Category Archives: Oooh, bit of politics there.

Free broadband for all

There have probably been a thousand blog posts and LinkedIn posts already about Labour’s proposal for “free broadband for all,” but I’m going to add my tuppence-worth.  Given (one of) my Twitter handle(s) is @internetplumber, I feel it’s almost a duty.  Whilst these are my personal opinions, they’re written as someone that works in a service provider that is already largely publicly funded.

First a bit of background.  BT used to be a monolithic company that owned and operated both the physical infrastructure (fibre and copper in the ground) plus the services on top of it (phone, Internet).  To encourage competition in the services, which require access to the infrastructure, the latter was split into a company called Openreach, which is regulated, and must offer access to the infrastructure equitably to all – whether that’s BT (who also own Plusnet), TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky, or any number of other service providers (including Jisc for the Janet network, and the ISP I use at home – Andrews and Arnold).

Labour’s suggestion that they’ll provide free broadband for all using “full fibre” via a nationalised provider encroaches both on the physical infrastructure (Openreach), and the services (BT et al).

Building Fibre to the Home is expensive.  We do it for Higher and Further education, using a combination of dark fibre provided by commercial companies and products from Openreach, but this is on the scale for resilient connections to about 1,000 customers.

There are about 25,000,000 homes in the UK. A lot of those are in metropolitan areas where small fibre distances can reach many customers, but digging in cities is time-consuming and expensive.  Other homes are out in the country which, whilst perhaps easier to dig, requires a long stretch of fibre to get back to the nearest Exchange.  At £1,000 per house, that’s already £25bn.  This is an expensive investment which would benefit from public money, otherwise it may not happen, or at least it may only happen sporadically.

The Internet access on top of that infrastructure is already a very competitive market, which benefits the consumer in terms of being able to choose the right service provider for them. For example, whilst my wife would like me to use BT so that I could get access to BT Sport to watch the rugby, I have used Andrews and Arnold for a long time because they rolled out IPv6 access before just about any other domestic service provider in the UK. All Internet access is not the same.

Governments are frequently talking about regulating the Internet in one form or another.  Are you happy with only being able to visit government-sanctioned websites?  Or only using government-approved communications methods which they can, presumably, snoop on? Our gas, electricity and water do not come for free – even before deregulation there were electricity bills, gas bills and water rates, is broadband more essential than those other utilities?

Don’t mistake me, I think universal, fast, Internet access is something we all deserve and increasingly require, but are we making the right utility free, and what is the cost of making it free?

There’s a saying in the Internet industry – “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”  Where will the information collected by British Broadband be held?  What will it be used for?

A note to Eleanor Laing, my Member of Parliament

This evening saw a vote in the House of Commons on allowing same-sex marriage. It passed, but my MP Eleanor Laing, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equality whilst the Tories were in opposition, did not vote for reasons she explained to the local media.

I decided to send her a message through the “Write to Them” website. I do feel a little self-conscious about noting my own gender orientation in the message, which should be irrelevant, but I wanted to point out that the measure is supported by others than those who want to marry their loved ones of the same sex.

Dear Eleanor Laing,

As a constituent, I am writing to let you know that I am disappointed by your choice to abstain from voting in this evening’s bill on same-sex marriage.

I am particularly disappointed by your publicised, but weak, reasoning. Are you in favour of same-sex marriage or not? You claim to be unwilling to vote against the bill, but due to the concerns of constituents you are unwilling to vote for it. As a former Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, I would have expected a more considered approach. I understand that there is a conflict between a Member’s requirements to represent their constituents and a Government’s requirements to lead the country, but on this occasion I believe you have misjudged that balance.

Whilst I realise that a “swing to the left” in politics in this region means the Conservatives gaining seats from the BNP, you appear to be cowed by local opinion rather than doing what you must surely believe is correct.

Yours sincerely,
Rob Evans
(For what it is worth, having no desire to enter into a
same-sex relationship.)

PMQs

Today was Gordon Brown’s first Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament.  At one point, he pointed out that the leader of the opposition should remember he’d only been in office for five days.

Well, that’s alright then, let’s just hope we don’t get anything like terrorist attacks for the first couple of weeks or so.

Party Political Broadcasts

I wish more politicians would watch “The West Wing.” The recent election portrayed there showed the candidates, both of them relatively upstanding men (as politicians go) making every attempt to refrain from using negative campaigning. Of course, that eventually broke down, but the sentiment was there.

This evening I saw the Labour Party’s first Party Political Broadcast for the upcoming council elections. You might think that in these enlightened times it would have let us know how good Labour councils are in providing local services (regardless of whether they truly are or not — this is an election broadcast after all). No such luck. Instead the entire time was spent talking about a chameleon called “Dave.” For those of you outside the UK, this refers to the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. They even have a website, Dave the Chameleon.

Does this encourage me to vote Labour? No, if anything it turns me off them. Why should I vote for them? Because they can call somebody else names? There were plenty of kids in the schoolyard that could do that. I’m having difficulty seeing who the broadcast was aimed at. Conservatives? I can’t see them taking it seriously. Floating voters? Would anybody fall for such a cheap trick? Nope, the only people I can see it amusing are the insiders, and their mind is already make up. What a waste of time and money. I’m all for a bit of sarcasm (I’ve even been known to use it myself on occasion), but please, make it worthwhile.

To top it off, one of the links opens a Microsoft Word document. Not HTML, not even PDF, but good old MS Word. XP helpfully reminds me, “If you do not trust the source, do not open or save this file.” Well, do I trust the website of any political party? What do you think?