Joined up Public Service Network takes shape

News that Virgin Media has followed Global Crossing in signing a “deed of undertaking” to support the government’s network of networks, the Public Service Network (PSN), must be welcome to everyone concerned about waste in the public sector, and about accessing high speed broadband sooner rather than later.
Of the big network beasts, that leaves only Cable&Wireless Worldwide and BT to get on board. Since the PSN was mostly BT’s idea, and floated several years ago, its reticence now is puzzling. Perhaps a BT spokesman could enlighten us here about its plans with respect to PSN?
For those unfamiliar with the PSN idea, the background is that the UK is criss-crossed with independent networks such as Janet, the universities’ network, and the N3, the NHS network. Many are based on optical fibre, and reach into almost every part of the country. There is much duplication and spare capacity, which costs taxpayers billions.
It is very doable for these networks to share their extra capacity securely. One can separate network traffic by giving each customer a different fibre, or a different wavelength on the same fibre, for instance. Or the data could (should, if it’s public sector traffic) be encrypted. This will allow PSN to also carry private sector traffic.
But there are regulatory hurdles to overcome. Not the least of these is who, if anyone, should pick up the business rates tab for lighting fibres used by the private sector, and how to justify using public money, from Europe, for example, to provide services to the private sector, since the EU specifies that such networks must accept all comers.
Given that no technology stops the PSN going ahead, the struggle now is to convince the present network owners to let others into their pipes. Negotiations on a standard interface are underway, and obviously having the desired effect, as shown by Global Crossing and Virgin Media’s actions.

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