The Midsomer Broadband Murders were only the start of the slaughter

A couple of weeks ago I blogged on “Midsomers Murders: The Broadband Killings” . On Monday at the PICTFOR Broadband meeting one point of  agreement between the dominant players (BT, EE and Vodafone) and their innovative competitors was the need to “reform” planning procedures.

The following day I received an e-mail from DCMS on their consultation on”Proposed changes to siting requirements for broadband cabinets and overhead lines to facilitate the deployment of superfast broadband networks”, together with  the related Impact Assessment  (Annex A). Today the Daily Telegraph put that consultation into NIMBY context, juxtaposed with a story which tells how to fell a Windmill .

DCMS consultation

The deadline for responses to the DCMS consultation is 13 March 2013. Please send email responses to:  fixedbbconsult@culture.gsi.gov.uk

If you live in a not spot and would like to submit a hard copy response, please write to: Sean Kenny, Broadband
Policy Team, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH.

Let battle commence. But that is not the only set of battles ahead.

Planning and broadband deployment

At the PICTFOR meeting Rory Stewart MP referred, however, to the comparative ease with which bottom-up community broadband initiatives have obtained local support for planning applications under existing law. I was also intrigued to learn that BT does not regard itself as a utility but as a supplier of innovative products and services. Nonetheless it is firmly opposed to Local Government initiatives to provide dark fibre utility networks (as in Birmingham) to enable local businesses to have affordable access to world class high speed symmetric communications that might compete with its leased line business.

I suspect that BT’s receipt of state aid funding for rural broadband (see here for full details) might well be open to better founded challenge (from a wide variety of players, from local fibre networks or wireless operators to Sky or Vodafone) were they less community minded. However, we are more likely to see a much bloodier battle over the provision of business connectivity to enable our major cities and industrial centres, like Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester or Newcastle to compete with Shoreditch for the jobs of the future.

I recently read an investment analysts report which described BT as a profitable infrastructure construction and management business that was being milked (both funds and management attention) by a eclectic mix of unprofitable add-ONS, from Content and Internet Service Provision to Systems Integration – as well as by a legacy pension fund which Treasury had no intention of bailing out, save with regard to its legal obligations to pre-privatisation pensioners.

He made a compelling case for a share valuation based on selling off the dross (including the football rights on which they has already committed three times as much as towards the BDUK rural broadband programme) and going for a rights issue to fund a much more ambitious infrastructure investment programme. His point was that BT had only a limited window of opportunity to preempt the infrastructure investment plans of Arqiva, of the Mobile Operators and (perhaps) of Sky for a world of ubiquitous connectivity supporting the Internet of Things, with Smart Grids, Smart Buildings, Smart Cities and a mobile teleworking workforce, with each worker each supported by at least as much two-way bandwidth as a teenager can consume during a multi-participant video gossip.

My fear is that he is wrong – and the UK will be condemned to be an information sink, not a source, in the Global Information Society because we have failed to make it attractive enough for others (i.e. not just BT but most definitely including BT) to invest in giving our communities “real” access to the markets of the future.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries Birmingham, particularly Digbeth and the Jewelry Quarter, was at the heart of the UK’s communications infrastructure, from canals through to railways to the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle and Southampton as well as to London. The failure of BT and Virgin to give them similar global connectivity today is bad enough, to prevent others from doing so is …..

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