Archive | October, 2013

Not symmetric, not fast, not super, not fibre – and not relevant.

29 Oct

hi=-tech buildingThe ‘Cities-are-Supreme’ brigade gathered for the RSA’s Cities Growth Commission launch yesterday.  They seemed oddly united in their view that rural dwellers should accept relative broadband poverty and stop whining.  The city enthusiasts may be searching for economic growth but curiously they overlook the poverty of digital infrastructures within their own cities.

Thirty years ago, as a young teenager, my son watched TV ads with far greater interest than he summoned for any of the programmes.  Eventually he concluded that you should always ask, ‘Why are they telling me this?’

In the late 1800’s an early expert in the new field of advertising reckoned that the message should be delivered 20 times before it gained acceptance.   From childhood we know the power of repetition.

It may be heroic engineering to squeeze a little data through a copper wire designed to do something completely different but that alone is no cause for celebration.

It may be commercially ‘prudent’ to avoid paying tax (and a tad less than communitarian or socially responsible) and it may be ‘convenient’ to overlook the provisions for asset replacement funding but we should not celebrate this prudent convenience – we should ask, ‘Prudent and convenient for whom?’

Next year no doubt someone will come up with the idea of ‘celebrating’ the 30th anniversary of the privatisation of British Telecom.  For free market enthusiasts the timing was fortuitous.  They got it off the government books five years before the penny dropped and digital communications became understood as an essential utility.  But no matter – we could pretend that we now had choice.

Even better – now we had a market we could also have a market regulator.  Oftel did a really great job – determinedly reducing prices (remember RPI-x?) and, as the incumbent felt so squeezed, the regulator very reasonably allowed that an irreducible part of their line rental charges should compensate for their need to fund the replacement of the ageing copper network on an 18-year basis.

By that reckoning we should by now all be benefitting from an access network rebuilt nearly twice over but, curiously, it seems not to have happened quite that way.   Far more convenient it seems to try and squeeze digital data down copper wires and extract much value as possible from the legacy analogue network before anyone suggests that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.  Yes, we are back to children’s stories and endless repetition. These clothes are super. They are fast. Say it often enough and folks will buy it.

Fortunately we are blessed with children who do not buy it.   They know that these clothes are not woven with fibre.  They know they are not fit for purpose.  They know that muddling through with not do.  They know that so-called ‘fibre broadband’ is not fully fibred, is not super, is not fast, is not symmetric, is not future-proofed and is not relevant for they way we live now.

They also know that they’ve been massively let down by a generation who trusted too much and did not dare to ask, “Why are they telling me this?”

The City Growth Commission will ask lots of questions – mostly about empowerment of cities, their leadership and their capacity to prosper.  In gathering evidence they’ll not apparently be asking, ‘Where are the UK’s Gigabit-Cities and who is building them?


Next Generation Digital Challenge Awards 2013

15 Oct

The applause has died down,  trophies carried home with pride and certificates most probably now being framed and mounted on office walls across the country – this year’s Digital Challenge Awards programme is finally over.

Our congratulations to all the Finalists, the runners-up and the trophy winners in each of the six categories.  Perhaps even more important than last night’s awards ceremony were the two conference sessions at NextGen 13 when 20 of the finalists presented vignettes of their work. The real impacts of the digital economy were on display – lifting delegates’ minds from the ongoing battle-front for better broadband and delivering  great and diverse examples of what it all means for ordinary people and businesses.

They may only have been a runner-up in the Digital Skills category but Rachel Barratt of Enfield Libraries was a star as she recounted how six-form students were patiently helping the over 50’s – and how both the youngsters and the elderly benefitted from the experience.   This ‘intergenerational project’ was just one example of how Tinder deserved to win the main award – the Tinder Foundation’s ‘learn my way’ course fuelled the Enfield project but Tinder actually scooped the prize for their Digital Housing Hub.

These and other stories are now available online .

Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to everyone who took part.

For a flavour of the NextGen 13 conference see the excellent coverage by ITProPortal or visit NextGen 13.

The Normal Diversity – Internet Study lays bare the digital realities

3 Oct

OxIS report cover For 10 years the Oxford Internet Institute has been studying the phenomenon of recent times; watching online activities grow, spreading into all corners of the UK’s economy & government and changing the way we all work, learn and play.

For 10 years they have charted the emergence and fluctuating fortunes of innovative services, new devices that make their usage easier, the gradual growth of better broadband access networks and the shifting demand for digital skills matched to global opportunities.

Now in their 10th year the researchers have concluded that the Internet is normal.

Not only is it normal – no longer in any way a remarkable phenomenon – but it seems, in our diverse attitudes to it, to be comfortingly reflective of the major personality traits of the population.

The 2013 OxIS report maps five distinct cultural groups amongst the 78% of the population who are in some way digitally touched.  These groups range from the wildly enthusiastic (the ‘e-Mersives’) through to those who are distinctly uncomfortable about the Internet (the ‘Adigitals).

OxIS 5 cultures In our generally tolerant island population, 37% of Internet users, the largest single group, are classified as ‘cyber-moderates’ – accepting the benefits but moderate in both their hopes and fears.

The groupings do not, apparently, align with age demographics, life-stages, socio-economic classifications, employment status, or even the long-standing notion of ‘digital natives’ that youngsters born during this era are universally enthusiastic Internet adopters.  Moreover there was no evidence that these Internet Culture classifications were unstable despite a small drop in the proportion of users who believe there is too much immoral material online.

But they also imply a warning for a government pinning hopes for economic recovery rooted in UK on-line success.  The three more-enthusiastic culture groups may not yet have the scale to fuel internationally competitive growth.  It provokes a question – how can ‘Cyber-Moderates’ and ‘Adigitals’ become more engaged, and are we not all constrained by access infrastructures?

Slightly more controversially, and probably counter-intuitively for bloggers and blog-readers, researchers found a distinct cooling of enthusiasm for Social Media.  This effect may however be explained by the research methodology not perhaps moving fast enough to catch the trends towards newer Social Media services – or simply that the noise of the Internet is generated by relatively few very active users and more than balanced by the great and growing weight of ‘Cyber-Moderates’ and ‘Adigitals’.

Observers with a more global perspective such as Robert Bell of the Intelligent Community Forum point out that there are marked differences between the usage patterns of countries and even between different States of the USA.  Although not part of the OxIS work, researchers who probe the diversity of behaviours evident in populations of different countries will be fascinated by the parallels between the widely accepted Five Factor Model of personality traits and the OxIS five cultures of the Internet.  Both Robert Bell and OxIS report co-author Professor William Dutton will be speaking at NextGen 13 at Wembley (October 14th & 15th) and we can expect to hear a great deal more insight into this quite complex study.

Other highlights of that 2-day event include many new topics that one might not expect to hear at a conference (now in its 6th year) that was originally founded to campaign for better broadband infrastructure investment.  Those battles are still being fought, particularly away from urban centres, but the acknowledged pervasiveness of the Internet leads directly to concerns about digital skills, collaborative creativity, the openness of data and the plight of the 20% who, according to OxIS, have not yet encountered the Internet at a time when it has become pervasively normal and an increasingly essential utility.

It’s no great surprise, then to find that the NextGen 13 team has themed this year’s conference ‘Changing Agendas: shifting broadband futures’.  The oft-used term ‘Digital Economy’ becomes redundant now that the pre-qualifier ‘digital’ is no longer a significant differentiator within the entire UK economy.

If folks want to understand the nature and diversity of what it means to be British perhaps they need only to look at our diverse attitudes to the Internet and what it is to be normal?


NextGen 13 is a 2-day conference and exhibition at Wembley on October 14th and 15th 2013.

For details of the agenda, speakers, exhibitors and registrations please refer to the website.