Invest in Fibre not High Speed Trains

15 Feb 2016

Yesterday I broke the Internet. Don’t worry, not the whole Internet, just my bit and all of the connections downstream of me and the exchange. The problem, I tried to share 3 GB of designs and images with my design team. My line to the exchange was only capable of a max upload speed of 34 Kb/ps.

When I phoned my ISP to beg for a way to solve my pain, their solution was to stop uploading such "large files". When Google processes 20 Petabytes of data a day, and pays proportionately less tax than me, uploading 3 Gb doesn't seem that much.

It turns out that it would have been as quick to mail the data on a memory stick to the designers than upload it.
So to the small business park and my neighbours whose Internet didn’t work yesterday, I'm sorry. But it isn't completely my fault and I would like to direct our frustration at the political classes and regulators who have failed us.

I am trying to run a business from my home. Technology means I can connect with clients and delivery teams, managing and orchestrating to get things done through my laptop. I can work anywhere with anybody, as long as I have an Internet connection.

The challenge is that Openreach, who owns and manages the cabling infrastructure, drives greater profit through minimising investment and roll-out in their network. My ISP confirmed that Openreach have no plans for any upgrades to our area. The argument is likely to be the spatial concentration of homes and business makes it a low priority for investment.

But I don't live in some far-flung part of the country. My house is within 30 miles of London and lies within 5 miles of tech-giants IBM, Microsoft and Adobe. But still my Internet connection is bad enough to affect my ability to run and manage my business.

Openreach are a natural monopoly, and beyond trials such as Talk Talk and Sky in York, it is generally is uneconomic for competitors to develop their own infrastructure. This and BT's ownership of Openreach, means the solution lies in better regulation and government investment.

Government and Ofcom need to pull out their collective fingers and sort out the comparatively slow roll out of fibre-optic and/or high-speed mobile broadband. The government's pledge to deliver 'high-speed' broadband downloads of 24 Mb/ps by 2020 is insufficient. For one thing it fails to incorporate upload speeds, something that is a constraint of cable and ADSL technology.

Businesses and people don't only download things, they also produce and share information. So unless we are able to move from copper onto fibre optic or over the air equivalents the pledge is insufficient and parts of the country will be unable to embrace the global mega trend of remote distributed working.

Whilst the UK Government fails to address the Internet needs of the nation, it has invested £80 billion in trains and HS2. This aims to create a high speed train link between Euston and Birmingham New Street by 2026 and reduce travel time by around 30-40 minutes.
Coincidentally, the project I killed my Internet for requires me to travel to Oldbury, Birmingham once a month. It takes around 1 hour 45 minutes to drive there from my home, about an hour longer than HS2. But the £80bn investment fails to address the 1 hour journey either side to Euston and Oldbury. I'm also highly expectant that by 2026 I'll be able to travel in my self-driving car, freeing up my time for work and still arriving an hour before I would have done if I took the fast train.

The train was a critical element of the Industrial Revolution, but it has since been superseded. This makes George Osborne’s vow to return Britain to a golden Victorian age of train travel rather depressing.

It is also indicative of government and regulators inability to understand the impact of digital technology on our lives and their responsibility to drive change and make fast Internet connections universally accessible and affordable.

Digital makes the world flat. Reduced journey times between our major cities does not enhance our global competitiveness. Ensuring accessible, universal and fast broadband will enable us to connect anywhere, anytime and with anyone. Geographic location is increasingly virtualised and success is built on attracting the best talent to make the best teams.

For all those people frustrated by a slow Internet connection it needs to be our mission to redirect the £80 billion investment from HS2 into high speed fibre and get the government and Ofcom to deliver the broadband infrastructure we need to prosper and allow me to build my business.

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