UK Podcasters End Association

April 9, 2010 on 11:26 pm | In blog, ORG, UKPA | No Comments

The UK Podcasters Association was founded in 2006 to protect podcasters’ rights, and promote podcasting. The association was dissolved at the end of 2009 after three years of prominent and successful activity, during a time when the media landscape changed completely.

One of UKPA’s major achievements was to put podcasting on the wider stage, establishing podcasting as a high quality option for media producers in radio, television, print and online, competing directly with established media for audiences.

During this disintermediated revolution, millions of people turned away from mainstream media formats and began to create and share in unprecedented ways. As new opportunities emerged, so did legislation. The UKPA’s chair and trustees decided it made good sense for podcasters and media makers to join forces with other podcasting groups and like-minded organisations to ensure that the rights of the many were not sidelined by panicking old media, vested interests and the paid political lobby.

The UKPA was closely allied with the Open Rights Group, aka ORG, and the EFF in its campaigns for podcasting. When the UKPA ended, members were welcomed by ORG.

The UKPA is now closed to new members and renewals, it formally ceased operations as of 22nd August 2009, and was dissolved January 2010.

ADM Webcast May 21st

May 12, 2009 on 7:55 am | In ADM | No Comments

The Association for Downloadable Media (ADM) is hosting “The Podcast Consumer Revealed” Webcast on May 21st, 2009, at 1:00 EST. And we hope you can join us.

Tom Webster from Edison Research will present this special joint ADM/Edison Webcast of the fourth iteration of this widely-cited, authoritative look at the growing audience for audio and video podcasts.

The event will be free and requires pre-registration at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/502857363

Here’s more info straight from the press release.

In the recently published Edison Research/Arbitron 2009 update to their “Infinite Dial” study, results offered up hints of good news for podcasters. With awareness of podcasting increasing from 37% to 43%, and the percentage of Americans who have ever listened to an audio podcast growing to 22%, podcast consumption appears ready to break into the mainstream. According to Edison Research’s Tom Webster, “If you are in the business of creating downloadable media, this is key, significant research that you won’t want to miss.” He goes on to say, “This report and webcast will look at demographics and usage, key audience behaviors, content preferences, and attitudes towards advertising and sponsorships.”

The webcast will last one hour and will include time for your questions. Participants will also be able to download the presentation prior to its wider public release. Details for the webcast are posted at http://www.downloadablemedia.org.

We’ll look for you on May 21st.

Cheers!

Phil Wilson
Director, ADM

What is a Podcast?

May 8, 2009 on 4:20 pm | In education | No Comments

Podcaster CC Chapman’s daughter Emily Explains It.

Via Podcasting News

UKPA Banner

April 4, 2009 on 7:01 pm | In blog | No Comments
UKPA Banner

UKPA Banner

We’ve been broadcasting for 1000’s of years, but is it still radio?

March 2, 2009 on 11:41 am | In blog | No Comments

So the farmer, for thousands of years, sowed his seed on the furrowed ground of a ploughed field; the fertile imagination and ingenuity of man planted the seeds of wireless mass communications in the late 1800’s and radio blossomed a few years later, for entertainment and information. Rather than invent a new word to describe this new medium the English language did what it’s good at and repurposed an old word from a totally different place – the world of the farmer, that most ancient of human industrial activity, was suddenly propelled to the forefront of technology as we began to “broadcast” through the ether.

There are many claims as to who invented radio, with many famous names in the roll call of honour… Maxwell, Marconi, Edison, Franklin, Tesla and Faraday are just some of the illustrious ones that contributed towards the development, exploitation and commercialisation of radio as we know it today.

As the first genuine mass media for entertainment and information, radio represented a leap forward in human-to-human communication and the business of radio created its own momentum; jargon and jobs, tools and techniques. Editing is editing, the fact that it’s digital today is neither here nor there; all digital has done is to recreate the analogue method on a flat screen. 

Everything was set, in the analogue world there was binary measurement. It was broadcast or it wasn’t; shellac, then vinyl, disks were pressed and sold, count them one by one. A royalty payments system was easy to devise, implement and enforce.

In the digital world, it’s all very different. Actually no, it isn’t all very different, but it depends on what you mean by “all”. Digital delivery can be different and whole new experiences can be created for content consumption. But the core of what program makers do remains the same; quality production values for quality content, though it is true some of the tools have changed.

Much of the “digital revolution” that causes the heartache and pain felt by the industry is in delivery or distribution, not production. In the digital distribution world it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to monitor units delivered so the nice cosy world of royalty payments has crumbled to dust.

No longer are the public, our audiences, interested in preset programme schedules, partly because there are more channels or sources to choose from, but also society is more fluid, more fragmented. This means that the constant stream of the realtime broadcast isn’t as important as it once was, as the unmissable has become unmissable. 

A chum of mine makes the point that he can use an iPhone app to program his PVR from anywhere in the world to find “content” on a given topic; these TV shows are recorded and he can watch them whenever suits him. Being a smart chap he can download to iPhone and watch wherever suits as well. There is no reason, in principle, why his search couldn’t also include radio-style content, or any content such as blogs, for that matter.

So here’s an irony – linear broadcast TV is being used to deliver content to a non-linear digital device.

Marketers have a concept of core and augmented services, or products. The core service in the case of radio is the radio show – as it always has been. Until the advent of digital, there were very few ways in which this core service could be augmented; a listing in the Radio Times was about the only way for a long time, followed by a basic level of interactivity by way of the telephone phone in.

Today there are a plethora of options for augmented services; blogs, Twitters, Facebook profiles, Myspace, txt msg, MSN, Ning & other Social Networking sites… There is an argument that says these services ARE the new radio as they are being consumed at the same time by the new audience as the show… but they are not the core service offering. 

It is vital that the content of a radio station is paramount – you can’t have radio with moving pictures otherwise you’re simply re-inventing TV and although the internet audience is more forgiving in terms of production values, there is a threshold below which as a professional, one wouldn’t want to drop. 

The beauty of radio is that it doesn’t have pictures – it’s pure audio. This allows the listener, the LISTENER, to do a host of other things whilst listening. This could be driving a car, or papering the walls, or responding to a discussion thread on a blog. It’s difficult to do this as effectively with television, because that medium required the attention of eyes. 

However all of the added value web 2.0 stuff that falls into the “augmented service” does consume eyeballs. So radio now is a full multimedia experience if those options are used. But the prime function of augmented services is to drive ears towards the core service offering of the radio show.

So new skills are needed in the world of audio content – traditional radio as well as podcasts – but those new skills are all about promotion of shows, brand building and retention of ears.

But the totality of the new offering, the combination of core service and augmented service, isn’t radio – perhaps we need to re-invent another word to precisely capture what it is. Perhaps, as web 2.0 tools allows such personalisation of services, broadcasters should begin to think of themselves as “narrowcasters”.

How Lisa seduced me and changed my life…

February 9, 2009 on 3:00 pm | In history | No Comments

At a recent careers fair held at Dr Challoner’s High School in Bucks which I attended, representing the world of “media”, one of the most frequently asked questions by the students was “How did you get involved in media?”. Well, it was a long winding road but I can trace the roots way back to the oddest interview I ever had…

….“I want you to use this computer to work out 2 x 3 and I want you to tell me your thought processes as you do it” the man said. This was a job interview. This was 1984. The job was Field Service Engineer. The man was Ted Davison, Managing Director, BTS. I’d never used a computer.

I lived and breathed bicycles – I raced them, I toured on them, I built them, fixed them and sold them. I knew pretty much everything there was to know about chains, sprockets, gears, wheels and frames. I could even tell you which saddle would suit you best. And no, madam, the lycra shorts don’t make your bum look big. My claim to fame – being the only member in the then 105 year history of the Anerley Bicycle Club to beat the hour for 25 miles on a single geared fixed wheel bike. Time:59m 54s on the Colchester bypass course, 86inch gear. That was my life.

It was the Christmas party. Actually it wasn’t. It was before the Christmas party because Julian was already wanting to move on so I don’t really know when it started. But it started for me, that is when my direct involvement started, at the Christmas party.

Normal kind of thing, finger food, plastic glasses, white wine, red wine, slightly stilted atmosphere, lots of in-jokes and shop talk that made absolutely no sense. Here’s an example or two “..and you’ll never believe it, the twat was half way up the M6 when he remembered he’d forgotten the memory chips!” and “We got the floppy disk back with a with compliments slip stapled to it”. Nostalgia is swelling up in me as I type this.

Two weeks later I was sat in front of a computer and Julian was still wanting to move on and I had to use this machine to work out 2 x 3. I’d met this short guy with a goatee at the party. Turned out to be the MD. History doesn’t record, or my memory doesn’t recall, what was said by whom about what. But whatever it was, and whoever said it, it was enough for the short guy, Ted, to invite me back for an interview.

Ted knew I had never used a computer. I knew that too and I also knew that Ted knew and you can’t bullsh*t your way through that kind of situation. As I’m Marketing Director you might think I’d be able to do that all the time, but I wasn’t Marketing Director then.

Come to think of it I didn’t even know that marketing existed, let alone what it was. In any case, my marketing is bullshit-free. But I did know a keyboard when I saw one. “That’s a keyboard” I said, pointing at the keyboard. “And that’s the computer” I said, pointing at the computer. “And that’s a box of disks” I said pointing to a box with “3M Disks” written on it.

“But I don’t know what that is” I said, pointing to an object I didn’t recognise from any of the sci-fi films I had seen.

“That’s a mouse” said Ted.

There are times when the human brain just freezes. Probably stemming from its primitive reptilian roots, it can’t just assimilate new information in random order. Information input needs to flow smoothly. Mine was grooving down hi-tech – circuit boards and chips and Dolby and computer crashes – whatever they were.

A small, furry, cheese-eating animal with four legs and a tail did not fit into the world my brain was struggling to create. The non-sequiter was too much, the conceptual leap too great, so the brain shut down, eyebrows furrowed, vacant expression assumed and the last remaining few functioning cells kicked the vocal chords into life which emitted something that sounded like “You what?”.

“A mouse” repeated Ted.

In answer to the obvious question “what does it do?” Ted asked me to find out. So I prodded it. And the screen lit up. A light bulb went on. “Ah” I said. “How do you think it works?”. I turned it over and saw. And remembered. I had stayed on at school and did A level Biology and Physics. I failed the mock in one and got a F in the other, but I did remember variable resisters and X, Y coordinates. And that’s what I said.

And I was right.

Two weeks later I was out on the road fixing DEC PDP11 computers. In the interview I had used the mouse successfully, found the calculator, got 6 and got the job. Julian had moved on and now I was fully kitted out with an Astra 1.3 estate, tool kit, spares and an oscilloscope. I was wrestling with a command line operating system called RSTS and swapping memory chips and upgrading processors.

But always on my mind was that amazing machine, the first computer I had ever used.

It could draw, it could paint, it could write, it could do maths and plot graphs. And I could use it, I was in control, I could do anything, I had no fear. I was seduced. It was Lisa, named I believe after Steve Jobs’ daughter.

And I’ve been in love with the Mac ever since…

 

How did you get involved in podcasts?

_____

[Note: of course podcasts can be produced on both Mac and PC]

Kangaroo bounced out of court

February 6, 2009 on 12:06 pm | In blog | No Comments

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all have an on-line presence, notably the iPlayer. For some time now they’ve been collaborating on a Video on Demand project called Kangaroo whereby their content is made available from one jointly run location.

Yesterday the Competition Commission stopped the project in its tracks as in their view Kangaroo would present too much of a threat to competition for independent VOD suppliers. There had been an interim report published in December, which expressed concerns about this, but in the opinion of the Competition Commission had not been sufficiently addressed.

“After detailed and careful consideration, we have decided that this joint venture would be too much of a threat to competition in this developing market and has to be stopped,” said Peter Freeman, Chairman of the Commission.

“The case is essentially about the control of UK-originated TV content. VOD is an exciting and fast-moving development in TV, which makes programmes previously broadcast available to viewers at a time of their choice. The evidence we saw showed that UK viewers particularly value programmes produced and originally shown in the UK and do not regard other content as a good substitute.

“BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 together control the vast majority of this material, which puts them in a very strong position as wholesalers of TV content to restrict competition from other current and future providers of VOD services to UK viewers. We thought the joint venture parties would have an interest in doing so, in order to make Project Kangaroo a success.”

Freeman added that without Kangaroo, and therefore by having to run their own individual VOD services, the three broadcasters will have to compete for viewers’ attention and that viewers will be better served as a result.

“We thought that viewers would benefit from better VOD services if the parties—possibly in conjunction with other new and/or already established providers of VOD—competed with each other.”

In a joint statement, the three broadcasters said:

“We are disappointed by the decision to prohibit this joint venture. While this is an unwelcome finding for the shareholders, the real losers from this decision are British consumers. This is a disproportionate remedy and a missed opportunity in the further development of British broadcasting.”

The issues raised are complex. The BBC is funded by the license fee, ITV and Channel 4 are commercial companies. Are the latter riding on the relatively safe income of the former? Do license fee payers want their annual fees to subsidise these commercial companies? Would this pooling of resources also provide more original UK programming, rather than just distribution of content? Would independent producers also be able to also contribute and distribute content? 

We’re less certain that we agree with the ruling though. All three protagonists are already online, so what difference would it make if their content was centralised? It would for sure be a bit more convenient for the consumers, if the model was a la iPlayer, free to download or stream.

Wouldn’t it be great if either the iPlayer or something like Kangaroo was open to independent producers of content, such as podcasters, this becoming the UK’s equivalent of iTunes? In a separate document I recently read, this has indeed been mooted, but only as a marginal bullet point. In my view this idea should take centre stage – what do you think?

Somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Kangaroo… and one thing is for sure… more and more content is becoming available on line and the disintermediation of the internet means that with canny marketing and quality content, independent producers such as members of UKPA have a fighting chance.

UKPA on Twitter

December 4, 2008 on 12:21 am | In web tech | No Comments

A lot of our members use messaging service Twitter, so we’ve set up a UKPA account – http://twitter.com/ukpodcasters.

New blog posts will show up in the Twitter stream, and you’ll also see the last few “tweets” in the right sidebar.

8 x 8 is a life enhancing 64

November 30, 2008 on 1:59 pm | In blog, web tech | No Comments

We are all used to having unbelievably powerful computers – none of us would go back to systems that we had 10 years ago. And, just as you can never have a too fast processor, or too much RAM, or too bib a disk, you can never have too much bandwidth.

Before we go into details, let’s go back to basics. The PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) for many years was analogue, the conversion to digital technology was completed in the late 80’s. Or at least mostly digital. The “last mile” to the home (the “local loop”) was always left analogue due to the cost up upgrading everyone’s home phone.

Come the PC. Computers are of course digital. They work in binary – one’s and zero’s. On or off. To network these digital devices over an analog network means that the digital signals need to be converted to analogue at one end, then reconverted back to digital at the other end. Devices called modems were created for this job. Modem is a made up word, standing for MOdulation and DEModulation – these simply take the digital signals coming out of the PC, converted then to analog for the local loop section, created a connection through the network to the receiving end where the process is reversed.

A number of characteristics that we all became familiar with:
1) The “dial up” process and associated horrible noise (this noise being the audio “analogue” equivalent of the digital data being transmitted)
2) Slow speeds of connection
3) No one could call you unless you had a second line

Speed of connection. Bandwidth is measured in bits per second – that’s the number of one’s and zero’s transmitted in a second. The size of a file, or volume of data, is measure in bytes. A byte is generally made of 8 bits – a combination of 8 one’s and zero’s representing something, such as a digital image. Only you’d never get enough information into 8 bits for a whole image – a single photo image might be 500Kbytes – 500,000 bytes (that’s 500,000 x 8 bits = 4 million bits!)

When I were a lad, modems were working at 300bps and we got very excited about new modems that worked at 1200bps!! Modems reached a peak of 56kbs using a technical standard called V92. But this wasn’t the whole truth as this speed referred to the download speed only – the upload speed was slower at 48kbs. Those naughty marketing folk…

This may sound really technical, but it’s really just basic maths. Here’s how it works.

Remember we said that 8 bits make a byte? And that modems convert digital signal to analogue and analogue back to digital? This conversion is done in real time – the analogue signal is “sampled” (or photographed if you like) 8,000 times a second. Each sample, or photograph, generates 8 bits or one 8-bit-byte.

So a second generates 8(bits) x 8,000 (samples) = 64,000 bits per second or 64Kbps. This is the fundamental building block of telecommunications – telecommunications DNA as it were.

A digital telephone line used for one telephone call will work at 64Kbs. But the modem maxed out at 56Kbs upstream – what happened to the missing 8Kbps? These were used by the network for control signalling.

Phew! Hope you’re still with me – it’s important to get these basic building blocks understood so that you can understand what’s going on in the world of broadband and why not all broadband is the same.

Broadband as offered by most service providers in the UK is based on a family of digital network technologies called DSL or Digital Subscriber Line. The most common DSL family member that’s used is ADSL. The A stands for Asymmetric. DSL was designed in the days when bandwidth was scarce and expensive and the general view was that people would download more than they would upload, so it made sense to have a technology that optimised the strained network resource in that way. For many folk at the time, the concept of “youtube” was unimaginable.

DSL is digital. There’s no modem required. This means that once connected to the network, there’s no need to “dialup” or reconnect. The service becomes “always on”. This transforms the way in which the internet is used – it becomes much more casual and informal – and just as convenient to use as a television.

So the Asymmetric nature of ADSL means that download speeds are faster than upload speeds. ADSL was designed as an 8Mbps service – that’s 8 million bits per second. So if you have an 8Mb (eight million bytes) file how long will it take to transmit? If you said a second, you got it wrong! Remember size is Bytes, speed is bits. Assuming 8 bits per byte there are 8 x 8 million bits in an 8Megabyte file (64 million bits) so it’ll take 8 seconds at 8Mbps to transfer the file.

This 8Mbps refers only to the download speed – the upload speed as defined in the relevant standards, is 1Mbps. You’ll notice of course that service providers emphasis the larger of the two numbers – it’s those naughty marketing folk at it again!

However you may not have an 8Mbps service, despite it being designed and defined as an 8Mbps technology. When “broadband” was introduced to the UK the service providers throttled back the bandwidth so that their infrastructure was less stressed and upgrading it would be less stressful to their own cash flow. You could also argue this strategy maximised their profits whilst keeping their costs to a minimum, though that might be uncharitable.

This throttling back of bandwidth resulted in a tiered structure for bandwidth services. We’ve gradually been upgrading up to the full 8Mpbs service over the last few years. But even if you do take an 8Mbps contract, you may still not get this amount. Why?

Well first of all physical infrastructure just may not be able to deliver it. Speed is affected by distance, quality of copper, joints etc etc.

Also, the concept of contention has been implemented. Contention, or sharing, is known in other industries as “over booking”. Airlines and hotels use this principle. They know that statistically a percentage of passengers or guests won’t turn up, so to ensure all seats and rooms are full, they’ll sell more than the plane or hotel actually has. Telecoms companies know that not all people will want to transmit files or download files at the same time so they can afford to overbook bandwidth at the local exchange.

Typically residential are shared among 50 people – the contention ratio here is 50:1. Small business packages are contented less at 20:1. The results of this are:
• Your 8Mps is shared with 49 other people
• As more people use the service, performance (actual throughput) will decrease

It is possible to take an uncontended ADSL service, but they are few and far between and it’s a premium service and you’ll have to be prepared to pay a premium price.

Another source of bandwidth restriction lies further back in the service providers’ network – if the pipe connecting the exchange to the internet isn’t big enough to handle the total aggregated bandwidth of all subscribers, then this will also impact service delivery.

Another tactic service providers are using to reduce the impact of all of this on their infrastructure is to impose another form of limit on users – that of volume. Remember, volume of data is measured in bytes, speed in bits per second. You may take out an 8Mbps service but that may have a data volume limit of 2Gigabytes. This means that once you’ve downloaded a total volume of data of 2Gigabytes, you’ll bump into this limit.

Quite what happens next is service dependant. It could be that your bandwidth speed drops to a lower level, unless you upgrade, or theoretically it could be completely stopped, unless you upgrade. Or bandwidth speed could carry on, but you pay a premium for the remainder of the period. This form of limit is often found in cheap broadband offers – you never get something for nothing and a headline speed-for-price is only part of the story. Don’t base your purchasing decision on this factor alone.

You may have seen very high speed broadband services – 24Mbps. This uses another DSL technology called ADSL2+. This is designed to give 24Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream but does mean that the service provider offering it not only has to install the necessary special ADSL2+ equipment, they’ll also have to significantly upgrade their own backhaul network to accommodate the extra bandwidth usage. After all, if the backhaul network is sufficient to handle 50 x 8Mbps users, it stands to reason that 50 x 24Mbps users will need much more bandwidth in the backhaul.

However, laws of physics will intervene here – the higher speeds means that the service travels over a shorter distance. As there are no known plans to significantly increase the exchange density, this higher bandwidth service will be available to fewer people.

OK so you’ve now got all broadbanded up – what next? There’s more to it than just the service over the wire – you’ll need to have some sort of customer premises equipment (CPE) installed in your home. First of all you’ll need a “splitter”. This is a small white box that plugs into your broadband-enabled telephone socket. Its job is to separate voice from data onto different frequencies – this means that you can make and receive telephone calls whist surfing away, which is very handy indeed.

You’ll also need to connect your computer to the broadband connection. Your best bet by far is to use a combined WIFI/Ethernet/ADSL Router (don’t use a USB one, these are rubbish, in my opinion). We’ve dealt with the ADSL bit. A router is a piece of networking technology that uses something called IP – internet protocol – to move your data across a network, the internet itself is made of a gazzilion of these things. Ethernet is yet another networking technology, typically used in an office for a Local Area network (LAN). LANs use “Cat5″ cabling and if you don’t want to run miles of this stuff around your house then you need WIFI (WIreless FIdelity).

WIFI is marketed as Centrino on Windows machines and as Airport on Apple Macs. It’s all the same stuff, which is handy as both Macs and PCs can share a WIFI network. Of course there are different versions WIFI, just to keep you on your toes. There’s 802.11b that runs at 11Mbs. Then there’s 802.11a or g – this runs at 54Mbps and is the most usual on new systems today. And just coming in is 802.11n – which offers an enticing 270Mbps. These speeds by the way are theoretical max, not the actual throughput, figures for this are 6Mbps-ish, 35Mbps-ish and 74Mbps-ish respectively. Those pesky marketers…

But why would you want a LAN, whether wired or wireless? It means that multiple computers, and other devices, can share resources. When I first got broadband and wifi, I posted an article June 2004 on Ecademy asking “Where are all the network applications?” Here’s what goes on in my house to day:
1) The laptop I am using is WIFI’d to the internet now. I can surf the web and email, make and receive regular telephone calls
2) As it’s on the same network as my printer I can print without getting up from my armchair
3) Ben, No 2 son, can do the same from his iMac upstairs
4) We can Skype for free phone calls
5) We can video conference using iChat
6) We can chat to any instant messenger user (MSN, Yahoo, iChat etc) by using Adium
7) Both he and I can share files from computer to computer (very handy in a multi-computer office set up)
8) Visitors – Mac or PC users can share my network
9) Until it was nicked, my spare laptop had all my CDs in iTunes and was connected to my HIFI using an Airport Express box – any track could be played on any computer or hifi system at anytime. Thieving scum.
10) Podcasts are downloaded into iTunes and from their I can play them on my TV using an AppleTV box

It’s easy enough to protect data on a wifi network – just add a password. The range of which will depend on factors such a speed of connection, location of CPE, number of aerials.

To conclude:
• ADSL is finally starting to deliver 8Mbps, even though it’s shared
• ADSL2+ delivers higher speeds, but to fewer people
• Virtually all services are shared – check out what the contention ratios are
• If you take a bargain basement service don’t be caught out by any data volume limits (I wouldn’t use such a service)
• Broadband allows you to make and receive telephone calls whiles surfing
• WIFI is a good thing and brings the internet to life with a home network.

All of this sounds fantastic, and I suppose it is, but until all the restrictions and limits on ADSL are lifted, we’ll always be hobbled in our usage of the internet – in fact, until the copper is replaced with fibre we’ll face fundamental limitations on how this new medium can be used.

Cheers

Neil

A new New Deal could bring light at the end of the fibre…

November 29, 2008 on 10:41 am | In blog | No Comments

Roosevelt created the New Deal within 100 days of becoming President of the United States of America in 1932. The New Deal created jobs and led to the creation and expansion of America’s road and transport infrastructure under the auspices of the WPA (Works Progress Administration).

The Industrial Revolution was all about increasing the velocity of circulation of money, as was the following Transport Revolution and latterly the Telecoms and Internet revolution. In the UK, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and assisted by the now Lord Young of Graffham, Telecoms was deregulated and competition brought in, resulting in countless kilometres of fibre optic cable being laid. So much so that on average, we British citizens lives within 1Km of a fibre cable.

The current UK administration is trying to come up with answers to what is by any stretch a tricky problem, with reductions in VAT, partial if not complete nationalisation of banks, and other fiscal changes….

… however there is the mother of all industries needing a helping hand which could solve a number of problems and which would ultimately benefit the GDP of UK plc and which would also leave us on a more competitive footing…

Virgin Media are touting their internet access service as “The Mother of all Broadband” and claim it’s delivered over fibre optic. Well it is, and it isn’t. Fibre optics form an intrinsic part of the backbone of networks as fibre can carry unimaginable amounts of data at very high speeds but it’s always seen as being too expensive to run to the home. Virgin Media are running fibre almost to the home, but relying on the old coax cables to actually reach the home.

What we have in the UK as physical infrastructure going into the home is a mix of mostly copper wires and some coax cable. Coax cable is the same stuff that comes out of your TV and connects to your aerial. Copper wire is copper wire. Coax was what the CableTV companies laid in during the 80s and 90s, a competitive market that eventually collapsed, coalesced and formed part of Virgin Media, which offers “broadband” on either Cable or copper.

Cable in this instance shouldn’t be confused with fibre optic cable. Virgin, like BT and others, will use fibre optics in their network cores. BT’s network core is now referred to as 21st Century network and it is a breathtaking project; to converge the old-style voice networks and the miscellaneous collections of data networks onto one network is a truly epic project and one that I hope succeeds.

The problem is that 21st Century network leaves us the consumer on 19th Century copper.

If you are a BT customer for broadband you’ll receive the service on copper wire, if Virgin on either copper wire or coax cable, neither of which can offer the kind of bandwidth we need as a country to be really competitive. The ONLY physical infrastructure that can deliver true broadband services – starting at 100Mbps both directions – is fibre optic. Which means that the copper wires and the coax cable needs to be replaced.

But who would do it and who would pay?

BT currently claim that it would cost possibly £30 billion to complete this project on a national basis, not because the technology is expensive, but because of the manpower required – it’s a dig up the road exercise more than a hi-tech one.

BT is reluctant to get involved as, reasonably enough, they ask why should they bear the costs and have no guaranteed customer base for their services at the end of the project. But BT is really the only entity that could conceivably do this.

Now here we have the imagination to fast forward UK plc and to take advantage of the financial dire straits we find our selves in. As there seems to be no shortage of Government cash for bankers, we tap some of that into telecoms. BT’s Open Reach could be bought by the Government for the economic good of the country. Anyone made unemployed as a result of the credit crunch could be retrained by this new nationalised Open Reach to do the civil engineering of laying fibre to the home.

All service providers, including BT, would then pay Open Reach to run their services over the newly laid fibre. This seems like a fair but competitive market to me, though of course Ofcom still be involved in ensuring that fairness.

This would end up with the minimum 100Mbps services that we need, would position UK plc way ahead of anyone else as we’d have a NATIONAL end-to-end fibre optic network which would add an estimated 5% to to the GDP – cash which would be most welcome I’m sure and unemployment would actually be reduced during this financial crisis. The project would unite the country, if marketed and positioned correctly and intelligently, which in turn would help restore confidence.

So it’s win win all the way, by reshaping Roosevelt’s original idea and applying it to 21st Century needs, we could end up with the mother of all 21st Century Networks.

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