Following the broadband money

Ex-BT CTO slams government broadband scheme

with 13 comments

Peter Cochrane, former BT head of research and CTO, savaged the government’s broadband policy and implementation in evidence to the House of Lords communications committee which is looking into the UK’s superfast broadband initiative.

Cochrane who left BT in November 2000, said:

In 1979 my PhD was instrumental in BT’s decision to go fibre everywhere.

In 1986 I had got fibre to the home cheaper than copper at 2Mbps.

The island of Jersey is installing a 1000Mbps network everywhere in both directions; it’s cheaper than copper, and they’re doing it because they have a monoculture of banking, and they need to change the economy of the island.

Giving our people 2Mbps is like giving them a Morse key; you might as well not bother.

Twenty to 50 Mbps will not give us entry to cloud computing, on which rests the next phase of industry, commerce and the generation of GDP.

UK broadband is neither super nor fast. For one thing, it’s asymmetrical; communication tends to be two-way, so we can’t make use of video conferencing (with the present system).

When I came in, we were the servants of society…Now…(it’s) I’m here to benefit the company (and) the shareholders. That loss of perspective of a duty to society is really quite damaging.

Fibre to the cabinet is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made.

What’s this magic about fibre to the home? None. You can put copper Cat5 or LAN cable in yourself. Are you allowed to by BT? I always take the view in everything that I will beg forgiveness later.

Even when I was in the company 85% of UK homes were within one kilometre of a BT fibre that was dark, not being used.

If Ofcom is powerful enough to regulate the radio spectrum, surely they are powerful enough to regulate the waves on fibre.

As we unbundle duct access, there is a case to unbundle fibre and unbundle the wavelengths.

The £560m (£530m actually) that is being talked about is petty cash in this game…(Universal FTTH) will cost about £10bn to £15bn.

I would leverage the £560m (by investing) in small players so that there is a third force. In all successful commercial markets there is a rule of three, perhaps four. What we have right now is a rule of two.

The worst thing I see is start-up companies who get into this space to service people like you and me (in unserved rural areas) who are then observed making a success, and are then wiped out purposely by the incumbent.

If communities take things into their own hands, things can change.

There are two dangers with government investment; either it is spread too thin, or it just impacts one place.

We could have had the same mobile coverage we have today for £2bn if the mobile operators had shared masts. The same is true for fibre networks.

In 1986 I got fibre to the home and by 1990 BT and DuPont had built two factories, one in Ipswich and one in Birmingham… We were rolling out fibre to the home; it was an active programme, but it was stopped…by the Thatcher government and Sir Keith Joseph. They wanted the American cable companies in. The programme was stopped. Working with us were the Japanese and Koreans. They looked on, aghast, as we stopped. They carried on…we went back in time.

Do you take as a general proposition that where there is fibre there should be open access? Yes.

Squeezing the other guy out is not to the benefit of the nation, and not to my mind, a very clever business model.

If you could get (ready) access to fibre near you it would be absolutely transformative.

The cost is in getting the network in; the running cost is relatively low.

The delivery of bandwidth is independent of both the bandwidth and the distance. It’s the reason why your telephone call to North America is worth relatively nothing. It’s the sheer quantity of calls that makes it a viable business.

The analogue trans-Atlantic cable cost about $300m and took about five to seven years to pay back. The first optical fibre cable was filled in about six months and paid back in less than 18 months. Those systems now cost around $350m and pay back in a matter of months, not years.

When I was in BT we had about 7,600 telephone exchanges. We calculated that with fibre, because of its greater reach, we could get it down to under 100, about 60.

The fault level in an optical fibre network is very very low. And you can reduce manning, buildings, power consumption, everything.

A national broadband strategy would be founded on all access for all people at 100Mbps and above with an eye on fair competition, an economic and regulatory framework that encouraged people to help themselves, and encouraged start-up companies to provide the competition that’s necessary.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/03/23 at 00:46

13 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Professor Peter Cochrane was, understandably, one of our keynote speakers at 3 of our ABC (Access to Broadband Campaign) conferences. Most of the readers here did not have ‘broadband’ on their radar before 2003 but we had been active for a long time before that, and we followed in the footsteps of the Cochranes, Matsons etc who did. (Damn, there’s a book in this history!)

    Long before many had really grasped what broadband was, we were privileged to have access to Peter’s thoughts, expertise, vision etc. As well as many others who have shaped UK telecoms.

    Ignore him at your peril, he has taught at least one generation of telecoms experts (industry, consumer, community and public sector) what the next generation should look like, and for most of the country right now, his vision is what you are connected to.

    We can continue to listen to the utter rubbish that the advertising agencies and media hype experts (including pretty much everyone who is part of BT’s pension deficit ie current management, etc) spout about the current state of broadband and where policy needs to be. Or, we can take on board that what we are doing is a shambles, a farce, a waste of money, a scandal, a failure and an international joke in the connected world.

    Peter’s speeches at our conferences were livestreamed, archived, and quoted. Go Look. The premier expert in this country has not stopped banging the drum for what this country needs to do and I personally think he deserves a medal for being unstintingly consistent for so very long, against all odds, and with bugger all help from Government or current BT fat cats – from all divisions of this company which is only divided in name and not fact.

    Tonight, I have heard of yet more companies and visionaries leaving this country because we are determined to make absolute fools of ourselves by allowing lobbyists and private companies (PLC or not, it is tied to its shareholder interests) dictate just how low the broadband glass ceiling is set in the UK.

    Listen to Peter’s words. Take on board what he is saying. Develop projects built around his experience. Because there are very few others IN THE WORLD who have the experience to KNOW what this country needs. And there sure as hell are very few folk at the helm of the incumbent or government right now who know how to get to the end game this country requires as fast as possible after so long ignoring the experts in favour of monopoly interests.


    2012/03/23 at 01:14

  2. Even allowing for Dr Cochrane’s ‘commercial interest’ now in having a more level field, this is a damning indictment of the Government’s application of policy and of the behaviour of BT. It is surely to be hoped that the HOL Committee will be able to stop too much of the waste.

    His assertion that Thatcher stopped the wide roll out of fibre for political reasons is stunning.

    Mike Phillips

    2012/03/23 at 09:14

  3. Lins – are there really companies and people leaving the UK because of broadband? i thought it was due to taxation. Please name some as a company of any size will factor in connectivity to its business plan. VM cover 50% of the UK so that gives 100M connections to many and telcos supply ethernet connections at all speeds to anywhere.

    Thatcher stopping fibre roll out in favour of cable TV is well known. The key question is where to go from here. Particularly for the expensive to reach properties where people want to pay £10/month for something costing £1000 to install.


    2012/03/23 at 09:58

  4. I saw Peter’s presentation at the recent Suffolk Broadband event in Bury St Edmunds. His session was the only session which invigorated me. The rest of the conversation and “procurement” dialogue left me deflated and sad for our lack of ambition in setting the bar high , instead preparing people to be happy (lucky?) if they received 20mb. Even the procurement process is a joke- 3 months to decide the award criteria!

  5. I see all the rants above and the one thing they lack is real data. even cochrane lacks any sort of data. the man is a relic.

    when working at Demon I had the first broadband line in the UK using a raw copper product known as baseband from BT in 1994 . it ran at 2M . we moved a load of our engineers into finchley and they all got 2M at home. that’s when broadband began in the UK! We showed this to BT and they were amazed!

    this man cochrane sadly is completely out of touch with today’s economics realities. and is clearly a relic of when only the government was allows to run a telecommunications company. The UK has the cheapest broadband in the world because of privatisation of BT and the creation of a competitive environment. Look outside the UK and you find DSL much more expensive. 20M in the US can cost as much as £150 a month! here it’s as low as £6 a month. in the seventies cost of living and salaries where one of the lowest now in the UK we have the highest cost of living and salaries are much higher, driving the build price of fibre upwards. That’s why companies are leaving the UK, we have the best priced telecoms infrastructure in the world!, a fact companies like Gartner point out regularly.

    the issue we have is the cost to get fire to people’s homes. the ducts that exist for all providers is filled with rubbish and silt. Try to blow fiibre through them and it gets stuck. you then have to dig the road up and immediality fibre becomes too expensive. I note he has completely missed this point in his “speech”.

    the other points he makes are irrelevant. unbundling the duct – wont help as they are stuck with the issue noted above of being blocked.

    unbundle fibre. see above – wont help as fibre cant get to people’s homes!

    unbundle waves?! this will merely increase the price of bandwidth. using waves to deploy FTTX will increase the price of the deployments and you still need the fibre to people’s homes.

    fibre is easy to deploy, you just need money, and a HELL of alot more money than the current BDUK fund.

    Neil J. McRae

    2012/03/24 at 12:27

    • Judging from his presentation to the Lords, Cochrane is very involved with the Jersey initiative to give everyone on the island 1Gbps symmetrical. He is also working on a FiWi network for his home village. And he made your point that there is fibre nearly everywhere, just that you aren’t allowed to connect to it. He may not be as out of date you think.

      Ian Grant

      2012/03/25 at 18:29

      • ‘you aren’t allowed to connect to it’ What does that mean?

        There is fibre running from Bristol and beyond down to Cornwall. How do you propose ‘we’ connect to it? Engineering detail please,

        Still waiting for the answer about companies leaving the UK, another soundbite.


        2012/03/25 at 19:10

  6. Not sure that’s fully accurate but for what fibre that is there you just need to phone up and ask to use it. Ethernet is very cheap.

    the issue is every one wants FTTX and they want it for free. sadly it’s costs money.



    2012/03/25 at 18:37

  7. he missed the key point that it’s costs real money to dig and lay fibre. doesn’t matter who does it. even community schemes and has misled government into thinking that more regulation is the answer – nothing could be further from the truth and all of his proposals will make no difference to the availability of fibre to homes.



    2012/03/25 at 18:43

    • He did say that FTTH to every UK home would cost £10-£15bn and take 10 years.

      Ian Grant

      2012/03/25 at 19:30

      • Clearly spending that amount on saving 20mins on a single train journey is more important for the UK.


        2012/03/25 at 19:51

      • Someone on Radio 4 this morning said it was £33bn and counting…;-( HS, that is…

        Ian Grant

        2012/03/25 at 19:53

  8. […] Olympics, but the House of Lords communications committee is looking at the broadband issue. It has heard evidence that the fibre to the cabinet solution proposed by both BT and Virgin Media is a technological […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: