July 2011 Archives

But some of the other allegations of misconduct do need investigation

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Lest my earlier posting today be misinterpreted I should add that my concern was that the allegations of a cartel distracted not just from important material but from the need to investigate some of the other allegations - such as the treatment of the IPR of small firms proposing innovative solutions, whether by departments or by their suppliers.

 

Yesterday I gave 8/10 to PASC Report "A recipe for rip-off". Part of my reasoning has already been confirmed

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There was much excellent material in the PASC report on Government and IT published yesterday but at the end of my blog yesterday I felt only able to award 8/10.

 

I deducted one mark for accepting the attempts by Whitehall to blame the European Procurement Directives for the volumes of misleading legal verbiage it has itself commissioned.

 

I deducted a second mark for the way the attack on a non-existant cartel (as opposed to a very real government-created oligopoly) detracted from more important material.

 

Intellect has released the followed press release

 

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Intellect's response to PASC report on government and IT

London. July 28, 2011: "The recent PASC report on government and IT includes allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and collusion, and suggestions of a 'cartel' operating in the ICT industry. The implication is that leaders of public sector businesses in our industry have been involved in criminal activity. As the trade body for the ICT sector, we want to make it clear that this is not the case and cartels do not exist in our industry. On the contrary, this is a highly competitive market. Intellect would cooperate with any investigation into such allegations, but we believe it would be a waste of public money."

 

ends

 

About Intellect: Intellect is the trade association for the UK's technology sector which includes the IT, telecoms and electronics industries. Intellect has 780 member companies ranging from major multinationals to SMEs which account for approximately 10per cent of UK GDP. For more information about Intellect please visit: www.intellectuk.org.

Contact: Tony Henderson, head of communications T: + 44 (0)20 7331 2031 M: +44 (0)7730988295

E: tony.henderson@intellectuk.org

 

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I strongly agree that any attempt to find evidence of a Cartel would be a waste of public money and a diversion from the need to address the other problems identified in the report.    

 

P.S. Added at 12.45 after receipt of e-mails querying my comment above in the light of some of the evidence given to the Select Committee and quoted in the report. 

 

I need to add a point of clarification.

 

The "important material" to which I referred included other allegations of misconduct which may or may not have entailed illegal behaviour. These include the allegations regarding the treatment of the IPR of SMEs proposing innovative solutions, whether that treatment was by departments or by those working for major suppliers.

 

I do, however, strongly agree with the Intellect statement that looking for evidence of a cartel that planned such activities, or any other collective criminal behaviour, would be a waste of effort.  

 

 

 

Don't just read the summary: the PASC report goes to the heart of why the rip-off image has come about

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The PASC Select Committee Report into "Government and IT - a recipe for rip offs - time for a new approach" is better than the title implies. It genuinely adds to our understanding of why Central Government gets such poor value for what it spends with its major suppliers and how the situation can be improved.

At the heart of the problems is the way "commercial confidentiality" is used to conceal expensively toxic mixes of muddle, inefficiency and  waste, whether or not there is actual financial, as opposed to "intellectual", corruption.

The core recommendations that central government should publish all procurement contracts,  benchmark  performance and mandate open standards and inter-operability to help open up its supply base are most welcome. So too is the call for a move to flexible development approaches .

If I have a criticism of the summary it is with wording which might enable Sir Humphrey to implement  the letter of a recommendation while doing the opposite in spirit. I have never seen an more ponderous approach to system development that the way in which "agile and iterative development methods" are being used to support a classic "delayed big-bang  approach" for the DWP systems to support the Universal Credit.

Those who view the report as an attack on a successful industry should re-read and ponder.  They should then look at the track record from the perspective of the Finance Directors and Shareholders of the supplirs concerned. UK Central Government has commonly been the customer from hell, not a profitable cash cow. It has bankrupted more suppliers than it has made rich. Those paid according to hours worked (e.g. lawyers and consultants) or nominal contract size (e.g. the sales team) are the only ones who have done well out of what is being condemned.  Little of the business has been profitable, hence the main reason there are so few UK suppliers left and the share prices of those that are.

Now to comment on the main body of the report - and I will confine myself to areas where I think have something useful to add. 

Government and IT: A recipe for rip-offs. Stand by for a kicking

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The report of the Public Administration Select Committee is due to be released at midnight.

It is difficult for many of those who work in IT to comprehend just how unpopular their industry is with politicians and the public. We have many excuses as to why we are "misunderstood". However, I fear that we are "understood" by politicians rather better than we "understand" them.

Tomorrow will be a day to read and reflect - rather than one for knee jerk reactions.

 

England can beat India: but it requires turning the ducks waddling in the way of economic recovery into swans

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Today we have calls for more government spending to help pull through economic recovery and overcome current stagnation. Central to that recovery will be the re-creation of a world-class communications infrastructure - in line with declared government policy. Hence the first of the Information Society Alliance policy studies announced at the reception attended by Ed Vaizey (Minister for Culture Communications and the Creative Industries) on the 9th June.

This morning Broadband UK was once again procrastinating over allocating the funds it was due to have allocated before the start of the Parliamentary recess to help pull through rural broadband. Instead it announced plans to try to force local Councils into consortia unrelated to their existing plans for co-operation on cost-cutting and improved service delivery. The result was predictable.

Ministers had promised funding decisions before the recess so that councils could move ahead rapidly with plans to use their share of the £550 million alongside funding from other sources that must be used or lost this year. Instead BDUK appears engaged in a game of manana top-down planning for contracts to be awarded next year to BT, Virgin Media and Cable and Wireless.

That is not what they have said but I have been told that those are the only suppliers who meet the criteria they have specified for their framework contract. More interestingly, I am told than none of those who do meet the criteria are enthusiastic. The idiosyncratic nature of the framework means they would make a better return on shareholders funds by providing backhaul facilities to local community services operated by others, provided the latter are built to current international inter-operability standards.

It is not to late to turn a dying duck into a flying swan any more than it was too late to show India that we can still beat them on the cricket field.

Now all we to do is to show them that we can once again beat India (and even China) when it comes to economic growth - perhaps by doing it the same way that we did before - mixing  deregulation, local enterprise and global trade (in whatever language and under whatever law the customer wants). [The delusions and distractions of Empire came later].

Hence my blog yesterday on the need to change the terms of reference of BDUK to removing barriers to local enterprise instead of adding new ones. 

Without such a change we can expect a round of (b)duck hunting while MPs (including Cabinet and other Ministers representing constituencies in Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Surrey and Sussex) are in their constituencies over the summer.  

Teaching Ducks to Fly - A constructive role for BDUK

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I have just been sent an english language copy of the Dutch Guidance on interpreting State Aid rules with regard to Broadband. It uses many examples from the UK.  It is five years old and some might argue that it is out of date, superceded by the 2009 Commission guidelines but I suspect this argument is specious because the "rules" underlying the guidance do not appear to have been changed by more recent decisions.  

Given that the EU policy is "to use public financing in line with EU competition and State aid rules" to deliver 30 mbps to everyone by 2020 and 100 mdps to at least half, and given that UK policy is to have the best in Europe , it appears a no-brainer for BDUK to switch the effort it is spending on a dead-end framework that will lock communities into half that speed into guidance on how to use the rules to achieve government policy.

An up-to-date version of the Dutch material, whether or not the Commission decides to produce one itself, should the first leg.

Material on the current and emerging inter-operabilty standards that should be used to avoid being locked in to obsolescent or transient technologies should be the second leg. 

Enabling and encouraging the sharing of the many maps of current infrastructures that could/should be used to cut construction costs is the third leg. 

It can be argued that the Ofcom cap on BT prices where it is still a monopoly supplier (see my blog yesterday) provides the fourth  leg - and the rest can be left to  mix of community enterprise and market forces.  

BDUK can then work itself out of a job by delvering its objectives to short order. That does, however, require that its staff are motivated to do so. That is easier said than done.

When I did my programme management course at London Business School (nearly 40 years ago) we were told that the only certain way of bringing projects in on time is to ensure that the key staff knew their next project - want to move on to it - and know they will not be able to do so until that on which they are working on has passed its acceptance testing. 

The projects that followed that golden rule might not come in on budget - but they came on time and they worked. The world may have moved on since. Human nature has not.

Meanwhile the UK faces a massive challenge to rebuild its utility infrastructures (including communications) so that they are fit for the challenges of the future. There is more than enough work for the talents currently being wasted propping up the business models of the past. Hence the thrust of the policy studies currently being organised by the Information Society Alliance - EURIM

Will Ofcom and the European Commission make the BDUK Framework a Dead Duck

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The recent capping by Ofcom of BT wholesale prices in the 11.7% of the country where it is the only provider is a long overdue but most welcome exercise of its powers. The requirement on BT to undercut inflation by 12% each year until 2014 is exactly the kind of action that it should have taken long ago to encourage BT to stimulate investment by others in alternative infrastructures to serve those areas where it does not make a profit.

Ofcom has given to BT a massive incentive to offer attractive inter-operability and national carriage deals to those who will help reduce its monopoly footprint and enable it to focus its own resources on where it will make the best return on investment - including bottleneck and vulnerability removal. As a BT shareholder (and as a taxpayer) I very much hope they will exploit the opportunity to the full.

In consequence the BDUK (pronounced Be Duck) framework may be a Dead Duck, even before the responses to the current consultation on European Commission review of guidance on State Aid with regard to Broadband have drawn attention to the wide variety of partnership models that have already slashed the cost/risk of building local networks that give world-class access to deprived or isolated communities. By contrast the BDUK framework appears to assume a community "business model" (if there is one in mind at all) akin to the Ambridge Village Co-operative as opposed to the Borsetshire County Network or Lightspeed Felpersham.

The time has come for Broadband UK to focus on advice and guidance instead of empire building. Where are the maps of existing infrastructures that can be used to cut construction costs? Where is the guidance on inter-operability standards that can be used to ensure that communities are not locked into technology dead-ends? Where is the file of case studies of success to be replicated - and of failures to be learned from?

The Big Information Society is not just a collection of cottage enterprises but a re-creation of the way our ancestors created world-class utility infrastructures (from canals to railways as well as water supplies, gas and then electricity) to support the world's first industrial revolution. 

 

 

Lessons from Hackgate: 3) Listen to your Mother

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The Detective department of the Metropolitan Police was founded in 1842. The News of the World was launched in 1843. In 1847 the Metropolitan Police dismissed 238 officers for disciplinary offences, including selling stories to Grub Street. Fast forward to Jack the Ripper and see the feeding frenzy of the press. Fast forward to the Profumo Affair, the murder of Muriel McKay or the disappearance of Madeleine McCann

The views of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch on her son's purchase of the News of World are a matter of record . It is said that he reigned in some of its worst excesses as a result and that what happened subsequently was behind his back. The NoW accounted for less than 10% of the cases uncovered by Operation Motorman so it was indeed doing less than its rivals - as is now beginning to come out in mainstream press cover - albeit not that of its main enemies.

In my teens we lived next door to a senior pre-Murdoch News of the World executive. We had another senior newspaperman with a rival tabloid on the other side. My mother was appalled when I had my first "story" in a national newspaper and a journalist rang, having tracked me down in under 24 hours - despite the promise of anonymity as a whistle blower given to me by the editor of the Parish Magazine, a former journalist with yet another tabloid, who had suggested that the Vicar would not like it but that Fleet Street would.

I have never since believed any claims of security or anonymity, least of all over the Internet. 

 

Lessons from Hackgate: 2) Data leaks via people not technology

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Much of the debate on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers, Data Retention, ID cards, Medical Records et al centres on who could/should be trusted to authorise access to what. Those with little experience of how Magistrates and Courts authorise warrants and maintain their records thought they were more trustworthy than giving similar authority to senior civil servants. Meanwhile private investigators and journalists were bribing and blagging their way into accessing information on those on witness protection programmes let alone the victims of crime, the rich and famous or those whose misconduct was indeed worthy of investigation.

The full version of the report of the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) Security by Design group begins with a splendid quote from Professor Richard Walton, sometime Director of CESG: "The main benefit of investing in better security technology is to force the enemy to concentrate on corrupting your people instead of trying to break your systems."

The cruder way of making Richard's point is "Its the wetware stupid".  No amount of technology can make up for leaky people processes. 

The collapse of confidence in the security of public sector databases that will follow Hackgate adds an unwelcome topicality to the new alliance study on "Rebuilding confidence in the on-line world: by joining up Information and Identity Governance and removing the regualtory jungles that get in the way of good practice".

 

Lessons from Hackgate: 1) delete all e-mails no longer required

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The unravelling phonehacking sage may prove to be an even better stimulus to basic "good practice" in information security and data protection than the lost HMRC discs. I am not sure that e-mails count as "personal data" but the fifth principle defnitely applies. Delete them (and your mobile phone messages) as soon as no longer required. It also destroys the evidence of your malpractice.

The death throes of the Steam Age Nation State

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There are many agendas behind the current attacks on News International. Todays posting by Guido Fawkes neatly summarises some of them - from pots calling the kettle black (to divert attention from themselves) to those who wish to muzzle investigative journalism and have a French style media.

One factor that should not be forgotten is the threat that Sky was about to pose to the national media monopolies and oligopolies that help preserve centralised Nation States, like the UK and US. Their zenith was in the middle of the 20th century: when monopoly state broadcasters and communications networks reinforced the central control enabled by the railways. The sell-by date of most Nation State came with the privatisation and liberalisation of telecommunications, which enabled the rise of the Internet at the same time as that of mass market air travel.  

What is Identity? Why HMRC and DWP cannot agree

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A key reason for the collapse of the ID card proposals was lack of agreement across Whitehall, let alone Townhall on objectives. In consequence it could not be used as an "entitlement" card to expedite access to mainstream public sector benefits. In consequence there was no benefit to the citizens. Current attempts to reduce the number of ID systems in use across central and local government face similar problems. Might the "answer" be to give up, use existing private sector systems that will do what is needed for the applicaton and allow better solutions to evolve over time.  

The definitions of "identity" and "trust" used by those advocating comprehensive, integrated systems mask assumptions based on the "needs" of the clients of those proposing them. thus it is alleged, with little or no evidence, that "solutions" originally to stop the US security services shooting each other or would-be rescue teams after a 9/11 style terrorist incident are of value to others, like airlines, banks or on-line retailers. Meanwhile the systems used by the latter are ignored, as are different definitions of identity and trust.

Current debate also masks different business objectives and cases within the groups - including between the tribes of Whitehall.

 

What is the difference between phone hacking and behavioural advertising

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Last week, in parallel with the peak of media hysteria over the Phone Hacking story, Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Registar, delivered a most thoughtful lecture in Edinburgh.

Of course there is a world of difference between the motivation of those seeking juicy stories about your private life (whether a journalist, the neighbourhood gossip or a cyberstalker) and those seeking to sell you that which might be of interest.

But the technologies have converged - and you do not need deep-packet inspection to find out the interests (and secrets)  of most on-line enthusiasts.

Hence the need to move on from abuses of the technologies of the last millenium (blagging you way through a call-centre so as to be able to listen to the victims telephone answering machine or the recorded messages on their mobile phone).

P.S. The revelations as to why the police did not take the concerns of the Information Commissioner seriously are not new. They are were another manifestation of the differences of priority and perspective between government and its subjects.

I must make time to return to my theme of Warlords versus Merchants.

In this instance it was the obsession of the Warlords (police) with anti-terrorism and of the Merchants (the Tabloids) with giving readers "human interest" stories to attract readers of interest to their advertisers.

Now look at those blogs, search engines and websites which make serious money - and how they attract readers - and thus advertisers!  

Who do you trust most, or perhaps it should be least, to look after your interests.

Back to my day job of trying to structure a constructive debate on how to reconcile the interests of the Merchants and the Warlords in ways that the rest of us can live with.

(Answers on the back of Bodleian Library?)

 

You read it here first

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Saturday mornings is when Guido Fawkes posts his ratings.

I've no idea what mine are and I don't like to boast but ....

That is a lie - I would like to boast .... or rather say thank you to some of my readers.

A friend has back-tracked on the growing number of comments (including blog-postings) which put the current attacks on the News of the World into the context of "Operation Motorman", the ICO's follow up report to "What Price Privacy", the DCMS Select Committee report and the need to investigate the other clients of the phonehackers.

The comments* began the day after my blog on the 6th - So which which newspaper has not employed phone hackers and their on-line equivalent  and the postings I placed on a couple of mainstream political blogs at the same time using my normal pseudonym, as opposed to anonymously.

(* I am referring to comments in the context of the current attacks, not previous comments such at that which I have used in the link above to Operation Motorman. It is perhaps significant that that comment does not even mention the News of the World (not one of the top three customers of the phone-hackers) and majors on the attempt by a non-tabloid, the Observer, to distance itself from what was found during the police raid.)  

The message is that this blog, the comments on it and those I place elsewhere to reinforce some of the messages, attract an "interesting" audience.

Therefore I had better remind you of the "rules of engagement".     

The Press Compliants Commission may be a toothless tiger but this blog runs under their conventions. That means it is moderated and I do not use material or accept comments where I do not know the source or cannot verify. I am happy to accept "guest entries" on topics that I know I should cover, but lack the time. I expect my guests to follow similar rules.    

I should perhaps add that I use similar rules for when I post comments using my pseudonym because I have no serious confidence in any claims of anonymity. It is all too easy to find out not only what breed of on-line dog you are, your eating habits, your parentage, where you hang out, who with and so on.

Hence my desire to use the phone-hacking scandal to put the issues into the context of the present and the future - not just the past

- and to say thank you to those who have helped multiply and magnify the "real" message - as opposed to merely joining the current politically and commercially motivated Witch Hunt.

From phone hacking to spearphishing: we need to tackle the present not the past

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I have just watched the Press Conference from Number 10.

I was unexpectedly impressed by the performance of the Prime Minister. I knew he was a good performer - but I did not appreciate just how good a performer. I was impressed by the content and clarity of thinking as well as the style.

I was particularly pleased that he slipped in reference to the failure to follow up the concerns expressed by the Information Commissioner and the DCMCS Select Committee five years ago - which I referred to in my blog on Wednesday.

The Select Committee criticised the ICO for not giving editors and newspaper proprietors the names of the other 304 journalists who had used the services of Mr Mulcaire and his colleagues. 285 of them were from newspapers other than the News of the World. Nearly all of them were from papers not owned by News International. That was unfair. The Motorman investigation that is now being criticised for being inadequate had cost over a £million and led to derisory sentances because of the approach taken by the Crown Prosecution Service. In consequence neither police nor ICO were in any position to spend more effort on any potentially controversial follow up.

The Prime Minister's allocation of blame for failure to follow up on the concerns of the ICO and the DCMS enquiry was fair and balanced.

I also liked his reference to the need to address the new on-line dimensions. That was also one of the points I liked in the Leader of the Opposition's earlier Press Conference. Albeit neither of their audiences was in a mood to listen to more on that subject.

The scandal illustrates the need to bring together the relevant activities of the ICO, the Surveillance Commissioner (who he), Ofcom and others to address the problems as they are now manifested, not just as they were 5 - 10 years ago. .

Those in the information security industry discuss spearphishing as though it is done by overseas hackers to support fraud and cyberwarfare. It is equally likely to be used by the successors of Mr Mulcaire and his colleagues, alongside blagging their way through call centres, to gain what they need to eavesdrop on the e-mails and web-browsing habits of their targets - whether they are working in support of fraud or piracy investigators, investigative journalists or no-win no-fee lawyers.

And those journalists who would never dream of employing a private investigators, if only because they have no budget, may well be able to find all they need by using publicly avialable search tools themselves.

Hence the time I am currently spending on structuring a serious policy study into the need to rationalise our approaches (UK, EU and international) to Information and Identity governance (from security to surveillance, not just sharing, protection and breach notification). The current muddle does not bode well for future customer service and consumer confidence, let alone a balanced mix of public accountablity and personal privacy.

I hope to be able to say more on this next week after the first meeting of the leadership team. 

News of the World down. Who is next?

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The News of the World employed only 19 of the 305 journalists identified by the Information Commissioners Office (see page 9 of "What Price Privacy Now?") as using the services of Glenn Mulcaire and his colleagues. It also accounted for only 182 of the 3,754 transactions that were positively identified.

How much of what is currently being blamed on the News of the World was recordied for them and how much was recorded for other clients? And if the News of World really did commission what is claimed, what were the others commissioning?

And what about the other firms of investigators who were neither investigated nor prosecuted?

Without the co-operation of the current management of the News of the World the quarry of evidence would probably have remained unmined. Was that co-operation foolish or does it clear the desks for taking action against those who have not yet co-operated?

Can we now hope for a public enquiry that will disentangle the current witch hunt (designed mainly to embarrass the Government and block the Sky take-over) from the underlying scandal - and lead to the reforms called for in the ICO's report to Parliament "What Price Privacy?". These were subsequently supported by almost all respondents to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the knowing or reckless mis-use of personal data but then blocked. 

If so, can we then expect to see jail sentances for those who sell the details of crash victims to ambulance hunting law firms?

And what about those who sell the details of on-line customers without their permission?  

It has taken five years for the fuse that Richard Thomas lit when he was Information Commissioner to reach the powder kegs.

The implications for the on-line world are profound.

Next week we have the first meeting of the leadership team for the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) study on Information and Identity Governance. I could not have hoped for a better lead in - other than perhaps a sales list for  extracts from the lost HMRC discs collated with passwords and e-mail addresses from more recent leaks from well-known on-line gaming and transaction services.  

However, the knee-jerk reactions will almost certainly do more harm than good.

The time may well have come for regulatory rationalisation to clarify what is and what is not good practice, in which circumstances, and to hold miscreants to account.

But can that actually be done in such a way that we are happy to live the consequences?   

And who do we trust to lead such a rationalisation, bearing in mind that government-backed regulatory regimes have a tendency to decay over time?

This leads me back to my recurrent theme of  tension between merchants and warlords through the ages

Is competiton the answer?

Remember Screaming Lord Sutch's profound question: Why is there only one Monopolies and Mergers Commission?    

 

  

     

So which newspaper has NOT employed phone hackers and their on-line equivalent?

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The News of the World was by no means the only newspaper whose abuses were revealed in the Motorman investigation. The analysis provided by the ICOs office for the Ministry of Justice in support of "What Price Privacy" (quoted in the Digital WorldZ summary ) indicates that three other newspapers each had three times as many transactions. The invoice count obtained by Tom Watson's FoI request merely reflects the charging routines of the Newspapers concerned. The ICO's analysis was quoted in the DCMS Select Committee's 7th Report (nearly four years ago). The Committee also commented on the failure to tell newspaper proprietors the names of the 300 or so other journalists who had not been prosecuted. Mover-over the media clients of the hacking team were not confined to the tabloid press. They included researchers for at least one well-known TV programme.

 

"Best in Europe" or "what BT can deliver under the business model imposed on them by Ofcom"

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My blog on the new BDUK framework and qualifying questionnaire has triggered an interesting e-mail correspondence. One sent me an article from ten years ago. He suggested a "2020 vision" campaign would show that the current (DSL-dependent) copper path is going to run out of steam about 2015 and we have no hope of reaching Europe's objectives for 2020. Another said it was interesting to remind ourselves how far we've come in 10 years.

 

I replied that my initial 512K service (as a very early adopter) was faster than my current "up to 8 mbps" for most transactions and suggested this was partly because I was the first in the street and partly because there was less bloatware attached to every e-mail/website.

The narrowing cartel that controls the Blogosphere?

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Nearly four years ago I described the Internet as a "Cartel masquerading as anarchy" . My thoughts were triggered  after an excellent lecture at the Oxford Internet Institute by Eli Noam that extended his work on media concentration to the Internet. In the OII version he added names and numbers to the dry abstract that is on-line. Today Guido Fawkes carries a post which exposes the fragility of the political blogosphere. He claims, and I fear he may be correct, that his is the only mainstream political blog that is commercially viable. Many of those cited as indications of a healthy blogosphere holding politicians to account are kept only by massive cross-subsidies from those with political agendas of their own. Does that mean the Internet, for all the claims of Californian liberals and Highgate socialists, is a threat to democracy because of the ease with which free speach can be drowned by systemic propaganda?

Or will it be kept honest by the on-line operations of the former Dead Tree Press?

P.S. Thank you Computer Weekly for hosting me.

      

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