Monday, January 05, 2009

Fibre to the door

Dizzy writes of a David Cameron promise:

So, if we're going to have "fibre to the door" how will a Conservative Government "do everything it can to make it happen"? Does this mean breaking up BT Openreach's maintenance monopoly on the final leg loop between exchange and door? Or does it mean increasing it? Or is it just a pointless promise that will soon become a mere aspiration?
The great Bill Deedes suggested a solution to this problem, years ago, and his idea happened to be something I'd been suggesting myself at the time, to anyone who couldn't get away quickly enough.

Deedes suggested a new industry be created - conduit provision. Put it to tender, make bidders buy bundles of high and low density population areas so every part of the country is covered. Dig the roads up once more, but only once more. Provide a network of multi-chambered conduits in which every supplier of existing and new services has to rent space. It would be a huge upheaval, but thereafter any new type of service would have a significantly reduced cost of provisioning supplies to domestic and/or commercial properties.

There's an analogy in the (botched) privatisation of the railways in the UK. In that case, the tracks on which trains run were sold separately to the train services themselves. What was missing was competition. The rail tracks should have been sold to a number of suppliers so individual companies could fail and have their franchises taken over by the more successful. A similar pattern has been successful in the field of regional independent television franchises.

Despite the flexibility of wireless communications, wired ones still carry significant advantages, especially of bandwidth. If new technologies, and improvements of old ones, could be rolled out through existing channels (literally) the barriers to their introduction would be significantly reduced.

There's also an economy of maintenance and provisioning available: it must be cheaper to maintain a single conduit system for telephone & internet, cable TV, electricity, gas, even water (we still use a lot of Victorian water pipes for distribution and there's a lot of leakage) than separate ones for each.

It's an idea of Victorian scale, ambition and confidence. But then, Deedes in some ways might have been the last Victorian.


Anonymous said...

Would you include the sewers?

Vindico said...

Utter nonsense. The Broadband Stakeholder Group looked at the costs involved. £28.8bn for FTTH.

Realistically WiMAX and other wireless technologies will adequately fill the gap where a mix of FTTC and VDSL cannot reach.

Peter Risdon said...

Isn't that sort of cost the type of barrier the Deedes proposal was intended to ameliorate?

Anonymous said...

"In that case, the tracks on which trains run were sold separately to the train services themselves"

You are correct, but you either don't know, or choose not to point out, that this outcome was required by European Directive.

The problem was not the privatisation itself, but the European Communities Act 1972.

Peter Risdon said...

"this outcome was required by European Directive."

I didn't know that, thanks for pointing it out.