Labour trump Tories on Broadband: game over or just beginning?

In a surprisingly detailed speach yesterday the Prime Minister apparently leapfrogged two of the three Conservative commitments on broadband. Do read the full text. He linked the Government agendas on cutting the cost of public service delivery, social inclusion and universal broadband and said that government must plan and lead because the market had failed. Today Ofcom delivered the coup de grace, by stating that BT must open its ducts to its competitors thus addressing the third Conservative commitment. Does that mean that the game is over or just beginning?      

It is one thing for political parties to have targets and aspirations but, as we know from too many failed public sector systems, delivery is something else. The sums of money announced yesterday, even including those that will be raised by taxing our rotting copper infrastucture, are trivial compared to the infrastructure investment needed if we are to match the vision of the FCC proposals to Congress last week 100 mbps to 100 million to every american and a gbps link to every community hub.

And why open only BT’s networks to sharing. Much of their network for rural areas is already as a tenant on electricity poles and pylons. Meanwhile GEO has been running fibre through the sewers of London for over a decade and a consumer, as opposed to business, network is being installed in the sewers of Bournemouth.

We are on a journey that has to include replacing copper by fibre across the whole BT network, as rapidly as makes business senses for BT. Given the vulnerability of terrestrial networks, we also need wireless alternatives for resilience, as well as for the data mobiles that will deliver some of the biggest savings and fastest paybacks on investment, as we free policemen, health visitors and other front-line workers from the tyranny of back-at-the-office paperwork.

At this point the muddy water between Government and Opposition becomes a little clearer.

Are our current problems the result of a failure of market forces or of central top-down planning?

Is the cull of government data centres implicit in the Prime Minister’s launch of yesterday really compatible with by the regionalisation of government – with civil servants moving from Whitehall to the “provinces”?

Or is the Conservative policy of removing the regional tier of “quangos” and devolving to local government a better way forward?  

And can either of them deliver on their promises without a major exercise to rebuild the in-house skills of govenment to analyse and identify current reality, let alone manage change – as opposed to contracting it to the handful of major consultancies who currently run most of their systems?

This is an area where we need political inputs from the professionals:

  • the communicaitons engineers who know and understand the reality that lies beneath the marketing claims,
  • the information systems professionals who know and understand the reality of current and planned panaceas
  • the information management professional who know the and understand the real quality of data in all those centralised databases

If you do not stand up and make your view known, including via the party of your choice, then what happens will be your fault.