Copper broadband is just salt in the wound

Once again, I am forced to join dots that don’t, at first sight, seem related. Last winter, we spent as a nation approx £160M on grit to keep the roads clear. This is the first and most obvious cost of #uksnow to this country, and I suspect it is actually the lowest of them all, if it is even close to approaching the real figure, which I suspect it isn’t.

I, and thousands of others know, that this was literally money down the drain as many roads were not kept clear, thousands of working hours were lost, and that spend did not alleviate the pain to UK Plc. Gritting roads also exacerbates the pothole problem, for which this year we have ring fenced £84M, which nearly every council is stating is insufficient.

Worse, this country isn’t even self-sufficient in grit and salt, and we can only produce approx 2/3 of this year’s requirement just to grit A roads and motorways. Meaning we are having to import, depleting our very precious pot of gold during a recession, to #fail to keep many roads open.

We are about to fail to learn a lesson of a mere 10 months ago and repeat, at greater cost, the problems of last winter.

Let’s try a little joined up thinking.

Last year’s spend on grit is enough to buy approx 5 million sets of snow chains for cars (approx £32 according to Amazon). Or 10 million (ish) YakTrax for walkers/pedestrians.

If each person who owns a car put on snow chains, using them on the ungritted roads, the costs to the insurance industry would plummet, I believe, and the savings in insurance premiums for those who have to drive in snow and could now do so more safely, would probably pay for their snow chains anyway. (If you had seen the driving of some people in Cumbria last night in 3-4inches of snow, and the problems and accidents they caused, you would know I am right!). Ditto pedestrians whose slips and falls cost the NHS an absolute fortune, unnecessarily.

Or we could spend the grit money on subsidising snow chains for vehicles. How much would that boost our economy, helping hard hit businesses in sales, let alone the knock on, big pic effects?

I cannot access, over the satellite internet connection I am working on tonight as I am ‘snowed in’ (by choice) on a rural farm, the figures I need to find the total costs of #uksnow for the NHS, education, employers, public transport providers etc to even begin to put a sum on the cost of last winter, but we all know that the grit was just the start of it.

You can probably add at least two zeros to the figure of £160M to appreciate the cost of a few snowflakes to this country. Not because of the snow itself, but because of the way we tackle it.

What if we did what other countries do: NOT grit the roads. We then insist that everyone using the roads takes their own precautions to travel safely (eg chains for cars, trucks and buses, as used to be the norm around 60 years ago when my parents were children) and that pedestrians forced to walk are suitably equipped to do so.

Imagine the reduction in accidents and hence reductions in costs and losses to the blue light services, haulage industry, NHS? The number of people who actually could get to work when it snows a tad, as in other countries, such as Canada or Switzerland – how much would they contribute rather than cost the economy? Schools, businesses and shops open and staffed rather than shut due to insufficient employees present – how much is this costing us?

Right, here’s my snowball. It’s coming from an angle so duck if you need to!

We are doing precisely the same thing with broadband. Instead of tackling the problem as other countries do, with fibre (or chains in the above example), we are chucking grit on the copper roads. “This will help for now, short-term, let’s keep a few roads open using the copper.”

The reality is we are rubbing salt into a wound.

We are failing to do the maths. Not looking at the big picture of what keeping UK in the dark ages is costing us. We are looking at only short-term gains and even then we are ignoring the really obvious problems it is causing.

Gritted roads – hauliers and all those they supply losing revenue hand over fist; businesses closed; insurance claims through the roof, NHS staff over-worked with the results of avoidable accidents; kids missing school for weeks on end; UK PLC grinds to a halt. But the Councils tick a few boxes and spend a few £££s in their ever-diminishing budgets to do so.

Copper based broadband (ADSL, ADSL2+, VDSL, FTTC etc) – companies failing to meet revenue targets, or worse, closing as they cannot compete with overseas businesses, schoolkids failing to achieve, homes disconnected or connected only to a substandard service, NHS unable to meet any sort of telehealth targets that other countries now perceive as normal service. Want me to go on?   But councils etc can tick a few boxes when they hand over the £££s to BT to apparently solve the problem.

Without thinking about how short-term these solutions are…..because, do you know what, soon it will rain and the grit and salt will be washed away, down the drain. And then the snow will come again i.e the need for broadband will return, and everything you spent your money on last time will be utterly wasted. And you, on your A road, in your council office, may not realise we are snowed in, with no grit left to clear our roads, and no snow chains, subsidised or otherwise.

But the sooner you stop wasting our money on short-term, pointless, ineffective solutions, the better. You either listen to logic and common sense and the grassroots knowledge, or we will use the salt in the grit buckets on our drives and pavements, because we know it is no use long term for what is required, this winter, next spring, next summer, next generation. As do you, in charge of the council budget.

Get out of your grit boxes. Make the right decisions. Think long term. Be honourable and honest and logical about what we all need to do.  And when a corporate rep turns up on your doorstep, selling you back your clothes, ask yourself, “Are they being paid to say this?”. And when a community rep with passion in their heart and belly turns up, think about cancelling all your other appointments because what they have to say is not driven by a pay cheque but because they care, and they live here, and they might just be able to see the way forward that is right for this community. Even if that community is the whole of the UK.

Join the conversation

1 comment

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

spot on. Short term thinking and ticking boxes seems to rule in this country. You only have to look at Cornwall. BT will protect their copper cabal at all costs, and instead of laying fibre they will be using our pot of public money to rub salt into the open sore of poor connectivity. They are even partnering with avanti to put satellites in. That a telco with fibre to every exchange should even consider doing that is very wrong. Satellites are great for a quick fix, but they aren't the future. If a company gets public money to deliver a solution it should be a next generation solution not a sticking plaster. You are right, it will all be to do again. I just hope other counties don't fall for the same trick. It depends how deep the decision makers are into their salt boxes.