Some personal thoughts on the current broadband debate

Having followed the tweets on #bduk and the Broadband Industry Event it all felt like déjà-vu and the same debate held in 2002 when BT would not provide broadband to rural communities because they were having difficulty convincing the 70% of the country that had broadband available for a couple of years but were not buying into the high speed access. It was the community evangelists of the 30% who provided BT with the information and more importantly the viral advertising network as to what was available once you had 512k always on broadband. This advertising meant that BT could actually sell their moribund product to the urban communities and make even more shareholder return on their inherited infrastructure rather than using the fibre they had planned to install before privatisation.

BT then also delivered 512k to the majority of the rural communities giving those evangelists the same tools as the rest of country. The advertising continued and Government invested to reduce future costs by creating online services on the premise that the bulk of the country had access. But we still have all the not-spots and not all of them are rural.

see this Telegraph article for some numbers "Delay to rural broadband roll out ‘a backward step’"

So now in 2010 where are we, lots of ideas on usage, lots of plans for the urban conurbations to have super fast broadband while no one yet has the killer application.

there were no killer application in 2002, though peer to peer could be one – not a good one for an asymmetrical like ADSL.

But the poor not-spots and the rural communities are in a similar position to that of 2002, a perception from the incumbent suppliers (BT, Virgin and the LLU companies) that the lines will not be profitable. Yet perhaps we should ask BT how much public money they paid back after RDA’s funded investment in rural exchanges that became profitable as soon as they provided ADSL?

The Universal Service Commitment was being asked for in 2002 it has taken seven years for the powers that be to accept that always on high speed access is the same as water and electricity. We learnt today that it will be another five years before we will have a guaranteed 2mb to every household and business. By then the urban community will have super fast broadband as noted in Jeremy Hunt’s  speech today with BT’s investment.

If everyone has a right now to 2mb surely that right will increase by 2015 for the same reasons the powers that be took so long to accept between 2000 and 2010?

Wonder where we would be if Mrs Thatcher had allowed both BT to put in their fibre in 1979 and Murdoch to have his satellite licences rather than allow one monopoly to grow at the expense of the other?

At #BDUK the not spot information was to be made available if you signed an NDA (is it really competitive information, or market failure data?), in the past the Regional Development Agencies would be able to sign those NDA’s and plan their access campaign’s accordingly, now we have to rely on the non existent LEP’s ……

4 Replies to “Some personal thoughts on the current broadband debate”

  1. Don’t lose heart, we will get there in the end. In 2002 there wasn’t a politician who knew what broadband or adsl was, or what it could do. Now they are learning fast…
    The digitalbritain team hadn’t a clue. The BDUK team have some good people and advisers. They aren’t making empty promises like the last lot, and they aren’t falling for the openreach and ofcom spin. I think we have to give them a chance and support their efforts until the time comes that we think they are wrong, and then we have to say so. I don’t think they believe in the 2meg USC and hope to provide NGA to the rurals, because that is the only way to deliver 2meg. There is only fibre can do it, copper never can no matter how much expensive BET crap they shove in the exchanges. At least now they aren’t rushing to do it before 2012 they won’t get conned into BET, the last lot would have fallen for it. Neither are they using the cop out of saying satellite means everyone can get 2meg and doing nowt. I think they fully realise the ROI investment in next gen will do for the government and the poeple, and hopefully will help us all they can. They just don’t know how yet. But they are learning fast. Don’t lose hope. We are winning.
    I agree that BT should be made to pay back the RDAs like ours who enabled rural exchanges for them and then that money can be re-invested into fibre. We need digital village pumps, no VOA tax and access to utility ducts/poles at reasonable rates and access.

  2. Some RDA’s have had money back, presumably the later contracts had payback clauses in them.
    The politicians are the same, they have rotated power, but Ed Vaizy and Stephen Timms seemed to be talking off the same hymn sheet in 2002 and look where we are now, I know I have become more cynical as time has moved on but attending a recent Oxfordshire Broadband group meeting and feeling as though it was back in 2004 was unbelivable.

  3. Excellent blog post Paul.

    Those who ignore history are surely destined to repeat it.

    The basic problem is the top-down approach – it is all very well taking a “strategic” view however like politics, all broadband is ultimately a local issue.

    What is surprising is that the Coalition seems to be repeating the missteps of the previous administration in this regard – you have to wonder about the advice they have been given.

  4. you have to wonder about the advice they have been given.

    As far as I can see it is the same civil servants just giving the advice to whoever is in power, Yes Minister all over again …..

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