be in Schools, Village Halls, Community Halls, Pubs and the like. The location of the pump is critical for the success of the scheme.
In my village we are lucky enough to have an upper floor to the village hall that was kitted-out in the first wave of broadband rollout. So this is the obvious place for us to put the pump.
Much easier to implement than worrying about digging trenches down the main roads into every home! That comes a bit later.

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3 Michael Fourman September 10, 2010 at 14:02

Many thanks Lorne. I’m looking forward to the transcript of your inspiring talk.

Your kind words are much appreciated, and I think we will be using “fibre (sic) to the community” in our final report. One minor correction: no one commissioned the RSE to produce the Digital Scotland report. It’s one of a series of occasional reports that the Society produces when it feels it can bring together a novel contribution to an issue of national concern.

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4 Lorne Mitchell September 11, 2010 at 21:18

Thank you for the correction about commissioning, Michael. It makes the report even more inspired that an organisation like the Royal Society of Edinburgh takes on such an important piece of work without being asked to do so by some political or commercial interest.

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