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Digital Britain Summit - more of the same
Monday 20 April 2009 12:23:16 by Andrew Ferguson

Summits provide a great opportunity to get many people together on one single topic, but they always carry the risk of the only output being just a few sound-bites. Alas the Digital Britain Summit seems to have fallen into this trap, the report from Lord Carter may gain some useful feedback from the day long event, but the room never really had a chance to clearly shape the debate and outcome of the report, or for the average consumer or small business to have a say.

At the start of the day when we heard that Gordon Brown was due to give a keynote speech, we thought that perhaps something major would be announced, such as funding over a number of years to ensure a decent USO and keeping the digital divide as narrow as possible. Alas while his speech was well written, it promised nothing, key points being, "We must invest or fall behind" and "Quality that is fit for the future".

The day was split into four major sessions, titled

  1. Fixing the plumbing: Preparing for tomorrow's digital networks today
  2. The New Digital Arms Race
  3. Promoting the poetry: Joining the dots between creativity and digital content
  4. Being Digital: Equipping society for the digital future

As can be seen the debate on broadband infrastructure was given 90 minutes, and at the outset we were told that discussion of the 2Mbps USO was off the agenda. We did get to hear Neil Berkett, CEO Virgin Media saying that efforts need to be concentrated outside the cities, i.e. away from where BT and Virgin already have started rolling out services that exceed 25Mbps. Ian Livingston, BT CEO was keen to emphasis the open nature of his firms FTTP/FTTC plans. The BT CEO was bullish in saying that there is no clear need for 100Meg at this time, and 40 to 60Meg will be sufficient for some years, which while something people will not want to hear, is very possibly true. We feel that people are too often chasing high connection speeds, forgetting that what is actually important is how well it runs when most people are online.

The next session revealed some interesting snippets from Japan, in that the country expects to have 100% broadband coverage by the end of 2010, using a mixture of fixed and wireless technologies. Also that 90% of homes will have Fibre to the Home available as an option, (the demographics of Japan mean the proportion of people living in cities is higher). One interesting reason for the high take-up of fibre services is that DSL is actually more expensive than fibre services in Japan.

After lunch the session covering intellectual property got a little heated, with the room for once seeming to give a bad reception to a speaker who appeared not willing to accept that business models from the past may have to change. Some examples of how media firms can embrace file sharing systems, as a way of promoting material were covered.

The final session, saw Stephen Fry make everyone laugh, but he did have some interesting points on things like what is Digital Education, and the session touched on whether Digital was the correct catch-all for the many types of the electronic technologies that are covered by the report.

In summary, individuals can see the dangers of a digital divide and the advantages of a world leading broadband infrastructure, but the stumbling block is who will pay for it. The companies are unable or unwilling at this time, consumers are generally unwilling and the proportion who will embrace premium prices which new fast services are likely to command is probably too small. The government appears to be waiting until it can state clear market failure to service the areas outside the cities, given a General Election is due by the end of 2010, even if the current government were to make a promise of money, we may see a change of government that takes a different tack.

The disappointment of the day is actually reserved for the lack of apparent cross party support. If broadband is to be considered a utility alongside gas, water, and electricity then it needs support across the political spectrum to ensure that five or ten year long plans actually come to fruition, though at present, we have no clear plans in place to worry about.


Posted by Capn over 8 years ago
Amazing really when every time this is raised people only concentrate on two things:

Internationally competitive broadband which is accesible either by wireless or fibre.
Copyright rules that allow the sharing of copyrighted information for personal use.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
I actually agree on the gist of what Mr. Livingstone is saying. Headline speeds are irrelevant if backhaul contention is so high that throughput stalls during peak hours.

If there is to be a national push for something then backhaul improvement is where it should occur. Leave high speed connectivity to market forces for now.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
Throughput doesn't 'stall' on networks that are properly engineered they congest smoothly and headline speeds are very relevant, while you may get the same speeds on both services at peak times outside of it the higher headline very much shows.

On what planet is a national push for backhaul improvement relevant? Taxpayers should pay for BT's wholesale network?

So market forces control access speeds, national push for lowering BT's interconnect costs. Great.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
The average usage in Japan is less than 30GB/month so I've my doubts over this supposed extreme backhaul congestion, especially given BT's super duper new 21CN eliminating ATM.

Congestion is a sad fact of life, either get over it or let's just abandon any hope of higher speeds until we can ensure no visible contention.

That there's a possibility that my tax money may be used to provide FTTN in rural areas and to provide precisely nothing to city dwellers leaves a bad enough taste.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
'Also that 90% of homes will have Fibre to the Home available as an option, (the demographics of Japan mean the proportion of people living in cities is higher).' - No, a standard excuse trotted out in these meetings though. UK urban population 90%, Japanese urban population 67%.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Where are you getting that figure, Dixi?
Posted by mishminx over 8 years ago
So tea and biscuits as ever at a glorified talking shop. Still... Keeps em off the streets I suppose and even gives celebrity 'geek' Stephen Fry something to do.
Posted by timmay over 8 years ago
We all need to got over the City/Rural divide balls! Yes there are higher speeds in the City BUT there are also massive urban/sub-urban areas that have poor broadband provision compared to Villages that have telephone enabled exchange. Really the split is much more down to distance from a telephone exchange. Investment is needed where phone lines are too long to provide adequate broadband speeds. BT should not be given any Tax payers money to serve areas already covered by Virgin Media 'fibre-coax' network.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
@Dawn - / Source: UN Common Database (UN Population Division estimates)
Posted by Foggy_UK over 8 years ago
Quote"BT CEO was bullish in saying that there is no clear need for 100Meg". and Pierre Danon EX- chief executive of retail at BT Group plc was once quoted saying that there was no need for anything bigger than half a Meg service. Doesn't mean we wouldn't need it by the time it gets rolled out, we all know how BT likes to rush.... NOT!!!
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Dixi - You're kidding right? How they define "urban" has little to do with telecoms infrastructure clustering.

To the TBB team - How about covering the current European law issues? You know, the walled garden internet the UK's pushing, etc.
Posted by mikeblogs over 8 years ago
The UK civil servants have been busy promoting transparent net discrimination, in the EU Universal Service Directive. MEPs not replying to emails on this matter. Vote due on the 5th.

The final Digital Britain report could do us a favour and state the primacy of our high speed services over the legacy services, link any future rental increases to improvements in optimising signal to noise ratios for Broadband.

Posted by mikeblogs over 8 years ago
It could also adopt the Norwegian net neutrality which deals with the reality of managing congestion at busy periods.

Who knows, given the Digital Inclusion action plan, the DB team may get a line in the budget.
Posted by carrot63 over 8 years ago
"Promoting the poetry: Joining the dots between creativity and digital content" Huh? "The New Digital Arms Race" Please, no more!

The soundbites evidently didn't stop with the speakers. The session titles are enough to make anyone not infected with the NuLab bug physically sick. Anyone who has wasted their time coming up with rubbish this bad is clearly incapable of understanding the issues in any but Daily Mail friendly political terms.

A decently specced and genuinely universal USO should be the alpha and omega for 'Digital Britain'; without it, the rest is just hot air.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
doesnt sound good to be honest, from what I read of that articale, is (a) they think cities are already well served and (b) that 40-60mbit is fine. My problem with this is that there are many blackspot in city areas where VM isnt available and at the same time having long/poor BT lines giving poor dsl service, whilst 40-60mbit may be fine for a few years we have to remember the fact the cabinet to premises will still be copper meaning many people will get below 40mbit as we still relying on distance.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
timmay you are correct but I fear this will all be balls'd up so to speak, will they be able to recognise areas that have VM (but no VM broadband) as not VM enabled, will they assume all city areas are aready good enough. Do they even realise many rural areas are indeed superior to many urban areas. I do suspect there is a case here of the affluent in rural areas making a big noise in the right place. As indeed the bulk of the population do live urbab/suburban.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
So to summarise:

Interesting day, good lunch, but no real progress in moving things forward.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
@Dawn - I'm not going to discuss this with you as per most of our discussions I can cite as much as I want and you'll still tell me I'm wrong. Many market towns are more efficient to fibre up than some cities. I would however be interested in knowing what you do for a living if you so vehemently disagree?

carrot - yep, sound bites. Welcome to 'Broadband Britain'. The comms minister Lord Carter is a career PR man so what else would you expect?
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
No Dixi, you're not going to cite because as usual you're throwing out soundbites which have little to do with the actuality (total % of occupied land area vs population, plus centralisation of housing...)

mikeblogs - Right. Ofc that's not got an article here.
I've worked in IT in several capacities including for an ISP and in content creation.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
in terms of urban areas, UK like japan is one of the better countries, compared to germany, france america we have much less land mass and the population is more densely packed. So I agree with Dixi that the people saying we have unfavourable population layout are talking out their backsides.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
I apologise Dawn if UN stats are soundbites. While you might consider my stats soundbites I note you never produce anything of value to disprove them which is why I don't bother with these discussions with you. Another soundbite for you: England population density 392/km/sq, Japan population density 337/km/sq as of 2005.
Posted by carrot63 over 8 years ago
You don't have to live in the highlands to be 'too' rural for broadband and the can/cannot distribution makes little sense. My parents live in the epicentre of the 'prosperous' south east, and have moved house twice in the last 2 years. The first two houses were about 4is miles (as the crow flies) on opposite sides of the same large town. In one, broadband was an emphatic 'no', in the other a tentative and unreliable half meg (although the BT checker claimed 6 meg was possible). They now live 10 miles from the nearest large town and get a reliable 6 meg.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
So what's new about telling us the further away you are from the exchange, the slower the connection?
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
No, they're not "soundbites", Dixi, but they are reflecting one view of rural/urban which is not very relevant for telecoms infrastructure.

Your figutes are precisely what I mean - the absolute figures don't show the population clustering in Japan (large amounts of unusuable land, greater clustering even in "rural" area, etc.)

And no, you don't "bother" because you're wrong. Simply because it's UN figures dosn't mean it's gospel.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
@Dawn - I am beginning to wonder if you're still on the BT payroll.
In any case as I said I've no desire to 'discuss' with you, in previous discussions I've given facts, you've offered nothing to disagree just said we're wrong and accepted us to accept it as gospel.
Oh btw England is now the most densely populated country in Europe. Overtook Netherlands earlier this year.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
@Dixinormous, id give up if i were you, you can chuck as much evidence in the face of Dawn Falcon and it will still disagree (been there and done that ;) ) Far better in 90% of case to just let them look silly and continue their bizarre fantasies over BT, probably still is on the payroll or clutching its 2p share certificate.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
@Dixi - Your ability to use statistics as a shield from actualities and to refuse to "discuss" the actual situation... well, I'm pretty sure who you are shilling for, but hey. (And no, I'm not anything to do with BT, for reference)

Carpet, when es has a non-BT dependent boardband connection? Get back to me. (See? A real gender-neutral noun)
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Carpet, when es has a non-BT dependent boardband connection? Get back to me. (See? A real gender-neutral noun)"

I may be wrong but i thought Dixinormous was either a LLU customer or a customer of Virgin cable, both of which with regards to PROVIDING broadband have nothing to do with BT....
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Unless you are still babbling thinking the phone cable to someones home equals BT being responsible for the speed a customer gets on say a ADSL2+ LLU service, if thats the case and I depend on BT for my broadband, why can i get 18Mb from a LLU company and only 8Mb from BT???? If i depend on BT for that 18Mb why cant they give me 18Mb if i sign with BT direct for my broadband??????? Evidence i depend on that 18Mb from BT would be appreciated.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Straggly 20 year old copper wire from pole to my home in no way makes my 18Mb BT DEPENDANT.
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 8 years ago
It's mainly the long dangly wet string BT-ness of my Be ADSL2+ connection that limits me to 15-16Mb/s with occasional noise induced losses of connection. Give me fibre to the house or at least to the cabinet with a good quality SHORT connection to my house and I'll be a happy bunny since Be's infrastructure give me all the contention free bandwidth I'm likely to need, unlike the PlusNet/BT Centrals I used to be on.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
OK Dawn who am I shilling for given that I've worked for VM and Easynet and presently don't work in the ISP sector at all Dawn? Unlike yourself I am more interested in consumers, not BT's wellbeing. No point attempting to discuss with you, it's abundantly clear who you shill for and I'd get a more unbiased POV from BT themselves.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
Oh here Dawn check this out: Sorry I forgot Verizon are silly for investing, don't cover a wide enough area, etc. By the end of this year they'll pass 50% of their total footprint at 12.6 million homes, largely less densely populated than England, and they are winning custom back with FTTP. Sorry, real world facts, how mean of me :)
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
I've also worked for ISP's, Dixi. And if you think I'm a BT shill that's just funny. Ad your trying to hide behind "don't work for an ISP anymore" is technically true, I'm sure, but that dosn't mean you're not involved...

And yes Carpet, es is entirely dependent on BT, get over it.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
^^^ The only thing my broadband is dependant on from BT is the line noise i get from a bit of moldy wire from the pole to my house.

You say i should get over it.... I think you should get over the fact LLU ADSL2+ is leaps and bounds ahead of BT and if it didnt have to depend on a rubbish few feet of BT cable it would perform even better
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Opps ive just realised that makes you correct, i depend on BT to slow my connection down with their 30 year old infrastructure
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