The main message from the Conservative Technology Form meeting on Broadband was that officials still appear to be seeking to defend past decisions rather than admit that their idionsyncratic and equivocal guidance on what is, or is not, state aid are still blocking the public-private partnerships that are bringing 100 mbps, symmetric, and more, to small firms, not just consumers, across the rest of the EU.
They do not wish to have to admit that market forces can be used to address regulatory failure, provided that the communications needs (and budgets) of business and government are brought together to support funding models for new investment that are successfull in other parts of the world.
They do they wish to have to admit that even the French have used the devolution of authority to local government to succeed where central government had failed. The results are patchy, but even the worst departements, usually those which decided to allow the incumbent to retain its effective monopoly, are doing as well as the best UK counties.
It will be interesting to see what is announced as part of the spending review. Some very well briefed MPs will be asking some very pointed PQs, if their quiet words with the Minister do not lead to rapid action.
It was particularly interesting to hear so many speakers saying that the problem is not the money. It is making good use of the money we already have. I liked the comment from that back on the need to make it attractive for BT to organise a public share issue so that those who bought shares when it was privatised can help fund much more ambitious investment plans than at present: Compare BT’s current £2.5 billion programme with the scale and pace of its fibre roll out before the introduction of local loop unbundling, to prevent the NTL and Telewest from being wiped out. Compare it with the amounts trousered by Treasury after the first great spectrum auction. Compare it with government’s annual spend on its current crumbling telecoms operations (military and civil, voice and data, health, education , welfare delivery etc. etc.). Compare it with the revenues of Google UK.
The point was made several times that it was not BT v. the rest.
There is more than enough demand for all – and many local areas can be served better and more cheaply than by diverting BT time and attention from that which will give better return to its shareholders.
We needed BT to generate far more revenue from the on-line content and advertising industry by removing the back haul bottlenecks that demand for their services has created. Without that investment, fibre in the last mile is little better than a cheap replacement for the copper that is increasingly being stolen as the price of scrap soars.
All in all – there was much food for thought. The meeting was recorded but I do not think there were any plans to produce a report. I hope, however, that the tapes will be put on-line and will post the link if they are.