Telecoms Regulator considers tackling the inherent dishonesty of most broadband services

26 Jul

[The saga continues – see previous episodes starting with Ten Eggs – Ed]

We have a responsibility:

for ensuring that consumers of broadband services are appropriately protected and informed”,

and,

transparent information around the speed most likely to be achieved . . . . should also be available to consumers before a contract is entered into.”

UP TO PLACARDWith those brave words the Telecoms Regulator in Ireland reported on a pilot project designed to discover just how difficult it is for broadband customers to be sure what it is they are being sold and what performance they can expect.

There are, of course, umpteen reasons, excuses, conditions, escape clauses and, for sure, a few honourable exceptions where some customers get almost exactly what it says on the tin.

And this was just a limited pilot project – so there’s ample wriggle room around sample sizes, the duration of the exercise, the customers’ own incompetence, the variable load on the system, unreasonable expectations, school holidays and, of course, the weather.

What they found was hardly surprising. What they think they can do about it is altogether more difficult.

So we know that:

  • rural areas are relatively poorly served,
  • some fixed lines work better than wireless (including mobile),
  • upload speeds are important,
  • low latency is increasingly essential, and
  • fully-fibred connections beat super-slow copper and fibre/copper combinations hands down.

More than that we know that we don’t know enough, but, curiously, most customers have come to expect poor service and only between 19 – 23% would say they were not satisfied.  Blessed are they who expected very little.

But what’s to be done?

The Regulator has a 4-point policy plan around:

  • Transparency for Consumers (Business and Household)

Consumers should be able to compare different broadband offers from different providers in order to choose between them – in regulatory-speak, ‘make informed choices’.

  • Consumer Education

Apparently we should all learn more about physics so that when we buy rubbish we know we are buying rubbish – even if the adverts suggest otherwise.

  • Contractual Commitments

Contracts should state how bad the service can be – though minimum service levels should not be set so unreasonably low as to provide an easy get-out clause for slack performers.

  • Market Information

There should be more of it.

And the bottom line?

 We should have great sympathy for any regulator of a market that specialises in services that are not honestly marketable.

This Regulator notes, “it has powers with respect to transparency and in relation to contracts and minimum quality of service and will consider how best to use those powers to achieve the best outcome for consumers.”

We should marvel at such restrained tolerance.

Meanwhile, like most comms regulators, the banner of Technology Neutrality is held high.  Well it sounds sort of fair, doesn’t it?

Surely ‘tis only reasonable to ensure a continuing freedom for connectivity providers to under-deliver in the profitable cause of sweating the assets they inherited from the pre-digital dark ages?

In any other sector, governments would intervene in their national interest.  Advertising Standards bodies would see red.  Trading Inspectors would rule against such local economic blight and outlaw such short-term get-rich fixes.

Why do we suffer this tendency of the telephonic tribe to serve up technological cul-de-sacs?

Why countenance their demands for subsidies from the public purse?

Do they, do we, imagine there is no alternative?

But, hey guys, that’s the market hand these regulatory bodies have been dealt.

And, if it’s not their job, who now will shift the infrastructure into 21st Century gear?

 

Greece: Turmoil Today but Huge Tomorrows

2 Jul

 

Greek FlagAs I write, no one can tell how the current crisis will be resolved. No one can be sure. Fragmentation or consolidation of a nation?

For the nation state, its communities of people and businesses, or from the perspective of the individual, the uncertainty about futures may seem beyond rational analysis – improbabilities lost in a sea of variables, multiple IF statements and continental confusion.

When disasters occur – tsunamis, fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, meltdowns, and wars – responses vary in scale, timing and attention. The seemingly ‘natural’ events prompt generosity – even when the ‘natural disaster’ is rooted in human negligence. Anything less than a natural crisis – like a financial meltdown or extreme inequalities – evokes a range of reactions from warm sympathy to frosty moral high-ground.

What might unite folk in their turmoil is a desire to get back to some imagined normality but, as we know from countless examples, going back is impossible. Tomorrow is another, different, day.

Like anyone beset by depression (and the lethargy it invokes) moving forward requires massive willpower and imaginations free of former constraints. As the lessons of the current crisis inform the future, any progressive recovery demands investment in future resilience

How then can a country in turmoil rise above the disaster?

Home Alone?

Firstly the good citizens should know they are not alone. They, you, your businesses, your universities, your communities, have friends in almost every quarter of the planet – friends, former neighbours, fellow sufferers and, way beyond the diaspora, millions of minds with fond memories and an appreciation of the county’s contributions to civilization. So the very first question is to ask how that wider extended-family can mobilise its support.

Shaken and Stirred

Secondly, in this cocktail of catastrophe, you have not just been shaken. You should also have been stirred – stirred into action, driven by a survival instinct but also prepared to shed the past and not waste time in a downward spiral of finger-pointing fault finding. No amount of blame gaming can change realities; you are where you are. I wrote earlier, Greece is only Greece because most other places imagine they are not like Greece. There is no place quite like Greece and the rebuilding is not a matter of seeking bland conformance but celebrating your diversity and differentiation.

Design Opportunities

Thirdly, the environment has shifted.   The physical remains but the virtual ascends. What better time than now to redesign local and national economies to leverage a wider data-driven online world. Few places or communities have this opportunity – to hang up on ‘the way we do things’ and think afresh.  Sure it will need investment.  Sure, it will disrupt some staid businesses.  Sure, it will be risky – but far less risky than not seizing the opportunities.  Might Greece become the cradle of the Circular Economy?

You may think this is just ‘wishful thinking’ but the evidence of other great recoveries demonstrates time and again that investing in renewed resilience will deliver dividends.  Consider your talents – trading is in your blood, your diaspora is strong, profound thinking is endemic, artistry abounds, sciences are proven, solar power is plentiful – and the envy of a world that is less driven simply because ideas are born where they are needed most.

But How?

 No one can say with any certainty how things will pan out – what risks will arise. No doubt vultures are already hovering – looking for good pickings – but this is a time to pull together and not be picked apart.

Leadership can emerge – not from some central ‘winner-take-all’ pseudo democracy but within communities across the country. Local economies need local management. Greece has many offshore islands but countless more inland – often shaped by geography – and the national economy that is endlessly debated is only the sum total of all your islands. The tide can turn – the brain drain of recent years can become a brain gain if young people are welcomed back.

Three sources of inspiration come readily to mind:

  • Brain Gain was published in 2014 by the Intelligent Community Forum and is packed with brilliant examples of local leadership and determined communities.
  • The second is yet another book. Published this year by the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Resilience Dividend focuses on the need to invest in the belt and braces of society that will deliver ample returns in any future crisis. As author Judith Rodin says, “Resilience is the ability of people, communities and institutions to prepare for, withstand, and bounce back more rapidly from acute shocks and chronic stresses.”
  • The third inspiration arrives by an unlikely route – from a young sailor, Ellen MacArthur, and her solo round-the-world record-breaking voyage. It led directly to an understanding of a massive shift from linear to circular economics – a shift that provides entirely new rules for those who have glimpsed the poverty of political economics, the outdated labels of left and right and the debt-driven legacy of the linear economy.

All three of these sources demand creative talent. Young people, students and returning graduates, will understand these ideas. Across the country local communities (enterprises and people) must realise their empowerment to recruit and encourage fresh thinkers.

What do I know? I am not Greek. Why take any notice of interfering foreigners? The world needs Greece to succeed and to lead. A new economics can be forged in the crucible of this crisis.

—————-

This article also available in Greek via New Diaspora magazine

 

NextGen Digital Challenge Awards – 2015 Finalists Shortlisted

30 Jun

Our Open Call for nominations acts as a barometer for the digital environment as they reflect those aspects that capture the imagination and are regarded as significant by a wider public than the usual industry voices.

This year’s Open Call responses demonstrated how, across the UK, huge efforts are being made to ensure greater online inclusion and improve digital skills. The nominations also reflected the rise of the Sharing Economy and more projects contributing towards the creation of more-intelligent communities – a term that is slowly overtaking ‘smart’ as folks look beyond the technology for long-term people-centered outcomes.

Our Awards programme celebrates projects that are forward looking and we seek to encourage and highlight new dimensions in digital development. The outcomes will be revealed on 5 November at the House of Lords. 

VIEW THE SHORTLIST

 

Smart Thinking: thought leaders showing signs of convergence

27 Jun

History is littered with examples of folks letting go of things they hadn’t fully grasped.

Idea When the penny finally drops they find themselves trailing way behind those who were a bit quicker on the uptake – or in common parlance those who ‘got it’.  Their prompt perception gains them the accolade of Thought Leadership.

 

The difference between a leader and a follower is that they didn’t just ‘get it’.  They picked up the ball and ran with it – which is why several hundred of us flocked to Toronto this month to listen to the experiences of what are reckoned to be the world’s most ‘Intelligent Communities’.

 Intelligent Communities?

The question of definition, hangs in the air.  Take this year’s winner. What’s so special about Columbus Ohio? Why so much more deserving of this accolade than, say, Ipswich Australia, New Taipei City, Taiwan or Mitchell, South Dakota?

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has been honing its analytics for eight years – a good deal longer than most of us have been thinking about smart cities. While the applause in Toronto was echoing around the globe, other smart thinkers were beginning to come to the same sort of conclusions.  It’s not so much to do with the technology as what folks choose to do with it – and what these Intelligent Communities have done is to radically transform their local economies and the lifestyles of their citizens.

In nearly all cases FTTx is the foundation on which these enterprising leaders have developed programmes that:

  • deliver digital inclusion,
  • boost the capacity for innovation,
  • ensure that expertise is available for new ventures, and
  • exploit those positions through advocacy that brings new investment and jobs to their communities.

Below those top-level drivers there are many sub-themes but very little of the old sector approach that dominates in conventional silo-bound economies. The ICF thought leaders embrace ‘Open Data’, seek a ‘Resilience Dividend’, welcome the ‘Sharing Economy’ and invest in ‘Municipal Enterprise’.

Those who come to a Smart City agenda from the technology market perspectives of, say, an Internet of Things or ‘Smart Meters’ or a renewed Maker Economy’ are, if we read the signs correctly, gradually converging around the ICF notion that the higher purpose is economic and social well-being.

Professor Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT – evidence-led thought leader for sure – put his name to an ‘Open Letter on the Digital Economy’ this month urging policy influencers to ‘get it’.  Here in the UK it was duly feted as ‘Wow! Vital Reading!’ – an evangelisation that reveals the astonishing need for management education even within the ICT industry.

Common sense is clearly not so common. Anyone reading stories to children will appreciate the value of repetition. It’s a long haul but someone’s got to do it and Erik’s just the sort of chap that lots of industry folks will listen to again and again.

Even the UK’s Nesta produced a report last week that to some extent put smart city technology back in its box whilst trying to explain that people are not peripherals.

To paraphrase Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, “Over the last two decades the label ‘smart city’ has been applied to a family of technologies that can speed up the flow of things around the city and reduce the physical frustrations of urban life.

Many of these innovations are obviously useful. But some of the smart city ideas took a wrong turn, too often emphasising expensive hardware rather than cheaper solutions; too often showcasing technologically interesting ideas rather than responding to citizen’s real needs ; and too often making over– inflated promises that couldn’t be supported by hard evidence.

“That’s why the smart city movement is now turning in a rather different direction. It’s combining the best of new generations of technology . . . . . while also involving citizens much more closely in shaping how cities can work

Both of these siren voices, (MIT and Nesta) coming from a technology viewpoint, are mobilising to articulate their newfound perspectives and appeal to audiences that need to hear them.

No one has a monopoly on wisdom but, by virtue of real world experience, the Intelligent Community Forum (and its ranks of mayors, civic leaders, policy influencers, international jurors and academic assessors) have a great deal of value to share with communities and their leaders.  Shared Thinking is the thing – ‘Intellectual Property’ in this arena is almost oxymoronic – properties not shared are hardly intellectualised.

And the lessons for leaders (and indirectly for systems designers, infrastructure providers and ICT sales managers) are very simple.

Those successful communities identified by ICF have been fortunate to (a) have leaders who last longer than the next election and (b) have grasped and held onto the simple truth that they increasingly live in a digitally-mediated era and every aspect of the way they, their local economy, their communities and culture work must be adapted for this time.  But these, now acknowledged, community leaders did that 10-20 years ago whilst most others were still wondering where the next year might take them.

You might say, ‘if only’; if only we had the infrastructure, if only the schools taught coding, if only, if only . . . but these places have seized their destiny and made all that, and more, happen.

So it is that within the next two years every single property in Mitchell, South Dakota will have access to future-proofed symmetric Gigabit fibre and many already have a choice of three distinct networks – fibre, cable and ADSL.

No one in Mitchell needed to bet on which technology would ‘win’ – no one said that they knew what was good enough for you or your pocket. People and Employers decide according to their needs – but vitally they have that choice.

And whole communities have a choice.

They can choose leaders who can steer their local economies to meet local needs – and they can do that regardless of some distant policy guru in a state or national capital.  That is the essence of municipal enterprise – an empowerment for growth.  And it’s good news that technology ‘Thought Leaders’ around the world are beginning to get that message – people are not peripheral.

_______

The experiences of the ICF Summit will inform the agenda and thrust of NextGen 15 in London on November 5th.  For further information and sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks at NG Event Ltd (marith@nextgenevents.co.uk )

For more information on Municipal Enterprise search on this site (top of page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Future of Business

25 Jun

Future of Business softcover2SMALLWith conventional publishing timelines of 12 – 18 months, expert insights into the future and the concerns of future thinkers are likely to be  delivered far too late for decisive action.

The acclaimed futurist and regular speaker at NextGen events, Rohit Talwar, master-minded production of this impressive work in just 19 weeks. In that process from conception in January to launch this week, Rohit and his team adopted a new business model – one that they hope will lead to many further productions of high quality material.

The Future of Business is exclusively available for order via Fast Future Publishing 2015 – the venture they created in January to tackle the logistics of making their dream a reality.

In 62 chapters bringing together 60 contributing authors from across 21 countries, the Future of Business explores how the commercial world is being transformed by the complex interplay between social, economic and political shifts, disruptive ideas, bold strategies and technological & scientific breakthroughs.

At first sight readers might be daunted by these 566 pages but, edited into 10 sections with chapters averaging 9-10 pages, readers will find it easy to find topics of immediate interest – aided, no doubt, by the online references that perform so much better than printed versions ever could.

MThe book is aimed at the leaders of today and the pioneers of tomorrow – raising awareness of the issues that will confront us long before we are knocked sideways by the supposedly unexpected.  Our future, your future, is not pre-destined but the awareness that society, businesses and individuals can identify and exercise those choices is rarely apparent in life’s daily grind.

If the Future of Business raises your sights and stretches your imagination, then the entire collaborative production process will have been well worth the effort.

_____

Notes:

Rohit Talwar wbsizeRohit Talwar has been a star speaker at many NextGen Events.

The programme for NextGen 15 (November 5th) is currently under development and exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are still available. For more information see http://www.nextgenevents.co.uk/awards or contact Marit Hendriks –  marith@nextgenevents.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many holes in Blackburn, Lancashire – or anywhere else?

21 Jun

 

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

As one of the many great communities that exist beyond the Metro rainbow, Blackburn and its people can stand as a metaphor for 50% of UK economic growth. Blackburn is not even included in the imagination-stretching redefinition of the UK’s 15 Metro Areas – a definition that has Aldershot as part of London. A definition which city lobbyists would claim to ‘make up’ fully 61% of the economy.

Like the rest of the real 50% that’s neither ‘made up’ nor under Whitehall’s devolutionary policy spotlight, Blackburn’s community of enterprises and people may understandably be forgiven for echoing the words of Oliver Hardy – ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into’. But, in reality, the 50% are not alone: much of magic Metro-land also suffers from the same lack of attention to things that have turned out to be really rather important.

The last two weeks have been informative. But here’s a question. What theme links the Niagara Falls and a group of West Country MPs?

Yesterday ISP-review reported that a group of MPs, primarily from Devon and Somerset in England’s South West, have established a new All-Party Parliamentary Group that will investigate the roll-out of broadband.

Wandering the corridors of Westminster are many All-Party Parliamentary Groups that might regard this as their natural territory but, as we are constantly reminded, competition is a spur to innovation.

The new grouping may waste time by trying to pin the blame on the usual suspects, or, more positively, they might perhaps focus their minds on how to get out of this communications cul-de-sac. If reports are accurate, there’s a faint glimmer of hope: “it’s important to keep an eye on alternative network operators that can do some of the jobs”.

But that is merely a tactical reaction. Wake Up calls – Seriously Shocking Wake Up Calls – usually follow some undeniable crisis. The question, therefore, is whether the new group of MPs is driven to complain about inconveniences or recognize and demand attention to a real full-blown crisis.

But what has any of this this to do with the Niagara Falls? Another metaphor.

Horseshoe FallsIn the margins of the 2015 Global Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum in Toronto we took time out to visit. We transitioned from intense conference sessions led by mayors, civic leaders and progressive communities from around the world to standing right alongside this unstoppable force of nature.

Whilst many places struggle, the energy of leaders of the world’s foremost Intelligent Communities (note – much more than merely ‘smart’) clearly demonstrated how these places were succeeding, principally because they have held on to a truth that others have yet to fully grasp.

These inspired leaders have thought through the diverse impacts of living and working in a digitally mediated world. They see a world that demands much more than some short-term fix, ‘enough to be going on with’, or soothing reassurance that things will be OK if we muddle through.

They see all too clearly that we live in a time of ‘peak snake oil’: that like the unstoppable forces of nature, they, their people, their local economies, their cultures, must adapt to the new realities and not be satisfied by convenient short-term fixes. Fortunate indeed are these places that have leaderships that last way beyond electoral cycles and principles that were set down 15 or 20 years ago.

Standing alongside those thundering great falls, no one can deny their never-ending force. No one can dismiss this force as some impossible dream that we do not need, cannot afford, or could not cope with – leastways, maybe, perhaps, not just yet?

The West Country MPs, the good folks of Blackburn, the vast bulk of our economy, whether in or out of Metroland, even those technological romantics who imagine that maybe 5G will be a panacea (but overlook the need for backhaul to support thousands of 250m-radius cell sites), cannot ignore the reality that the future of our next and subsequent generations hinge on getting real;  rejecting woefully inadequate technologies and a scary devotion to old models that have long passed their sell-by date.

Please don’t waste time on the blame game, on fixing holes. Patches are for pirates. Okay – it’s a pity the last three decades were wasted but the time is now to sit down, decide what is really needed in 2030 and set about delivering it a good deal earlier.  It is far cheaper and yet far more valuable than you have been led to believe – if you (and your children) really want it.

____

Readers may also appreciate our discussion paper written as preparation for the ICF Global Summit and a brief (4-minute) script – the ‘Ten Eggs‘ talk,

 

 

 

 

 

 

ICF Global Summit – Part 2

19 Jun

tumblr_inline_nq2npvt2RU1qczte2_500

For a broader summary of the events in Toronto last week I defer to ICF’s Norman Jacknis and his highlight selections at http://bit.ly/1GlyCy6

The concentration of ideas, perspectives and opportunities to meet with mayors and civic leaders from around the world was brilliantly refreshing.  Every year we find ourselves lifted above the fray – once again proving that a ‘retreat’ is most often an advance.

The inspiration from this year’s gathering in Toronto will hugely inform our work on the agenda for NextGen 15 in London and our Digital Challenge Awards event in the House of Lords on November 5th.

 

 

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