Monday, October 04, 2010

JFDI - Just Farmers Doing It - reaches ever broader audience

It's been really exciting to watch as the JFDI video, first seen by those of us lucky enough to attend Rory Stewart's Rural Broadband Conference, has continued to reach an ever wider (and hopefully ever more influential) audience.

The link to the video was widely tweeted in the week following the conference, culminating in Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and European Digital Agenda Commissioner, tweeting about how inspirational she had found it, with the video appearing shortly afterwards on her blog. The video also made the cover of last week's issue of Computer Weekly, following coverage earlier in the week by Ian Grant (see here, herehere and here):

Nice headline. The article includes some insight into both the possibilities and problems of re-using existing school broadband infrastructure:
"...cattle farmer and community Wi-Fi network volunteer Christine Conder...put in her own fibre link to two properties for £2,500...Conder says the fibre cost £1 a metre for the 1.2km link, the digger and driver cost £750, and the two end boxes £250 each – total cost around £2,500, or £1,250 per house... Conder uses the Cumberland and Lancaster Education Online (Cleo) network to send her data via an Arqiva radio mast transit to a Telewest backhaul feed...Conder is clearly frustrated by regulations. She cannot go faster than her present 2Mbps, even though the link is symmetrical (as fast upstream as downstream), and an upgrade would be highly affordable and desirable, given that 23 users share her link. A further 180 people are on a similar feed in the village as part of a research project called Living Lab. But the regulations prevent her from upgrading the service to maintain quality of service. According to Conder, the original intention was that Cleo infrastructure could be shared with local network operators, but that was killed as soon as local bureaucrats heard about the regulatory requirements if public money was used to build the network."
Let's hope the interest the conference has generated amongst the powers that be helps to overcome such obstacles and objections. The European Union have recognised the potential for re-using infrastructure in their latest broadband communication, as I mentioned in this previous post. And recent signs (more here, search on the page for broadband) from the Government suggest that they will continue to focus on re-use opportunities of all sorts, as Ed Vaizey mentioned in his keynote at Rory Stewart's conference.

All of which throws last weeks other big broadband announcement, about how Cornwall has secured funding for next generation access (official announcement here) into sharp relief. BT have managed to secure "up to £53.5 million of ERDF Convergence investment from the European Commission" via the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA). BT will contribute an additional £78.5 million to make a total investment of £132 million.

All of which is good news for Cornwall to be sure. But it seems to me that BT has managed to secure public money to help them build a private, commercial asset which will generate significant commercial returns for the company over the next 20-30 years. Wouldn't a better approach be (with BT's assistance of course) to use such funding to consolidate and extend existing public broadband network assets on an open access basis, similar to what Australia are doing with their National Broadband Network (NBN) roll-out?

This would seem a much more appropriate use of public monies to me, to develop publicly-owned assets that benefit communities first and companies second. And there seemed to be plenty of people at Rory Stewart's conference who would agree.

1 comment:

  1. Its Cumbria not Cumberland btw.
    Great article, totally agree, it is a shame the councils are falling for the BT spin and also not realising that copper can NEVER deliver NGA. They think they are doing the best for their people simply because they don't understand the physics. If a telco tells them that they can deliver 'superfast broadband' they believe them. They don't understand that what is being delivered through copper over distance is not fit for purpose. The only way to make sure this country is a leader in the digitial revolution is to get fibre to everyone. The only way the government can save billions is if the infrastructure works and everyone uses it. Therefore we are relying on people like Rory Stewart to lead the way and show how it can be done. Poor Cornwall. They need a Rory.
    It will be interesting to see how many are still left in notspots and grotspots once the ERDF money has gone.