Following the broadband money

What broadband network is fit for UK future? Have your say

with 14 comments

How the comms world is evolving, by DCMS.

How the comms world is evolving, by DCMS.

There is less than a month left to respond to the government’s Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy consultation.

The government seeks guidance on what people think will they require from a communications ecosystem that is fit for their purposes.

In preparing the consultation document it consulted “companies, organisations and individuals from across the communications industry, consumer representatives, the regulator, other government departments and the devolved administrations”.

A glance through Annex A shows that the consultation is, from the outset, framed by an insiders’ view of how the debate should go. “Our assumptions were developed through discussion with stakeholders and draw on a review of published reports and articles. The assumptions include:

  • Users will need more bandwidth as data consumption continues to rise;
  • Expectations to gain access to services and applications on the move will become the norm;
  • Technological advances in telecommunications and broadcasting will continue to be rapid;
  • We can expect changes in the communications market, potentially including new players and possibly market consolidation; and
  • Resilience and reliability will become increasingly important as aspects of what constitutes a good service, alongside availability and speed.”

Last year the Confederation of British Industries (not credited) said in a study of the UK’s broadband infrastructure that it was “a mistake to hold back the investment until after the next election” and that “households and firms in rural internet ‘not-spots’ need to be connected faster”.

The Federation of Small Businesses (credited) said earlier this year the networks are not “fit for purpose”. “Many urban or semi-urban businesses can experience poor coverage too, and even where broadband is available the range and quality of services often fall short of what businesses require.

“Tailored business packages offering symmetrical upload and download speeds are often prohibitively expensive, while business parks and premises have been overlooked in the roll-out of local fibre networks to residential areas. If the full potential of small business is to be harnessed and the economic benefits of broadband connectivity realised, this must change.”

In 2012 the Forum of Private Business (credited) said, “Energy costs and access to effective telecommunications, including broadband, are the most important infrastructure issues faced by small businesses.”

To be fair, HMRC recently acceded to FPB’s call to delay the compulsory online submission of VAT and tax returns until there is adequate access to high speed broadband across the country.

But that is a small victory.

The well-connected Philip Virgo shows that the scenarios envisaged DCMS are already out of date. By 2020, DCMS’s most extreme view is likely to be commonplace, at least in other countries. Describing the background material as “myopic”, Virgo says, “…publicity for the consultation has been muted and its timing might seem to imply HMG is going through the motions and in not serious. But the politicians are serious and the consequences of a lack of response other than from those contacted will be profound.” (His emphasis.)

Virgo makes the point that the government’s ambition for government services to be “digital by default” is at odds with the delivery mechanism. For him there are two questions: are the on-line services of government usable by the target audience, and how is that usability measured?

As policy issues, those are a lot more useful than most of the 44 questions posed by the DCIS consultation (see Annex C for the summary.) Should government policy really consider technical issues like IPv6? Should it really care how UK network speeds compare to other countries?

A disciple of economist Michael Beesley, Virgo strongly believes that regulators can, or rather should, do little more than control price, quality of service and predatory behaviour. “The recent histories of Ofcom and Ofgem indicate why he was right,” he says.

The Rwandan telecoms regulator RURA has taken this to heart. Last year it set out easily understood and measured Quality of Service standards for mobile and fixed line operators. How the operators do it is up to them. Either they hit it or they don’t. At risk is their licence. That concentrates the mind.

But to return to the consultation. TechQT has put up the entire document plus annexes in an easily commentable online format, thanks to DigressIT. It will collect comments and forward them to DCMS by deadline. And it won’t “disappear” them the way inputs to the Digital Britain report have mysteriously vanished.

Comments close on 1 October. Have your say. It may be your last chance for 10 years.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/09/06 at 17:41

14 Responses

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  1. Having spent weeks commenting on the digital britain report and none of the actions were taken any notice of, how can we be sure they will take notice this time? They were warned that the funding must not go to the monopoly incumbent or it would be wasted on copper, and yet they have allowed BT to stop anyone else getting it. Why don’t they listen to the people instead of those with vested interests?


    2014/09/06 at 19:28

    • Sad to say, there are lots of people with “consultation fatigue”. But if you saved those submissions to Digital Britain, you can dust them off, copy and paste, rinse and repeat. Feel free to use anything from Br0kenTeleph0n3 if it fits your purpose. Ah, the wonders of technology 😉


      2014/09/06 at 19:43

    • I also suffer a similar although lengthier fatigue from shouting at those in ivory towers, but perhaps the most interesting development since Digital Britain report is the growth of investor confidence. For instance, since then, we have seen multiple new companies and projects coming out of the woodwork purely because the government so outrageously and arrogantly ignored much of what was said back then and just don’t get IT.

      For any new entrant or existing competition to the incumbents, the comments on the DCIS report could be extremely useful market research, especially if we can produce a set of more pertinent questions in the coming days that make more sense to the 65M people in this country, the vast majority (all?!) of whom use digital communications and have opinions. At the very least, we may be able to get a statistically useful sample of dissatisfaction at what has occurred to date in time for the election.

      The government (which may or may not stick around to see through the publication of the strategy, let alone its implementation) have so blatantly not got a handle on digital development in the UK, past, present or future, that the market has been forced to take up the appalling slack. Private companies such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, CityFibre, LonsdaleNet, etc and community projects such as B4RN, B4YS and many others in development, are filling in the gaps being caused by a scandalous wastage of at least £1.8bn of public monies. And three cheers for all of these initiatives.

      If only 10% of the population (1 in 10 of those who use some aspect of the comms infrastructure in the UK!) commented on a single paragraph in the doc, those with the nous to spot the opportunities opened up by present infrastructure failure would have some very interesting Big Data to work with.


      2014/09/06 at 20:01

  2. Whilst public servants are clearly showing an interest in being gainfully employed and some aspects of the enquiry are worthy of serious consideration, the fact remains that all future use of UK communications depends entirely on an adequate and future-proofed basic infrastructure. Every systems designer is aware that it is imperative to provision systems capable of enhancement to cover all conceivable applications well into the future.

    The House of Lords heard that evidence in 2012 yet HMG and public servants continue with vast subsidies for a quite unsuitable partial FTTC dead-end solution. The maximum obtainable asymmetric speeds of 76 mbps down and 18 Mbps up is only practical out to about 300 m from the FTTC. These partially available speeds pale into insignificance when compared with the few independent true point-to-point fibre suppliers quite easily providing symmetric speeds of 1,000 Mbps. They clearly demonstrate that fibre is not prohibitively expensive if it is properly engineered. Fibre running costs are substantially cheaper than attempting to maintain the degrading PSTN with all the breakdown delays involved.

    The nation will now have to pay a near monopoly very dearly for a long time. The situation is quite seriously compromised with the additional energy costs at a time when electricity supply margins have been cut to the bone and a FTTC has apparently only a 4 hour battery back-up.

    The UK now clearly faces a monumental task in upgrading a substandard deployment long before it can ever provide an adequate Return On Investment. One glimmer of hope for some urban areas exists by replacing the Virgin Media coaxial cable system with point-to-point fibre to every front door; but vast swathes of rural and small town areas must seemingly require a renationalised organisation tasked with a total underground dual redundant fibre deployment.


    2014/09/06 at 19:58

  3. Whilst I’m a great supporter of railways I do believe that if we are truly going to transform the UK regions economic future we should spend the HS2 budget on Internet infrastructure. We are more likely to need high speed Internet in the future than high speed rail….a

    Anthony Johnston

    2014/09/07 at 08:24

    • The snag with all these HS2 comparisons is that the HS2 budget is to be allocated for and spent over the next few decades – and not in the next 5 years
      I take it we all want FTTP before 2030?


      2014/09/08 at 09:28

      • When did infrastructure ROI drop to 5 years? It has never been thus.


        2014/09/08 at 09:33

      • Are you saying we could all have FTTP in five years? That would be good news, especially since we seem unlikely to hit the EU’s targets of 30Mbps for all and 50% of us subscribed to a 100Mbps service by 2020, except for the gigabit towns now being enabled by CityFibre, villages by Gigaclear, and buildings by Hyperoptic. And of course Virgin Media, where you can get it. Not forgetting the 58 homes in Fell End.


        2014/09/08 at 09:40

  4. Village point to point FTTP installations seem to use a centrally located controlling cabinet fed from a local electric supply just like BT’s FTTC cabinets.
    Ideally this will be a separate direct circuit from a local substation rather than patched in from a convenient elec’ pole.
    These cabinet too have 4 hour backup batteries in them.
    So all things being equal, FTTP subscribers are no better off than FTTC subscribers in terms of security of supply from power failures (assuming a decent sized UPS system at home)


    2014/09/07 at 20:55

    • So if the power issue is equal, there should be less objection to FTTP, given the vast improvement in quality of service to the customer and total cost of ownership to the network operator.


      2014/09/08 at 09:11

    • Sorry, but at what point did we stop thinking out of the box and climb into a suit? Every single farmer I know can keep their milking parlour running throughout a power cut. Even when phone lines are down, schools are closed etc, farms run. I have no idea who you are Peter, but it sounds like you need a weekend in the country!


      2014/09/08 at 09:37

      • There are some fundamental differences which have been overlooked at least between the BT FTTC power solution and e.g. that properly engineered by B4RN. Their solution has substantially fewer cabinets with dual diverse routed fibre feeds. They have actually planned for the usual long rural power outages by including fully engineered power feed change-over switches and external power plugs for a portable generator. That solution recharges the UPS battery in situ without any mechanical modifications and continues the supply to the active electronics.

        In contrast Dr Ranulf Scarbrough, (Director Superfast Cornwall Programme, BT Group) quite incredibly expects that there are enough fully charged spare batteries (4 in every FTTC) together with enough white vans and staff to instantaneously swap out depleting batteries for **** E V E R Y **** FTTC in a community every four hours.

        Even assuming that every exchange has such a stock of batteries and chargers, and quite possibly in storm conditions too, deploying security key-holding staff to every FTTCabinet will be a nightmare ! I guess that the minimum time to obtain clearance to open each FTTC via the Bristol control centre, Isolate the normal power supply feed and distribution switches, safely dismantle the battery crate completely and then replace everything in under say 60 minutes of battery fail time would be almost impossible.

        In practice retrospective MBORC (Matters Beyond Our Reasonable Control) for a VDSL service without any Universal Service Obligation would appear to be the only escape mechanism. That said, the voice line through the passive low-pass filters ought to continue working to the exchange with a diesel back up.


        2014/09/08 at 10:49

      • I’m an early retired Chartered electrical engineer living in the countryside (and plagued by badgers which I HATE and which dig my lawn) – now resident 100% of the time rather than part time when I was working full time.
        Always a bad idea to suggest someone does something they do 100% of the time is it not?

        Ah well just another forum/blog not to bother with anymore.


        2014/09/08 at 21:07

  5. If anyone is interested Mark Swarbrick – Project Director Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy at Department for Culture, Media and Sport – will be presenting on initial findings at NextGen 14 in Derby 11/12 November. – This is a FREE admission event.


    2014/09/10 at 09:44

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