David Brunnen, head of communication at the CMA, on the House of Lords communications committee report.
The Communications Management Association (CMA) is pleased the House of Lords communications committee report on broadband recognizes that the provision of digital access networks ‘should be considered a key part of our national infrastructure’ and is a ‘strategic national asset’.
Taken alongside the committee’s concerns for investment that is ‘future-proof’ and the priority to ‘eliminate the digital divide’ they have clearly understood that all parts of the UK economy are increasingly dependent on the quality of digital access and the open availability of competitive services that can be delivered via those local networks.
The CMA, a business-focused organization, is also pleased that the committee’s report highlights the needs of ‘people and businesses’ – for far too long it has been felt that the regulator has not had a properly informed regard for the needs of wealth-creating consumers.
Disingenuous claims that higher-quality business connectivity (in contrast to households) is readily available (at a cost) overlooks the fact that most new economic growth is derived from micro and small enterprises with needs overlapping (in cost, performance, flexibility, consistency and upload capabilities) with those of many ordinary households.
The committee’s recognition that Internet-delivered TV programming is also likely to deliver benefits far greater than broadcast TV is welcome as an illustration of the power of new economic models for ‘creative disruption’ and the risks across all sectors of a ‘digital deficit’.
The CMA has consistently pointed to factors other than headline download ‘up to’ speeds (in practice often not delivered) and, if the need for future-proofed infrastructure investment is to be realised, this report can be regarded as a clarion call for fresh thinking in in terms of national priorities, network design and local management.
It is also interesting that the report backs widespread availability of ‘dark fibre’. The flexibility and affordability of dark fibre has provided a significant businesses benefit in Sweden and other advanced European States where local access networks have been able to utilize the capacity inherent in modernised Public Service Networks.
The cost of IP Transit at major Hubs has been steadily falling and the Lords Report is right to focus attention on the layer between the Major and Local hubs. Dark Fibre might encourage the deployment of radical technologies such as Optical Packet Switching that are being developed by ‘Intune Networks’ in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
It is very odd that many overlapping networks paid for from the public purse (such as JANET, the academic network and many other PSNs) are not yet deployed to boost the services for the wider community and enterprise. In the adjacent Energy sector it seems that £4bn is being budgeted for a separate network for household metering. How many times do wavelengths on the same fibre have to be sold at a full price before someone realises that the public is being collectively ripped off?
‘Dark Fibre’ availability would also be a huge boost for mobile networks – the expansion of the mobile network infrastructure is hugely dependent on the fibre capacity available for vastly more (but smaller) base stations.
It was no surprise to hear the government and BT making reassuring noises. We were less impressed by media commentators parroting the instant view of consultants that this would all cost a great deal of money. Their mind-boggling estimate turned out to be less than fines levied on banks for misbehavior – but, once again, the media moment passed without anyone joining up the dots between digital infrastructure investment and economic growth.