Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications

The broadband future requires more from all (21 February 2001)

The Governmental e-envoy has issued UK online: the broadband future.

The report is impossible to summarise, being a mass of facts, observations, studies, opinions and assertions leading to recommendations to Government on how

to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005, with significantly increased broadband connections to schools, libraries, further education colleges and universities.
Home users and businesses are not mentioned; we assume their needs are implied from what is said elsewhere in the paper.

In the medium term the paper rightly does not suggest throwing much money around; it worries that such cash would go straight down the greedy throat of BT. In fact, it is wary of making commitments at all, which is again probably a good thing as previous technology projects sponsored by Government (such as the Alvey Programme) have not been particularly successful.

But this leaves little apart from commissioning studies, putting together working groups, developing strategies and issuing hefty doses of exhortation; there is little understanding that the adversarial structure of the United Kingdom telecommunications industry might be holding everyone back.

We note a chance to do something very significant because of a lucky coincidence:

Given that BT is, internally and externally, in a mess there is a chance for it, the rest of the telecommunications industry and Government together to step back, reshape the environment and benefit everyone. To help with this we offer Option Zero which, although nearly two years old, is as relevant as ever.

For the long term not much is said, yet there is only one credible way to move forward: bringing fibre optic cabling into homes and businesses, thus rendering coaxial and copper cables obsolete throughout telecommunications networks ('fibre to the door'). The following list, of estimated practical maximum download speeds, is eloquent in itself:

The report worries endlessly about technical obsolescence (spending vast amounts of money on assets which quickly become outdated) but, to get electromagnetic radiation, hence information, from A to B one cannot improve on the total internal reflection of a fibre.

It also confuses what is at either end of a transmission path with what is in the middle. The first - modems, routers or whatever - is largely irrelevant as it can always be replaced; the second - infrastructure - is crucial as it is a massive, largely one-off investment.

Fibre to the door has to happen - cable modems and ADSL are a mere taster - and is inevitable because people always want to do more and, with higher bandwith, they can do more. Look at what increasing processor speeds have allowed; who would have believed, twenty years ago, that music or video could be created, edited and broadcast on a machine bought from a shop?

You may be as surprised as we were to find out that fibre to the door is not a dream in this country; NTL is installing it already, and we will be discussing the implications of this with it next month. We don't know what other telecommunications operators are doing, but they surely have no choice but to follow.

So, to prepare for the long term, current discussions of the IP world must broaden beyond backbones and interconnectivity - the interest of the telecommunications industry - to 'end to end' - what everyone is interested in.

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