The debate about what’s going wrong with the broadband policy is becoming quite complex, messy and somewhat emotional.

For me, the key policy of making the UK the best “superfast” (meaning > 24 Mbps) broadband market in Europe is the right one. Delivering that in tandem with the localism bill and while supporting SMEs couldn’t be better. These are all things that get my total support – and I hear very few detractors (quite the opposite).

The rub for many people seems to be in the delivery – a matter of policy implementation and interpretation. A key example (totem?) is the framework which contains what appears to be little more than lip service to the policy – an opening few paragraphs that give the appearance of supporting the policy followed by a long list of qualifying criteria which, one by one, chip away at the goals until there is almost nothing left – even the stated objective of super-fast broadband seems to have been discarded, or at best re-framed, along the way.

There have been conspiracy theories that this is a stitch up between Government and BT but I don’t support that for one minute. To begin with, I suspect that the framework isn’t something BT would prefer to support but will pragmatically go along with as its what’s on offer.

Einstein is quoted as saying:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

For me this is a case of a very complex problem that’s been reduced beyond the possible degree of simplicity – the framework assumes a level of homogeneity of technology, scale, business model, financing, risk, partnership and so forth that just isn’t possible – BUT it is much simpler to manage.

The original policy objectives appear to have got lost in a drive to find the optimal process – or at least the one that’s the least bother to oversee.

This isn’t a time for a difficult u-turn – this is a time for politicians to crack the whip and make sure the policy is implemented as stated.

There are very good people inside BDUK, and they didn’t suddenly switch off. Something has happened that group at the top – whether it was the change of management or the influence of KPMG but it is something that can be corrected – but time is not on anyone’s side. One or the other or both need refocussing, and very soon.

  1. chris conder says:

    Vital Vision got to them?
    I agree, some of the BDUK people are fantastic.
    But someone is getting stitched up somewhere, and its time to bring on the fibre.
    and lets get this show on the road. Innovative pilots in hard to reach areas and lets show them it can be done, sustainably, locally and in a big society way.
    Then we take over BT urban customers if they don’t upgrade their networks. That will mean market forces will kick in and we will have a digital britain to be proud of instead of a slow lane copper network holding back innovation and growth.

    • Adrian Wooster says:

      The top bit I agree with but BT is upgrading urban customers (up to 40 Mbps this year rising to 80 next) , many of whom already have access to Virgin Media cable services, so for half the population the NGA debate doesn’t exist because they can already get up to 100 Mbps now.

      I’ve just completed a broadband mapping exercise for a more urbanised county and their average speed is already almost 38 Mbps, due in no small part to BT’s investment in their towns.

      The challenge is the BT’s current business model works well only in areas like this. Extending coverage across the rest of the country will need new business models and approaches, so BDUK’s current approach of quickly allocating the money to the biggest without addressing the need for different approaches isn’t going to work – but it will be easy to manage.

      • Guy Jarvis says:

        The key point about broadband vouchers, focused first on notspot areas as Chris says, is that they are a simple and effective mechanism to reward results from any innovative provider that can deliver on a first past the post basis.

        What better incentive to drive policy delivery forwards than to start a genuine race to infinity 🙂

      • Adrian Wooster says:

        You find me arguing against mechanisms like that – a Rabbit Broadband scheme for the next generation – but it feels rather like the die has been cast and we’re in for a less creative and ambitious world.

      • Peter Barrington says:

        Is £100 off the installation cost enough to encourage take up when annual cost could be £25 x 12 = £300? Presumably not spot rollout economics are very sensitive to geography and % takeup.

  2. Pauline Rigby says:

    I don’t think this a conspiracy either. But I do believe that the original policy position was completely daft and unworkable (and strangely detached from European targets) and is really what’s got us into this mess.

    “Best in Europe” sounds laudable, but it’s vague and subjective, and in the end BDUK had to devote considerable time to deciding how they could measure it when they got there, and tweak it so it would actually be achievable.

    I favour the cynical theory: this was the only ambition the new government could come up with that sounded much better than the old government while not actually changing very much about anything.

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