I have posted on the DCMS website, commenting on their recently published Business Plan for Broadband. Interesting to see if they actually publish it. In any case, they cannot vet what I put on my own blog – so here is what I wrote:
“A perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to characterise our age” as Einstein so rightly said.
These milestones are mere inch-pebbles…..
Jeremy Hunt’s ambition of only five months ago that: “within this Parliament we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe” has been diluted to a set of muddled objectives and easily-achievable short-term meetings, studies, consultations and (yet-to-start) round tables. And the heading of “super-fast” has been subtly changed to “universal” which is muddling the Universal Service Obligation with what the best superfast broadband network in Europe should really be…
Meanwhile, BT has gone public on a very effective campaign which is designed to create a very un-level paying field for Next Generation Access. BT, Virgin Media and the other so-called ISPs will continue to compete in the same (urban and semi-urban) areas that they have on the current LLU regime. A “completed” milestone of examined barriers has clouded the fact that the recently announced business rates regime has put more barriers in place for new networks – not removed them. We can examine barriers until the cows come home. We need the barriers removed, not examined!
Ambitions for open access infrastructure (ducts and poles) are riddled with practical issues that will mean BT will continue to play a waiting game.
Openreach is not “open’, yet we continue to use the word “open” without defining any new structures required for the fibre revolution and relying on old structures that were created for copper networks – simply because it is easier.
And the market testing community-led pilots are out-of-phase with the infrastructure sharing milestone – such that BT is far more likely to be able to give a compelling bid for each scheme and wipe the slate clean than if the infrastructure was truly open. Well constructed plans need to understand that certain milestones will have dependencies on others. The project plan needs to be laid-out rather than created as a list, so that these dependencies can be understood and the milestones phased accordingly.
We MUST get our purpose, objectives and milestones better aligned in this critical programme! This is a matter of national survival on the increasingly competitive landscape of the global internet economy – and we have very little time (perhaps six months to a year) to get our act together.
These milestones are very unlikely to achieve what we need by when we need it.
However, not to be over-critical, there has been some good work. The recently published Digital Scotland report for a far more ambitious and coherent plan with some great ideas on how to connect Broadband to Big Society and provide speeds much closer to what “the best superfast broadband network in Europe” might look like. But it is not clear that Westminster can hear Edinburgh down the communication lines of two countries with different political parties in leadership positions and with Scotland coming up to Elections and the rest of the UK trying to work out what they actually voted for!
It is time to wash-away these inch-pebbles and create a national debate and a coherent joined-up plan on this important subject with real, competitive milestones that will create a national, shared, fibre infrastructure (such as has recently been announced by Italy) as well as to bridge both the geographic and social digital divides with real connections and real training and participation rather than the political verbiage that we have become used to over the past few years.
We will be challenging the current thinking at the NextGen ’10 conference in Birmingham on 22-23rd November.
If Big Society is to happen (and be supported by the necessary digital infrastructure required), then this part of the Business Plan needs re-thinking – particularly if we are really going to deliver on the excellent ambition set out by Jeremy Hunt in June.
Thank you for being open enough to allow me to comment and please take the comments as a constructive contribution to what is a truly vital part of the government’s business plan.