I agreed to an extension of my BT Broadband contract only because the potential new supplier of super-fast fibre-optic broadband, who was going to install cable to every door in the village, suddenly decided it couldn’t compete with the arrival of BT Infinity.
I was offered the new Infinity at a price that was less than I had been paying for the old Broadband (was I being stiffed?) and continued to include free BT Sport (important for followers of rugby union). With a heavy heart, I accepted. I am not a fan of BT.
The first thing that happened was the arrival of two chunky boxes, one containing a new Infinity wi-fi router, and another with a new box of tricks, called YouView. This was (is) a link between the BT hub and my TV, and would allow me to watch all manner of TV confections via its online connection.
Previously I had had a free subscription to BT Sport on Sky, but now I had to plumb in half a dozen cables and install an HDMI splitter to accommodate all the options. Good job I have a son who understands all this technical stuff. Finally I got the thing to work.
So far, so good. The only problem with this less than elegant solution, however, is my location. The house is on a hilltop (hence the company name) with spectacular views, but is on the edge of the village and half a mile from the telephone exchange. The fibre-optic cabling that powers Infinity only goes from the exchange to the nearest cabinet, which in my case is in the centre of the village, nearly half a mile away.
From the cabinet to here, the signal comes via the same old copper cable it always used. The longer the distance, the greater the speed diminishes. As a result, I was getting around 8MB download speed – not enough to power the HD channel consistently.
To give them their due, OpenReach sent an operative to fix things after my complaint, and did so by installing a new phone-line socket into the house, which means I do have 37MB download speed now (though still less than 10MB upload, which would be an issue if I were trying to run a business requiring large file transfers from here.)
But this question of infra-structure is a major problem for anyone in a rural location.
Mostly I blame the politicians. BT has been allowed to continue as a near-monopoly utility (certainly outside the major centres of population, where all the easy money is), providing a sub-standard service – or in some places, no service at all.
With flexible working, hot desking and other 21st century working practices (like taking your laptop to the pub and pretending to be busy, while posting a lot of tosh on FaceBook), more and more people are working from home. There are dozens in my village alone. Yet we still do not have a communications network that works efficiently outside the major conurbations. South Korea has better (much better) connectivity than we do. And it’s not just BT. The mobile signal is dreadful and patchy too.
Yet we are a first-world country that has taken to the digital world like a duck to water. We are more enthusiastic users of online services and shopping than almost anywhere on the planet. We have more high-tech spin-outs from university research departments than you can shake a stick at. But still we leave the core infra-structure – the thing most needed to give the country a real competitive advantage – to a bloated dinosaur of a corporation, which shows little sign of investing seriously in connecting every part of the country, from John O’Groats to Land End, to the high-speed network that it is supposedly charged with doing.
Much of this is down to the political classes – of all parties, equally guilty – of having no clear vision of what the country’s core aims and objectives should be, never mind how they might be achieved. Like a drifting business, if you have no vision or values, or any key objectives to aspire to, you limp along from one crisis to the next.
The current administration, having acquired an unexpectedly healthy majority, is squandering it on a campaign (the EU farrago) designed chiefly to try to heal (or at least take the sting out of) its own party’s horrendous foreign-policy divisions. Instead of concentrating on giving the country the class-leading infra-structure that might, just might, put the Great back into Britain.
And not just in digital connectivity either. But in transport (how much longer do we have to wait for some real leadership on London’s airports? Why is HS2 still dragging on? Why are our roads being allowed to deteriorate – especially out here in the sticks?) And in power generation: we are still wedded to an outdated system of central generation and distribution, which is hugely wasteful and costly, and benefits only a small handful of mega corporations. And don’t get me started on the farce that is the new nuclear plant at Hinckley Point (not that I am in favour of nuclear anyway).
If GB were a business, the insolvency practitioners would be all over it like a bad suit. What? Oh, they are.
Businesses (and countries) that fail to articulate clear aims, objectives, visions and values, generally also struggle to establish any competitive advantage.
If you don’t know where you are trying to get to, how can you expect your staff (or population) to help you to get there?
Time spent on this stuff is not wasted, however long your ‘To Do’ list is. In fact, the longer it is, the more urgent it is to address these core issues.
The longer you put it off, the worse it will get.
David Croydon: 01844 237450/07836 334150 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.hilltopconsultancy.co.uk and www.mandateam.co.uk