Last Thursday I was at the European Internet Foundation event on “Who Pays for Broadband” when Ed Vaizey made a strong statement on the need to use market forces to pull through investment in broadband work at thesame time as announcing that three bids for funds to support roll-out in rural areas had been successful. A day later Jeremy Hunt wrote MPs saying that further competitions would be replaced by allocations for local authorities to be “made available once we have eached agreement with them on other sources of funds and their plans for delivery”. The change of approach is most sensible, given the number of bidders who had wasted time and effort proposing solutions that failed to build on the infrastructures already available or engage community support and other sources of funding, including local authority, education and health communications budgets, using BDUK funding only as top up.
It should be no surprise that the winners last week were those who chose to co-operate with others and use local authority budgets to help pull through shared services. The obvious next step is to share infrastructure investment with other utilities. The sheer scael of the potEntiaL savings from pooling the network infrastructure budgets for smart metering and smart grid with those for next generation broadband access should make this a no-brainer. Unfortunately there is little sign, as yet, of co-operation between the Departments of Energy and Climate Change and of Culture Media and Sport to expedite the actions necessary – e.g. clarifying guidance on what is acceptable practice in procurement, security, resilience and the use of international standards for inter-operability, including in pilots that can be scaled to permanent live running if succesful.
EURIM, the Information Society Alliance, is due to announce a policy study to help line up political and industry support for the actions necessry to enable us to use shared investment to cut costs and help pull through economic recovery before our overloaded communications and power networks become a toxic liability rather than a world-class asset. Hopefully we will be able to demonstrate to the Minister that a critical mass of industry players is ready and willing to help lead the way in making markets work where government planners and regulators have failed. The signs are that we will – with players jumping on the bandwagon as soon as they realise who is already on board and why they are willing to work alongside traditional rivals so that they can all make money by cutting the cost of delivery.