Archive | July, 2015

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?

 

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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.

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This article also available in Greek via New Diaspora magazine