I spent the first couple of days this week presenting, moderating and participating at the Next Generation National Broadband conference in Birmingham. I came away feeling very uplifted and inspired about the opportunities that the Next Generation of Broadband services will present to our communities, counties and country.
Before the conference, I had keenly signed-up for BT’s “Race to Infinity” campaign, believing that if we could get enough votes, we might be one of the five prize winning villages to get the next generation of Superfast Broadband and become one of the most connected villages in the Weald of Kent. How wrong I was!
When I got home from the conference, I read the small-print for this campaign. You can only win if your exchange gets 1000 votes. As the exchange that I use only has 1100 lines, we would need over 90% of those in our community to sign-up. Add to that the fact that those with two lines per address can only vote once (and many still have two lines for business/home use or for a fax machine) as well as the fact that the BT database is sometimes wrong (i.e. the postcode doesn’t match the number) – and the opportunity to enter the race (which requires 1000 votes as a minimum) is a lost cause from the start.
If the UK really wants to have the “best” superfast broadband in Europe, then we are going to have to re-think how the final third is provided for. This got got me thinking – what about creating our own schemes…..
I got up yesterday morning questioning why it was that BT will take at least another five and possibly ten years to upgrade my broadband from 2MB to 10 or perhaps even 40 (on their current unpublished, un-thought-about plans). I run an information intensive business from home and I need faster broadband – now. And I am not alone! Why should I wait? And I thought who owns this problem anyway?
It triggered a thought. A Thursday Thought!
In the early days of Telecoms deregulation, BT was forced to move the ownership of the (plain-old-bog-standard-you-can-have-it-in-any-colour-so-long-as-it-is-black) Telephone to the person owning the number. Standards were created and innovation thrived with new types of telephone being connected to the network – so long as they conformed to standards.
When Openreach was created, management of the equipment on the end of the line was handed over to other so-called “Service Providers” and (a little known fact), BT was forced to auction-off the actually ownership of about 60% of their lines – which were predominantly won by the French company, Orange. However, for those in the Final Third, this line ownership trick is irrelevant. We are still at the beck-and-call of BT Openreach’s exchange upgrade programme.
A few weeks ago I had lunch with the Chief Engineer at BT Openreach (George Williamson). I asked him how it was possible to unlock BT’s investment bottleneck and accelerate the rollout of broadband to the final third. But he simply said the current plans for upgrading would take all of BT’s resources in the next three years and that the programme put BT’s implementation teams at maximum stretch. So there is an implementation capacity problem here too. Which is why more local infrastructure building (with or without BT) looks interesting. There is a market for it, if only BT Openreach were prepared to publish their plans of where (and where not) they intend to go.
So I thought, what about me owning my own line – like in the days when I ownership of the telephone passed from BT to the private sector? What if I could then do a deal with BT (or another service provider) to pay them double to upgrade the line (rather than pay Sky to watch football). What if I paid them treble (and not buy a new car)? What if I bought new shares in a community bond scheme which would partner with BT (or another builder) to accelerate the rollout? What if (like in some parts of Europe) a mortgage company will extend a mortgage to include the cost of a Next Generation connection? What if there were people in my community who would underwrite the scheme? What if….
So I leave the question hanging – why shouldn’t I be able to by and own my own line? I don’t want it owned by some service provider or some company that themselves are totally dependent on a part of BT Group that is not the slightest bit interested in my line – until about 2108 if I am lucky!
Time to re-think “home ownership” and what a connected home really means in the connected kingdom!