Back in February thousands of civil servants were told to work from home for a couple of days as a test of teleworking plans for the Olympics. Those plans now appear to envisage a seven week period in which journeys into London will be cut by at least 40% in order to cope with the Olympic traffic. This has triggered articles questioning the likelihood of a sudden surge in tele-working beyond those who have already discovered the benefits. Back in February O2 closed its Head Office for day and reaped serious benefits. But that was only for one day. It would be interesting to know what happened during the Civil three day test back in February or the more recent two day Canary Wharf stress test.
Meanwhile, for those who have not already made their plans, the Cabinet Office National Security website offers some useful checklists, including for checking the broadband services available to potential teleworkers. What this site cannot cover is the likely effect of the surge in traffic on existing fixed and mobile broadband connections as viewers seek to use smart phones and i-player. I blogged earlier this year on the success of the BDUK strategy, (whether deliberate or accidental) to help pull forward the investment by BT and others to handle that surge. But those whose exchanges have not been upgraded for fibre to the cabinet by the end of June may not benefit. Meanwhile I told that small firms who cannot afford the risk travel chaos or broadband meltdown have paid for fibre to the homes of senior executives to enable them to host their own teleconferencing.
WhenI learned of the potential problem I decided to see whether using the broadbandconnections to schools and to university campuses round the M25 ring mightprovide alternative facilities, using the educational networks, including JANETas an alternative backbone. It became clear that this was indeed an option,except for ten days from 12th August when all traffic not connectedto the “A” level results and the subsequent surge in admissions traffic will becleared from the schools and academic networks. I therefore contactedE2BN (which runsnetworks for the schools that might be used by those unable to get into Londonfrom the East). We found that quite a number of schools whose networks will beoperational over the summer anyway (e.g. maintenance) would be happy to providefacilities, including pre-booked class-rooms for those needing confidentiality.The main proviso was that to cover the cost and to avoid any accusationof breaching “state aid” rules they would be most unlikely to be able to chargeless than the normal rate for Internet Cafe or short term managed officefacilities in the nearest market town. Given that the latter, if they exist,may well be fully booked over the summer, this would therefore seem to be anideal way of improving relations local communities at the same time as toppingup their budgets for equipment and materials – if there is sufficient demand.
Theproblem is that those wishing to use such facilities would need to make directcontact with the school and persuade them that it is worth the effort ofgetting the agreement of the Governors and Parent Teacher Associations. Thereis little or no time to organise a clearing house and no funding – because thisoption was not considered last year and the need is too uncertain for marketforces to respond. That might change to short order givensponsorship from a major employer which has seen the results of the recentstress tests and knows it has sufficient staff living in the broadband desertsof East Anglia who would like to work at a nearby school from home rather thanstruggle in via Liverpool Street or Fenchurch Street, let alone Stratford.There is similar potential for those commuting in from those parts of Kent,Surrey and Sussex whose local exchanges will not be upgraded until next year.
Is this an opportunity too far?
Please post a coment on this blog saying what fcilities you would like and where, if you think not – or e-mail me if you are shy of putting your needs in public. If I get a stream of e-mails I will contact those who might be willing and able to set up a clearing house, if not I will know either that I hve no readers, or there is no demand or the demand is already being met.