PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

OK Tony, now for God’s sake show us you mean it.
February 00

There has been a continual stream of specious waffle from politicians about the vital importance of cherishing and nurturing our online industries, and the need to support our competitive position with the rest of the world. It is currently all talk and no serious do. So no surprises there. Quite apart from the fact that we pay loads more for telecoms in the UK than the US, there is the issue of the startling and crass inefficiency of the folks that (allegedly) plug the networks together and manage this most precious national resource.

One of the first things New Labour did when arriving in office was cut a deal with BT to allow BT plan to deliver video on demand via its infrastructure in return for some woolly deal on connecting schools to the internet. BT has complained loudly about certain “impositions” that have allegedly required BT to open up to competition, but with profits at £140 a second, I don’t think anyone is really too bothered. Do you..? And especially since connecting people to the internet is not a very big deal at all these days, with everyone apparently about to enter a race to start paying the punters to go surfing in order to get spammed and marketed at! 

The UK telecoms scene is (like most others in most other countries) famous for a level of ineptitude and crass mismanagement that leads to stunning incompetence at the operative level. Even where competition exists, it has all the elegance and plausibility of a trampoline competition between Billy Bunter and A Very Fat Person Indeed.

I tried to get a 2Mbit leased circuit installed from UUNET, the UK’s leading ISP, and a division of the mighty WorldCom organisation, and the saga starts on September 1st 1999.

Our contact man said (foolishly):

Not exactly greased lighting, but at least your 2mbit circuit is ordered. Install 31 day max from yesterday, but it is on priority order, so expect less ..........

It is November 12th, and still it hasn’t happened. Yes, we are no looking at the penalty clause, and about to enjoy some of those £140/second profits for ourselves. In this time, someone in the office started thinking about buying a flat, looked for one, and has now bought it and is living in it.

A man has sat outside here today in his BT van, reading the paper for about 6 hours. If outfits like BT, who seem to be largely above the sort of competitive reality that afflicts mere mortals, got more things right and fewer things wrong, then there would be more capacity in the system. It seems accepted that hardly anything actually gets down “right first time”, and there is a culture of complacency, cockup and failure throughout the entire operation.

The job was eventually completed and commissioned 4 days later, and had they got it right first time, then they could have done a few more jobs that are at the end of a very long queue.

BT’s local competition comes from the cable operator, Telewest, and a request for a 2M leased line, submitted to TW at the start of November, will now be attended to (allegedly) around mid January. The Millennium uncertainty was cited as one reason (in the context of “we don’t actually know what’s likely to happen, so we are hedging our bets and not making too many promises).

It’s all very well recounting the numerous tales of telecom cock-ups and problems, a magazine ten times the size of Shopper could be filled each month with similar anecdotes, so how do we do anything about it..? BT can apparently afford to discount the current costs of its contractual failure – I know someone that got £14k from BT because someone in BT planning failed to take into account the issues of stringing ISDN in the country.

The country handed BT a licence to print money when it was privatised in order to attract investment that successive governments had failed to provide for 30 years. The moment of privatisation was actually incredibly fortuitous, as it coincided precisely with the arrival of technology that effectively replaced the entire nightmare of massively unreliable electromechanical switchgear with low maintenance solid state solutions. And it’s just got easier and easier since then for BT to make money from being inefficient. Huge exchange buildings that once housed tons of unreliable switchgear have been replaced by something the size of a few fridges.

And there’s probably no reason why local government should not actually invest in BT on behalf of the local taxpayers to get the Queens Super Highway laid and serviced, and raised to the level of local political significance, which is something that might even liven up this otherwise turgid bureaucracy. And then the dream of coordinated road digging might be a step nearer if the local council actually made some effort to manage all the sub-surface services.  

This subject of getting high speed access to every premise in the country, not just the handful that are convenient and cheap to reach, remains far too important for the future of the nation to be in the hands of the incorrigible fumblers like BT and their so-called (mostly foreign owned) competition.