PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

A tick in the box for HMG
October 2001 

Her Majesty’s Government is known to be less than impressed with the efforts of the new UK telecommunications “cartel” that is mostly now represented by just three players: BT, Telewest and NTL. HMG is nevertheless very happy to have taken £24bn from this gullible industry over the matter of cellphones.

The slow speed of rollout of so-called “broadband” services has attracted much comment, and various initiatives have been tried to get telcos to wire up the further reaches of the empire – places like remote crofts in the Shetlands. Go to Google and type in “grant highlands Scotland broadband” and you will be regaled by many millions of pounds-worth of announcements of efforts to keep the picts in their remote crofts using a solutions that’s a lot more expensive than Hadrian’s Wall ever was.

The latest news is that BT Openworld has cut a deal, mostly in camera according to industry sources who feel cut out from being able to compete in the bid, with Israeli satellite service company Gilat, to import 2-way satellite systems that will offer barely ISDN performance to those locations that cannot get services any other way., To describe the proposed service as “broadband” is to pervert the terminology even more than usual. A single satellite transponder can generally handle a total bandwidth of around 35Mbits, so let’s do a few sums, and you will discover that all the satellite capacity across Europe does not equate to a single strand of modern wave division multiplex fibre..

10,000 users of 35Mbit means each user gets 3500bps. I had a dial up modem in 1985 that did better than that. I have no doubt at all that those involved will wave their arms expansively and talk about contention ratio, and worst case scenarios, but the fact of the matter is that the use of satellite for 2-way internet services is purely to kid the nation that BT can deliver “broadband” to anywhere – and thus Her Majesty’s Government can kid a few more voters that the job is getting done. (To be more specific, it’s actually an Italian ISP and Israeli equipment maker being fronted by BT Openworld.)

So when you read about broadband in this context, remember that HMG’s own report defines broadband as: “services provided at speeds of 2Mbit/s and over. “


But why does a rural population want to migrate to hell-holes like Glasgow or London anyway..? I don’t think it’s assurances of the availability of ISDN or even ADSL. In a very short space of time, this government, which made up of assorted metropolitan bigots and their chums from the urban glitterati in the outposts of Islington and Hampstead, has done its level best to dismantle the way of country life that has sustained the rural community in the UK for a few thousands of years.

The effort to bring broadband to the outer reaches of Hebrides and to establish the University of the Highlands and Islands are typical vacuous but politically correct gestures from this government (remember, the PM is Scottish, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is Scottish and so are numerous other ministers – and Scotland has now got its own parliament, don’t forget).

Since much of the premise supporting the case for rural broadband is distance learning, then why does it need to exist as another costly institution anyway..? This actually raises a key issue for all of us concerned with the PM’s fixation of “education, education, education” – and that is “duplication, duplication, duplication”.

Consider the idea of having all students in a subject taught by the very best tutors, and beamed around he country (or world) to individual desktops as either live interactive sessions, or as VoD. Why not have the top Maths teacher in front of a camera and synchronised whiteboard to teach all the kids in a specific (and easily filtered audiences based on readily assessed abilities, through the medium of telecommunications..? Unlike the so-called “broadband” or “turbo internet” services, using satellite for broadcast on the basis of one to many is an eminently sensible use of the medium.

I’ll tell you why, the educational establishment in this and other countries is scared to death of the idea. The educational system provides many a sinecure for the marginally talented to hide away in peace and quite from the real world, and the last thing they want is competition for their jobs, and easy exposure of their inadequacies. Ironically, the biggest duffers with the most to lose (and hide) tend to be those further up the food chain, the teachers at the coal face are generally worked to death and conscientious – and specifically being kept away from the revolutionary technology that would transform their lives.

The last word goes to the headline from


“The report commits the Executive to spending more than £40m over the next 3 years to help Scotland develop into a knowledge-based, globally competitive, inclusive economy.”

So yes, I think perhaps these folks do need the education, after all.

But let them pay for themselves, in the same way that farmers are now being told to pay for the next bout of foot and mouth. Some of us are very weary of watching the quangos and political fellow travellers of this government eking out their sinecures (which is paid for in part from taxation raised outside their own country) in this fashion while the relatively New Labour vote-free zones of rural England are being flushed away in disinfectant.