Friday, July 09, 2010

INCA East of England NextGen roadshow report

Some very interesting points made at Tuesday's roadshow in Newmarket:
  • Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, in describing the ever increasing impact of broadband technology, pointed out that if Facebook were a country, it would have been the fourth largest in the world by December 2009 and the third largest by February 2010. More on this here. Malcolm also mentioned that INCA are developing a series of case studies (FibreSpeed Wales, Digital Region, Alston Cybermoor, FibreCity Bournemouth, Manchester Corridor) and are contributing a UK supplement to the FTTH Council Europe's guide to fibre projects - more on this here.
  • Laurence Ramsey, Regional ICT Strategy Manager for EEDA, in describing the activities of Digital Partnership East, made an interesting point on the importance of coordinating investment in NGA in hard to reach areas: if the public sector isn't as inclusive as possible in procuring infrastructure (for example, by not supporting use of its backhaul by community projects), it further reduces the likelihood of remote communities ever getting connected by diminishing the incentive to invest. Laurence identified four roles for the public sector in encouraging NGA: demand stimulation, procurement (particularly in relation to well being powers), subsidising commercial & community operators and infrastructure design and build.
  • Community Broadband Network Chief Technology Officer Adrian Wooster introduced the Joint Open Network Exchange project. This is intended to create "a marketplace and clearing system for open access networks - a place where service providers can meet and trade with network owners and operators across Europe". In the UK, operators such as Sky, Virgin and BT currently offer tightly bundled triple- (phone, TV, broadband) and quadruple- (phone, TV, broadband, VoD) play packages. Their small margins and business models mean that such operators are reluctant to disaggregate services from their packages (for example, for delivery over a local open access network) unless you can, in Adrian's words, "bring them a million new customers". Clearly small scale local community broadband projects are very unlikely ever to do this. The JON Exchange project instead focuses on the interfaces between middle mile providers, ensuring that services can be delivered consistently across a range of different networks. One to watch, there's some commonality here with the OPLAN (open public local access network) initiative I think.
  • Tim Anderson, e-Service Officer at Norfolk County Council and Roger Turkington, Director of Operations at Suffolk ACRE described a range of initiatives going on in their regions. Four pilot areas in Suffolk (Haughley, Shotley, Alde & Ore and Bungay) will trial open access provision by harnessing public sector infrastructure. A new schools network being planned for Suffolk was also flagged as potentially offering low cost backhaul for community networks - the eternal missing link in community broadband projects.
  • Bill Murphy, Managing Director - NGA for BT stressed that BT is very interested in rural broadband, citing a recent initiative to provision NGA to the Kent village of Iwade - more details here.
  • Klaus Kammermeier of Corning Cable Systems gave an overview of Corning's solution for quick FTTH deployment: a modular system allowing quick joining and splitting of fibre optic cables via rugged screw connectors. Following 5 hours of training, four electricians were able to install 150 connections across 240 premises via an overhead deployment in 8 days.
  • Simon Towler of BIS/BDUK provided an insight into the new government's policy on universal service and NGA, in advance of the BDUK industry event taking place on Thursday 15th July. He re-stated the point made by Jeremy Hunt in his 8th June speech (followed up yesterday on his blog, confirming  "Treasury support secured to deal with "not spots" and rural superfast broadband pilots") on the importance of sharing infrastructure, further amplifying Jeremy Hunt's remarks by confirming that the re-use of existing public sector assets is also definitely in the mix - an opportunity for education broadband here I think?
A few thoughts of my own, following reflection on the day:
  • Several mentions were made of INCA's "patchwork quilt" analogy, reflecting a larger network comprised of smaller local and regional community networks. I wonder if this is to do such networks a disservice? The phrase reflects the home-grown nature of such networks, which is highly commendable, but, looking at it another way, a patchwork is something generally made out of scraps - which paints a rather less favourable picture of the resilience of networks such as, for example, NYnet? This may sound like semantics but I don't think it is: first impressions are important, especially when dealing with government officials and ministers who may be unaware of all the nuances of such a complex area. Better to give the the right impression from the outset?
  • Also several mentions of broadband as the fourth utility - an interesting phrase, but dangerous, as I think this is  still a long way from being the case for many. Utility implies supply that always (or nearly always) meets demand, the level of which is widely understood and catered for accordingly. Don't think we're yet at this stage in relation to broadband?
  • Finally, we have to remember issues around takeup: only around two-thirds of the country take a current generation broadband service, which is available to the great majority of the population. While there are some who may want to take a broadband service but can't, for a range of reasons, there are clearly several million people who are actively choosing not to do so. While I wouldn't for a moment advocate against the importance of broadband, we need to think long and hard about this issue in framing a truly inclusive broadband policy.

No comments:

Post a Comment