Ex-BT CTO slams government broadband scheme
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.