Monday, 5 October 2009

Help! I've been digitally disconnected!

Maybe it's punishment for my comments about Digital Britain and the mediocrity of our telecoms infrastructure (see last post below). Maybe it's just bad luck. But BT have decided to put me on the wrong side of the 'digital divide'.

What have I done wrong? I've moved to a new home, in a nice new area. And one that's supposedly all hooked up to BT - the monopoly provider here. I'm locked into a contract with them from my previous address. I've paid my rental, and the £122 connection fee, and had the set-up all booked. Should have been plain sailing.

Then a text from BT postponing it for a week. Then a voicemail postponing it - indefinitely!

What's the problem?

Well, it seems BT failed to put in enough capacity to provide services to the several thousand homes being built in this area. They say the landowner won't let them on their land to upgrade.

The landowner, however, says BT have cocked it up big time and want to dig up all the roads that have just been laid, landscaped and signed off for handing over to the local council.

While all this finger-pointing goes on, new residents moving in are being told there is no immediate prospect of a phone line or broadband. One resident has been told it will be at least 3 months. When I talk to BT, they stonewall and say there are confidential issues involved... too confidential to tell paying customers when they might get a phone.

Maybe a little irony here?

I am aware that there is perhaps a little irony here. Both in BT's position in promoting home-based working - and my own in doing likewise. This is the other side of the story here, for sure, and it shows that not everything in the flexibility garden is always rosy.

But it's a serious problem for home-based businesses if they have no broadband. And expensive too, to have calls routed to my mobile, and the long sessions in cafes to use the wi-fi. Being a journalist I have the flexibility to get round some of the problems. But if I was in a buying-and-selling kind of business, the impact could be disastrous.

Digital Britain? When there's not enough capacity to give new homes even a phone line, Digital Britain seems to be just a distant dream! And universal service? I don't know what this means any more.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The myopic vision of Digital Britain

Britain's much-hyped blueprint for the digital age, Digital Britain, has been taking a pasting in the papers since the publication of the final report this week. And rightly so.

There's been a lot of angry focus on the proposed tax/levy, or in its own words: "small general supplement ... for a Next Generation Fund" (!!) And on the top-slicing of BBC funding to support other content providers. But for me the worst failure is that the report has absolutely no clue about the importance of digital communications to the world of work.

The whole thing is hopelessly muddled. The problem is that Lord Carter has tried to plot a route through the miasma of fudges that make up our broadband and broadcast landscapes. The report has been too receptive to the special pleading of particular interest groups, and proposes some mildly interventionist measures that will do little to make a difference - except inhibit innovation.

The problem is, we don't do infrastructure well in the UK. Go 5 or 6 miles out of any city into a rural area, and your phone signal is likely to drop, and you'll be unable to get broadband. Having targets that are about having coverage for 98% or even 100% of residences will still leave vast tracts of the country that people work in and travel through without coverage. And it will leave many residences with no competition in terms of provider.

And 2 megabits broadband as a standard for universal service is shameful. The kind of consumer and business applications that will come on stream over the next 10 years will be much more bandwidth-hungry - particularly conferencing technologies and 3-D apps.

But the worst aspect of the report, is that it seems to think that telcos, broadcasters and new media companies are the only sectors that have an interest in this field. It's all about delivering content to largely passive consumers, and these are the players.

All businesses need the best available communications infrastructure, and the standard 2 megabit asymmetric connection just isn't it.

People working remotely, small businesses trying to reach new markets, and home-based businesses (41% of all businesses) will benefit from having much faster networks to communicate, to sell across and to deliver digital products. Digital Britain provides a muddled recipe for delaying what is needed for the new world of work.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Skimming the surface of change

At we focus on modernising working practices. So it's with a fair amount of frustration we see the lamentable spectacle of overexcited Members of Parliament falling over themselves to champion reform - a very superficial reform of their casual expenses sytem they have exploited until now.

We are witnessing a kind of parody of historical moments like the Self-Denying Ordinances of the Civil War period, or the French Revolution's August 4th when nobles competed to give up (or appear to give up) their feudal rights.

In many ways, the appearance of reform is as bad as having no reform at all. Public cynicism will remain, and taint everyone who is in, or seeks, public office.

What is needed is a 'root and branch' revolution in the way MPs work. We set out a prescription for this in the article MPs - String them up or wire them up?

The whole structure of the way MPs work, where they work, the times they work, and what they do, needs to be thoroughly re-examined. Otherwise we'll just be kidding ourselves that anything has changed.