Category Archives: Politics

Britain’s Broadband Bust

The British Government has confessed that it doesn’t have sufficient money to meet the deadline of 2012 for a 2Mb/s broadband universal service.   This commitment had been made by the previous government but was reconfirmed by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, only last month in his speech at the Hospital Club in London.  He further said, “Our goal is simple: within this parliament (2015)  we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe.”

However, speaking at the Broadband Delivery UK conference yesterday, Mr Hunt admitted that there was insufficient funding in place for these commitments and was pushing back the deadline for the 2Mb/s universal service to 2015 with no deadline for the superfast broadband.   Only £175 million had been set aside as surplus from the Digitial Switchover project.

BT estimated that to equip Britain with superfast broadband will take £2 billion of public money and it has already invested £2.5 billion of its own money  in fibre networks that will reach around 2/3rds of British homes.  The additional money is needed to connect up those for whom it would be currently uneconomic to reach.

This also makes it difficult for the Government to fulfil the digital inclusion promises made on Monday by the UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox.  Announcing the Manifesto for a Networked Nation last Monday, it sets the ambition that everyone of a working age should be online by 2015 and that no-one should retire without web skills.

The Manifesto also estimates that 10 million adults in the UK have never used the internet for reasons of motivation, access and skills.  Nearly 4 million of these 10 million adults are over 65.  Rural and coastal areas have the highest concentrations of over 65s who don’t use the internet.

Considering also that the supporting quango Digital Public Service Unit was closed down before it even got started, it’s no surprise that the Manifesto is looking to industry and charities as well as government to meet the ambitions.

Further, as reported in GNC previously, UK internet users have grown by 2 million in the last year , expecially in the over-50s.  This suggests that the issues of motivation and skills appear to be resolving themselves and that the only restricting problem is that of access to broadband, fast or otherwise…..which the UK Government doesn’t have any money to help with.

Nothing like a bit of joined-up thinking.

British Broadband Tax

In his pre-Budget report, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed that there will be a 6 GBP tax on all households with fixed-line phones in order to setup a fund that will be used to ensure that even the uneconomical parts of the UK will get fast fibre connections.

Note for readers – the incumbent UK Government is Labour, who come from a socialist or left-wing background.  The Opposition is the Conservatives (aka Tories), who come from capitalist or right-wing background.  For a good few years, it was hard to tell which policies came from which party but now the economy is down, they’re reverting to type.

While the aims of the Chancellor may be laudable, I think he’s completely wrong to setup a broadband fund.  All it will do is line the telecommunication companies’ pockets and it’s not as if they’re short of a penny.  In each of 2007 and 2008, one of the major British telecoms companies, BT made 2.5bn GBP (before tax) on 20bn GBP.  Ok, things are bit tighter in 2009 so far but they’re still making millions.

If the past 30 years of technological advancement has taught us anything, the pressure on technology to make things smaller, faster or cheaper has come from competitive pressures, not by throwing subsidies or government money at companies.  These companies ought to be trying to figure out how to make the uneconomic parts of the country into economic parts, by delivering more efficiently or delivering differently.

Around 30% of households are believed to be in this uneconomic category but that’s only for fibre connections – the figures (and Government) totally ignore the possibilities of wireless technologies.  Rather than let the best technology win out – and it’s for the market to choose what “best” means – the fund will be used to connect up with fibre whether it’s appropriate or not.

And even if the property is miles from anywhere why not simply charge the customer the true price of bringing fibre to their home.  That’s what happens for electricity – if you choose to build your house two miles from the nearest electricity line, the utility company will bill you the cost to install the cable to your house.  For a non-essential service to be given this kind of subsidy seems bizarre.

And I’m sure an extra side effect will be increasing numbers of people dropping their landlines in favour of mobiles and VoIP.  I’m definitely thinking harder about it – if I didn’t have ADSL broadband I would have done it years ago.

Obama’s New CIO

Vivek Kundra. The CTO of the District of Columbia has been named the first US Chief Information Officer. Kundra has a proven track record and gets things implemented.

He wants to implement a “stock-market approach to IT project management”. He also looks for the “Adoption of consumer technologies in business”. This includes having a team that tracks IT so they can pownce on a trend.

This is the CIO role in the White house – NOT the CTO. That still is yet to be named. However, with Vivek Kundra working the internals of technology and the CTO working the Politics, this may be a great combination.

Vivek Kundra was a part of Obama’s transition team and designed

Using Social Media in the Election

One thing you have to hand to the Obama campaign they knew how to use Social Media effectively during the campaign. The Republicans can learn some lessons from this and so can some companies.

Many of the things the Obama camp did cost them nothing but one of their staffers time to make sure they were engaged. One instance was the utilization of

As many of you know I have been using Ustream for the live portion of my podcast and while I draw small crowd in the middle of the night. The Obama team would put a live Ustream Channel at ever speaking event he went to and thousands would tune in.

This is just the tip of  the iceberg, they used blog commenters and bloggers effectively to neutralize negative commentary. With a dedicated group of staffers watching blogs they would pounce on sites almost instantly when someone had a negative thing to say and used blogs to essentially blast the competition.

Very effective use of technology was key. It made the McCain campaign look weaker as they did not use the tools that many people of all ages use today to communicate. The next person to run for president is going to have to get their social media game on.

Oh and what both camps missed, political podcasters could have been running ads as well in their podcast as they could have had a new message each day.

They Get All the Cool Techie Stuff

I was watching the races unfold tonight, as I have done in the past elections. The thing that I found just as interesting as the race itself was all the cool tech the news sources had to cover the election. The computing power in each news room was phenomenal.

First, there was CNN. They had the big screen behind with a map of the US color coding each state. In fact the map only covered half of the “Wall”. I wonder how much that one cost.

Then there is the “Magic Wall” – a big touch screen in which John King would be able to pull up stats and charts. Four big buttons on the left to let him choose how to run the screen. A big yellow box with an “X” in it to close out any windows he had open. No minimize button or task bar though.

In NYC, Times Square had some pretty flashy tech. From the Big screens showing off the candidates, to the ticker marquee that wrapped around the overhang. It was all pretty impressive to see as the race unfolded.

I didn’t see the projection of the US on the Rockefeller ice rink that NBC was going to do. I am still always impressed what we can do with tech nowadays.

The big question I have though is – what happens to that tech after today? Is it still going to be used in day-to-day news reporting, or will it go into the basement?

I can see this change the face of news itself. We have already seen changes in what meteorologists use to display the weather maps. Gone will be the day of a hand held clicker that moves from screen to screen. Not to mention the pull down maps they used to use in the 70’s and 80’s and definitely no magnetic icons of clouds blowing or smiling suns.

Now, you can touch a couple spots on the screen and move around without being tethered to a controller. Zoom in on areas, push it all to the left or right and call up important data. No more green screens, here.

If news stations started using that for the general news, there is no need for someone in the control room to flip though the pictures. Just a touch of the screen and we see a picture or a Google map or whatever the newscaster wants.

At any rate, if CNN is going to put the Magic Wall away, I have a great place in my living room in which they can store it. I just hope it comes with a remote control so I don’t have to get up to touch the screen and change the channel. Of course, I could always train the dog to nuzzle the screen to do that…

US needs robust consumer protection

Mike Masnick makes a plea on techdirt for a mobile phone vendor to step forward and offer truth in their advertisements and product descriptions. This was prompted by a JD Power report on the declining satisfaction with mobile phone providers in the US. Is there anyone responsible for ensuring that consumers aren’t ripped off in the US?

Here in Australia our competition watchdog also has a consumer protection brief. It has the power to make and enforce rulings, and to levy large fines on companies that do not act in the consumers interest. While they are not immune from political interest they have a good track record of championing the cause of the consumer, even in more complicated modern technology situations. Some of the rulings here that would help in the US are:

All DVD players must be region free.
If a product is advertised as {price}+delivery, then the delivery fee must be stated.
Mobile phone numbers must be portable.
Mobile phones must be unlocked at the request of the customer (although contract break fees are legal)
You cannot advertise ‘unlimited’ downloads unless they are.
All phone contracts must clearly state the minimum cost of the contract.

I know there are other countries like the UK that have similar consumer protection advocates, i.e. ones that can actually enforce. It seems from some of the news stories I see from the US that there is either no such entity there, or it has no teeth.

John Edwards talk at Gnomedex

I am not surprised that most of the conversation were democrats standing up and asking what they can do to beat the republicans. There were a few good questions on net neutrality, but I am sure that the republicans in room felt pretty uncomfortable. But the session was in some people’s in the room opinion almost content free.