November issue of Connecting Cumbria Newsletter

3 November 2011 at 12:32 in News by Louis Mosley

Can be read here, in case you’ve missed it.


with an interview with Fra Cooke, chair of Cumbria’s Hub coordinators!

Ofcom - disconnected?

30 March 2011 at 15:51 in News by Louis Mosley

Last week, Ofcom finally opened its long-awaited consultation on the auction of the 800MHz band of spectrum, the bit freed up by the switch from analogue to digital TV.

Why is this so important?

Low frequency spectrum, like this 800MHz band, has an extremely long range – up to a 40km radius from a base station - making it ideal for providing mobile broadband in sparsely-populated rural areas. Using this spectrum, 4G technologies like LTE could offer download speeds of around 5Mbps to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of between 2Mbps and 5Mbps.

4G mobile broadband could be the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get everyone in rural Britain a basic broadband service.

The problem is that Ofcom doesn’t see it that way.

Ofcom will auction licences to use the 800MHz band to the highest bidders. These licences will come with conditions, the most important of which is the coverage obligation.

Ofcom is proposing to oblige licensees to a build a network that is capable of “providing mobile broadband with a sustained downlink speed of no less than 2Mbps with a 90% probability of indoor reception to an area within which at least 95% of the UK population lives.”

The first problem with this is that Ofcom has stopped at 95% of the population. That means 3m people won’t get mobile broadband.

The second problem is that these 3m people are the same people who don’t currently have access to decent fixed line broadband because they live in the most rural parts of Britain.

The third problem is that Ofcom has decided not to use this opportunity to address existing mobile phone notspots. Instead, it’s proposing to map the 4G network onto the current mobile network, i.e. if you can’t get a mobile signal where you live now, you won’t be able to get 4G.

So, Ofcom has decided that 3m people aren’t worth bothering about.

They reckon that the cost of obliging mobile companies to build more base stations, and thereby extend their mobile voice and broadband coverage in rural areas, is greater than the economic and social benefits that such coverage would bring to rural communities.

But Ofcom has no evidence for this conclusion. In paragraph 6.15 of the consultation, it admits to not even having tried to quantify the costs of obliging mobile phone companies to extend their coverage. And it’s made even less effort to quantify the potential benefits. When asked why it hadn’t done this work, Ofcom replied ‘it’s not our problem’.

So, what can we do about this?

Respond to the consultation. Questions 6.1 to 6.5 are the relevant ones.

First, we must explain to Ofcom what kind of coverage we need, both in terms of range and specification, i.e. do we need coverage indoors? On our roads? In our fields? Everywhere? Is 2Mbps too little? (Bearing in mind that the costs rise exponentially). (Question 6.1)

Second, we must set out the benefits – the necessity - of extending mobile phone and broadband coverage into rural areas. The costs can best be estimated by the mobile phone companies themselves, but it will be our job to provide qualitative and quantitative evidence of the benefits. (Question 6.2)

Third, we must persuade Ofcom that this auction is a unique opportunity to tackle both the roll-out of mobile broadband and the existing lack of mobile telephone reception in rural Britain. (Question 6.4)

Ofcom and the Treasury will want to argue that the costs outweigh the benefits. To forego some of the billions of pounds that an auction could raise will be painful for the Treasury at a time of austerity. It will be hard to persuade these economists that investment in rural areas is justified: the costs of major infrastructure projects are easy to measure, the benefits are notoriously unquantifiable.

So, we need to make sure that the question of mobile voice and broadband coverage in rural areas becomes a political one.

The social and economic welfare of rural Britain is at stake. If Ofcom and the Treasury are determined to argue that an investment in rural infrastructure is uneconomic, we should demand that they put some robust figures on this graph:

And, simultaneously, we should begin the political campaign here. How do you think we go about doing this? Besides, responding to the consultation, I’d suggest a petition, a website, and a social media campaign for starters. Anyone got any good ideas for an awareness-raising publicity stunt? Let us know!

PS. Here’s a useful report from the Broadband Stakeholder Group on Wireless Broadband with costings.

Fibre to the home Council, Milan 2011

25 February 2011 at 16:22 in guest post by Tom Woof

As the only community representative at the Ftth council in Milan, I was definitely in the minority where 3500 delegates gathered to further the cause of Fibre to the Home.  As a potential end user I was also in the minority, as most of the other delegates represented suppliers of a bewildering array of equipment for fibre.  They supplied, ducts, fibre, sub ducts, jointers, splitters, access nodes, manholes, data handling equipment for putting TV and telephone systems into the fibre.

What struck me first of all was the sheer number of ways that fibre can be put around.  It can go through special ducts, existing ducts, sewers, water and gas pipes, buried directly, wrapped around electricity wires, hang off garden fences.  It can go almost anywhere.

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What’s up in North Yorkshire?

23 February 2011 at 19:21 in News by Louis Mosley

So, what happened at the North Yorkshire Broadband Conference last Saturday?

North Yorkshire is one of the other three locations for a BDUK broadband pilot. Here’s a summary of the bits of the conference that I thought were important for Cumbria.

First was the level of ambition shown by North Yorkshire County Council. Its chief executive, Richard Flinton (pictured) stood up and said:

Our vision is to bring the advantages of high-quality broadband to 100% of businesses and citizens in North Yorkshire by 2015.

That’s one hell of a target!

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255,075 reasons to get FTTP (Fibre to the Premises)

28 December 2010 at 08:45 in guest post by Thane Brooker

If community-led deployments are to succeed on a large scale, there must be a clearly thought out sales process and all residents must fully understand the benefits and value that FTTP will bring to them before they are asked for their support and commitment.

There has been much talk of how superfast broadband would enable forthcoming applications such as telemedicine and high-definition 3D movies on demand, and how fibre would be an investment in our children’s future.  However, while this is all true and exciting, it is non-specific and unlikely to convince the average family with already reasonable broadband (by today’s standards) to dig up their garden.

What we need to explain is how fast symmetric broadband, with free inter- and intra-Parish connectivity at 1Gbps, will add value and enrich our lives on a personal and household level immediately and in clear monetary terms.

This post is a first attempt to list some of the tangible benefits that households, schools, and businesses would realistically receive within 6 months of installation.  The ideas listed here will form the basis of a sales process that we can use to will  the community and obtain the commitments necessary for success, so please add all your ideas to the comments at the bottom of this post.

No idea should be considered too whacky or silly, as long as it is realistic.  Remember, 255,075 people live in rural Cumbria, and if an idea convinces just one person to commit effort or a wayleave, it is a worthwhile idea.

Here are some ideas that may strike a chord with residents and encourage them to dig:

1. Increased property prices (this needs to be quantified/cited – any Estate Agents here to help?).

2. Can watch BBC iPlayer HD without stuttering.

3. Can stream iTunes collections/DVD collections with friends and family in neighbouring Parishes.

4. Tele-vet service (many consider telemedicine to be something the NHS should organise and therefore out of local community control, but a local tele-vet service is something that could realistically be offered to local farmers/horse owners).

5. HD Skype to friends and family in other areas/countries with fast symmetric broadband.

6. New classroom activities introduced (this will need to be more specific–any teachers here?).

7. Cheap access to local off-site backup (for backing up video, pictures, music, data)–data wouldn’t need to hit backhaul and could simply be sent to a removable hard drive at a friend’s house, or a more professional service offered by the local techy.

8. Local techys could offer new services to local residents to generate additional income streams (any local techys here with ideas?).

9. Any teens/children (and adults!) would appreciate low-latency for online gaming with friends.

10. Holiday homes and caravan parks could generate additional revenue by charging for fast Internet access.

11. Guest homes/B&Bs could market themselves to a different (and higher paying) clientele.

12. Anybody requiring care could have a direct, full-time video link to a carer in a neighbouring Parish.

13. Training and certification on how to lay and test fibre could help unemployed people obtain employment.

14. If the business model was right, the Parish could obtain a regular income from ISPs paying to offer their services over the infrastructure.

15. If the business model was right, the high (but intangible) value of owning “the last mile” could be realised through an IPO.

16. No more hassle: no more microfilters, no need to test different ADSL modems with different chipsets to get the best performance, and no need to remove the BT faceplate each time there is a fault (note: such hassle is likely to get worse as higher frequencies are pushed over further distances using BET).  Unlike ADSL, FTTP typically works or it doesn’t, and speed doesn’t drop off due to incompatibilities or interference.

17. Neighbourhood watch: anybody concerned about crime could use the network to monitor their property from a remote location.

18. Community radio (any budding DJs?  Or could this be offered as a practical exercise in schools?).

How will fast, reliable, symmetric and low-latency Internet access with free 1Gbps inter- and intra-Parish connectivity directly benefit you, your household, your neighbour, Mr Smith from the next Parish and Mrs Jones the local business owner?

Broadband, NGA, FTTC and the laws of unforeseen consequences

15 December 2010 at 19:06 in guest post by Barry Forde

Yesterday, Barry Forde, the brains behind CLEO, blogged on the “WiFiPie & CHIPS… With everything” Group. Lots of people have asked for Barry to expand on his thoughts. So, here - by popular demand - is an extended version.

Going back to basics what are we trying to do? I’d suggest two things:

  1. 1. Solve the problems of not-spots and grot-spots by getting broadband to them
  2. 2. Do that in a way that isn’t a short term solution, but a route to true NGA

If Cumbria does the first of these without the second, then it will end up with a 2Mbps service. This, we all agree, will be a woefully inadequate level of service within a very short period time. What is more, it will have gobbled up money better spent on other solutions.

So, the big challenge is how to procure something that delivers both requirements within the funding available. Is this even possible?

There seem to be two options on the table:

  1. ♦ BT’s FTTC product, within which some bits of the district would get FTTC, a subset would get FTTP, and another subset would get satellite connectivity with some BET connections
  2. ♦ FTTP via commercial or community initiatives

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Defining the Digital Hub

14 December 2010 at 15:30 in News by Louis Mosley

What did Jeremy Hunt mean when he announced last week that every rural community in Britain would get a “digital hub” by 2015? Ever since, the fells and dales of Cumbria – not to mention the county’s blogosphere – have been humming with different definitions.

ABOVE: Peter Smith, Lance Greenhalgh, Freddy Markham and Charles Paxton of the Lyvennet Valley Broadband Group meet on Friday in the Tufton Arms in Appleby to discuss the definition of a “Digital Hub”.

But what do communities want?

Ultimately, it will be up to Cumbria County Council to define the “Digital Hub” as part of the tender document that it will publish next year. But the needs and requirements of communities should shape this definition.

“Digital Hubs” will be built with public subsidy, so it is only fair that communities are given a say in how this money is spent.

The risk is that Cumbria County Council will use BDUK’s £10m to subsidise a supplier to run fibre to exchanges and cabinets closed to the community (FTTC), with cabinets being re-defined as “Digital Hubs”. These cabinets would be the property of the supplier and no community would have the right to use them to extend a fibre network to the premises (FTTP).

This would dash the hopes of communities that want to run FTTP. As Miles Mandelson noted in the comments:

“If the cabinets are exclusively for onward connection to households by copper they cannot be regarded as fit for purpose. Copper has no place in NGA broadband. If it’s allowed to form part of the new infrastructure then it’s the generation after next that will have to sort the mess out.”

So what are the alternatives?

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