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least another five and possibly ten years to upgrade my broadband from 2MB to 10 or perhaps even 40 (on their current unpublished, un-thought-about plans).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!
I was away in Edinburgh last week at the launch of the Digital Scotland report. A fine piece of work which creates a new way of looking at Next Generation Access in the UK by suggesting that Scotland creates a Digtial Scotland Trust with a number of internet hubs which serve 2,000 people or about 800 households.
The report was refreshing – but what I found most interesting (and at the same time most frustrating) is that many of the ideas, issues and blockages on the deployment of Next Generation Access are not new. The same ideas were being talked about back in 2002! Yet this time around there are a whole new set of academics and enlightened individuals in the wider society beginning to take much more of an interest because Next Generation Broadband Access is at the heart of the UK’s competitive position in the world and we are seen to be slipping behind.
Professor Michael Fourman kicked-off his talk with the report commissioned by Google which came out that day called the Connected Kingdom – which says that the UK is Number 1 for e-commerce.
So the story gets confusing as those looking at this video will say “we are not slipping behind, we are number 1 for e-commerce – which is what really matters”.
The critical next step is to find a way to educate the politicians on the benefits of NGA and wider ICT to their (drastically reduced) public sector programmes and to see if we can bridge the investment gap of about £10-15 bn to accelerate rollout to the Final Third (both geographically disconnected and socially excluded). A trivial amount for a five year programme in an industry that is worth over £100bn to the UK economy each year. We need to move from a connected kingdom to a hyper-connected kingdom which includes everyone, not just the digitally advantaged.
Although BT has committed a substantial amount of new investment, it cannot crack the problem on its own. In many ways, the real test for success will be how “open” the so-called OpenReach really is.
The additional investment is needed over-and-above the (approximately £5bn committed by BT, Virgin Media and the government’s BDUK division with any match-funding from Europe). It is needed to implement the difficult bits of the 20 year programme which we are half-way through. And it needs to be invested alongside some new thinking on business models, shared assets, shared investment schemes and business rates rationalisation.
The difficult part of the implementation (of the final third) has started. It is time for the more enlightened thinking from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (and the August report from the Scottish Reform Trust) as well as the Foundation for Science and Technology to bring new thinking and political momentum to this old problem. With right political alignment and the realisation that the public sector cuts can only be achieved by investing in a Hyper-Connected Kingdom the required new money will flow in to fill the gap.
As some of you may know, Scotland is (geologically) part of Canada – and only joined Europe relatively recently (in earth time). Rod Mitchell, my namesake, pointed out to me that much of the thinking that went into the Welsh Assembly Government’s commissioning of the FibreSpeed network in North Wales came from Scotland. I hope this time around that Scotland actually benefits from its own thinking – rather than exporting the ideas without getting the true benefits of implementing them at home!
Putting the UK back at the front with the “Best Broadband in Europe in this government” is totally possible. It is a simple matter of some clear thinking, a few politicians who “get” it and a bit of rocket fuel under the BDUK and Ofcom to tweak some of the industry structures!
Watch this space!
Here is the “warm-up” speech I gave at the Next Gen Roadshow in Edinburgh earlier this week. Enjoy!
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.)
It is well worth watching this latest TED video from Seth Priebatsch:
Seth cites four dynamics:
1. Appointment Dynamic
Where players have to do something at a pre-defined time/place…..I really like the way to create a game to take medicine as a real-world application. I don’t play Farmville on Facebook – but my children do and I can see it is addictive. The business world relies more and more on virtual appointments – but this area is surely still in its infancy.
2. Influence and Status Dynamic
3. Progression Dynamic
“The average player spends 6.5 hours a day on World of Warcraft”……I constatly ask what does this mean for work and the next generation of folk in the workplace? Players in this new world will demand more interactive, 3D experiences at work. They will not be willing to take jobs that are considered “boring”. This gap between the gaming world and the current tools and practices in the workplace is going to be a big challenge to bridge. But lots of opportunities present themselves as well.
I also really like the new way of ascribing grades so they are not pass or fail but encourage you to develop to the next stage. I am sure that good schools understand this already anyway! It takes a Princeton drop-out not to see this perhaps!
4. Communal Discovery – everyone has to work together to achieve something
The DARPA Balloon Challenge sounds fascinating as a really effective search mechanism – not sure I fully understand it, but what a great way to collect information quickly by rewarding those along the chain of collection.
The question I have is what are the other three dynamics?
I hope you enjoy my first upload to YouTube!
It mixes ideas on Next Generation Broadband with the structure of a Palindrome.
If you have not seen one of these before, hang in there! You won’t understand the real message until you get to the end.
Thanks to other Palindromes on YouTube for the inspiration!
The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings which are separate from the two normal social environments of our homes (first place) and the workplace (second place).
In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time.
Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests that the three hallmarks of a true “third place” are that they are free or inexpensive; provide food and drink (while not essential, quite important); and that they are highly accessible. Starbucks and Costa are obvious examples, but villages and rural communities often have other third places such as a cafe, a pub, a church hall or a school hall.
As more and more people choose to telecommute and work from home, third places become ever more important as the bridge between the old world and the new world of work: both paid and voluntary.
If we are going to re-invent society around more local, sustainable ways of working, then the nurturing of our third places becomes central to this new philosophy for 21st century living. And if we see want these “communities of place” to replace the industrial factories and call-centres and office factories of yesterday, then we must provide them with the latest broadband.
Hence Fibre to the Third Place. WiFi hotspots do some of it, but there remains a lot more work to do!