Grant Shapps – need for speed?

Used with permission from
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP

People (e.g. the Guardian) are clearly out to get Grant Shapps MP, and given their bias you can see why. But he’s not helping with the publication of his recent report, which he and British Infrastructure Group of MPs have wittly titled “Broadbad” (PDF format).

It’s calling for Openreach to be made independent of the remainder of BT, in order for the public to get the “super-fast” broadband we need if we’re not to revert to the stone-age. They claim that BT has wasted 1.7Bn on rolling out this technological artery to rural areas, yet 5.7M household’s don’t have the “minimum required” speed of 10Mb.

I say wrong, wrong and wrong.

First off, Openreach hasn’t received 1.7Bn for the rural broadband project. It’s only received about a third of that, and it’s a project in progress.

Secondly, I’d dispute that 5.7M households have yet to be connected. This is based on an old Ofcom report using figures available before the project got under way.

Thirdly, the case for 10Mb+ Internet connections to homes  h as not been met. It’s justified because the UK will “lag behind” countries like Japan and South Korea. So what?

The UK lags behind the USA in gun crime; should we therefore relax restrictions on firearms ownership? “Lagging behind” per se does not matter a jot. Their justification as to why we need higher speeds amounts to “Ofcom have shown that as consumers get better download speeds, they consume more data”. No sh*t, Sherlock!

So what is this data people are consuming? Basically Netflix. Only video has the “need” for high throughput Internet connection, and although this might help the bottom line of OTT media providers, it’s hard to see any other economic benefits to anyone.

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According to the report, Spain also has faster connections than our unlucky punters; so if they’re trying to correlate domestic broadband speeds with economic virility, they’ve shot their fox.

As I’ve said before, the whole concept is insane. Streaming video requires about 2Mbps. How many streams does a household need?

Most other high-usage domestic customers are, basically, pirating media. They need fast upload speeds for that, which aren’t really mentioned in the report. Why should the public purse be subsidising either OTT operators or pirates?

A few weeks ago I tackled someone from the Home Office about this crazy idea, and the reasoning behind it was more cynical than I thought. It’s only one civil servant’s opinion, but my contact has a pretty good idea about how government really works.

Consider all the infrastructure projects we could be working on; things that would benefit the country. There’s road and rail networks (HS2 is a drop in the ocean), the national grid, water supply and sewers. How about a sustainable transport network, as it’s a certainty we’re going to need one. All these cost serious money, with the exchequer hasn’t got. But the government has to be seen to be investing in infrastructure. The cheap option is to roll out mad-speed Internet. They can claim it’s needed for business; voters have no idea what a megabit of data can actually be used for. And the public want it. They don’t need it, but that’s not the point. They want it.

If you tell Mondeo Man his broadband is lagging behind the Spaniards, he’ll want something done about it. (If you tell him to wire up the house properly instead of using WiFi, it’d be in one ear and out the other.)

So, by making a fuss about broadband speeds and then demanding action from BT, and throwing relatively little money about, the government can look like it’s dealing decisively with a pressing issue.

As for Mr Shapps, he claims to have been in the Internet business before becoming an MP. He should know better, but it turns out he had a web development company so probably doesn’t know the difference between a kilobit and a megabit either. If only he’d asked.

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