Did Ofcom bottle it against the Premier league? Or did it have its priorities right?

Ofcom has ended its investigation into the Premier League contracts. It has been widely accused of bottling it. The termination can, however, be viewed more calmly . Ofcom does not have the resources to simultaneously wrestle with the BT, the BBC and the Premier league any more than BT can afford to run a world class communications utility at the same time as subsidising the incomes of premier league footballers and their agents.

Both have to prioritise. It is far more important, for the economic well-being of the UK as a whole, for Ofcom to hold BT’s feet to the fire on its quality of service and its competitive behaviour in those markets which it dominates.

Far better for both Ofcom and BT to focus on Broadband

The consequences will be positive for all concerned when BT spins out its content activities before they lose value in the face of growing competition from Amazon, Netflix and all those whose traffic BT/EE would make better/safer returns from carrying. The scale of communications infrastructure investment needed, including to provide the necessary security and resilience for a society that is increasingly critically dependent (life and limb not just entertainment) on ubiquitous Internet Access, is well beyond that which BT alone can afford. In order to meet the needs of its customers (Wholesale not just Openreach) BT needs to adopt a positive attitude towards shared access, wayleaves and physical infrastructure access and to move towards partnership deals based on global inter-operability standards (at all levels).

Sky has made clear that its priority is to get better quality of service from BT rather that compete by building its own infrastructure. Although Sky is in trials with City Fibre in York, it is Talk Talk that is making the running with regard to providing consumers with fibre to the home. Does that imply tht Sky might be ready to open up access to the wayleaves it acquired when it took over Easynet? Perhaps. But more important is to get National Grid and National Rail to open access to their wayleaves, poles and ducts using the new standard agreements.

Towards a Post Brexit Broadband Plan 

On Thursday I am due to chair a meeting to discuss inputs to a six point plan for a UK post Brexit communications infrastructure strategy. The objective is deceptively simple – to identify the actions necessary to reduce the risk of post-Brexit recession by pulling forward “future-proof” investment. Today that includes fibre network/wireless networks(including ducting, chambers, masts etc.) built, maintained and operated to global inter-operability standards that are capable of being readily upgraded to handle foreseeable needs (including 5G, small cells, smart buildings, transport, shopping malls,telecare etc.) over at least the next 10 – 15 years.

Avoiding recession entails cutting 12 – 18 months of current investment timescales

The ideas currently on the table to help cut 12 to 18 months off current investment timescales, reduce risk and improve payback include:

  1. Spreading the use of Standard Access and Wayleaves, building on the work to date;
  2. Brokering agreements between landlord and network providers on good practice to ensure that mutually beneficial reform of the electronic communications code leads to a rapid improvement in the number and location of the wayleaves, masts and aerial sites on offer and/or co-investment in infrastructure to meet the known/expected needs of business tenants as well as of consumers and their children;
  3. Ensuring support and publicity for local authority best practice planning and regulatory processes and securing active support from planning inspectors for those copying them;
  4. Business rates based on a proportion of actual revenues rather than a tone list based on historic fictions contributed by those who have been able to bypass its use for their own networks; [Others want a “holiday” or wholesale scrapping but my father, who had started his civil service career in the Valuation Office, drove a successful campaign to reform the application of business rates to voluntary sports clubs and playing fields by demonstrating that a reversion to the basic principles of the rating system can produce better, fairer and faster results than trying to over-turn it].
  5. The creation of shared services to map the availability of backhaul and help turn PIA (physical infrastructure access) into a well informed, service driven, customer oriented, competitive market.
  6. Publicity for case studies of the use of fixed and mobile broadband to help local authorities deliver better services at lower costs without the need for up-front investment which they cannot afford. [Local authorities are almost totally focused on a mix of cost reduction and revenue generation. We need to harness that focus not piss in the wind trying to change it].

The list may change by the time I come to blog on what comes out of the meeting.

What will happen next?

I have a two main roles in this exercise.

  1. To identify which participants are willing to present which plans to a meeting with Conservative MPs on 6th September, in the knowledge that they will expected to help deliver on the implementation.
  2. To identify which channels they wish to use to organise co-operation on delivery, including liaison with officials and politicians.

How can you get involved?

I am pleased that a couple of those expected to participate are already working on plans to use Digital Policy Alliance sub-groups to handle all-party co-operation and to provide a neutral umbrella for professional/commercial co-operation. Those sub-groups will be open to all members of the Digital  Policy Alliance. Please e-mail them, not me, for an invitation to join.

If you wish to be active at the political  level via the Digital Infrastructure Group of the  Conservative Technology Forum, please join before contacting me because  I will be handing the follow up to others to progress after the party conference. I will then be focused on Skills, and particularly Cyber Security skills until my term of office comes to an end next year.