Friday, October 24, 2008

More musings on the Caio review


This is an interesting follow-on from recent broadband announcements:

BT picks fast fibre pilot sites
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7667761.stm

The above news item reports on proposals for two operational pilots (one in Whitchurch in South Wales and one in Muswell Hill in London) to run fibre-optic cables to the street cabinets that connect homes and businesses to telephone exchanges. Users should benefit from connection speeds of up to 40Mbps. Also interesting: BT will also conduct a small technical trial in the Foxhall exchange area of Kesgrave, Suffolk in early 2009. More at:

http://networks.silicon.com/broadband/0,39024661,39313850,00.htm

...all of which seems to bear out the findings of the Caio review: that companies should just get on with deploying NGA as they see fit and should not expect any support from Government to do so. BT are clearly quite happy to get on with this.

But I wonder how much future public sector demand considerations (education and health) featured in recent reviews of broadband provision undertaken by the Broadband Stakeholder Group and Francesco Caio? In fact, the Caio review simply states that schools' broadband is already "job done":
"Key public sector establishments are connected - Although the focus of this review is on the development of broadband for homes and businesses, it is worth remembering that key public sector establishments in the form of schools, hospitals or GP surgeries are already virtually all provided with an adequate level of connectivity including, in some cases, through fibre or other forms of NGA."
The report goes on to quote Becta figures from the data collection tool at http://bdct.becta.org.uk. I'm sure many schools would question whether they yet have an adequate level of connectivity in place, given the ever increasing demands being placed on their services? Certainly fibre connections for schools are far from ubiquitous.

Ironically, the report does in fact acknowledge the importance of broadband to education:
"In the mid- to long term, Broadband/NGA will become a critical digital utility, essential to the competitiveness of any country and to the quality of life of its citizens. The UK will be no exception and, if anything, it will be even more dependent on this infrastructure than other economies. Here, high-quality broadband will be essential for the continued development of sectors that in recent years have elevated the UK to a position of global leadership, such as the creative industries, financial services, software and gaming. Equally importantly, broadband will be central to critical processes of information and innovation in education and health services."
Absolutely, no arguments there. However, the overarching conclusion reached by the Caio review would seem to be that we're already sorted in terms of public sector provision, something I and many others would strongly disagree with.

I agree that the need for Government to bankroll NGA for consumers is questionable, but the collective failure of the recent reviews to acknowledge the demanding requirements of the public sector and the many opportunities NGA offers to health and education is short-sighted in the extreme. All in all, not a very satisfactory outcome for education or health at all.

...and finally it seems that if the UK Government won't fund NGA, innovative projects and suppliers will look elsewhere in Europe to administrations that will:

UK firm leads way on EU broadband
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7669142.stm
"A UK organisation has been invited to take part in a major European project to bring broadband to rural areas. The European Union is spending 3.5m euros to improve net access across the region. The B3 - Regions for Better Broadband Connection project aims to tackle the 30% of rural homes and businesses without broadband. UK-based NYnet was chosen as one of the partners following its introduction of high speed access in North Yorkshire."
Says it all, really, doesn't it?

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