Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Revolutionary Idea

It's not unusual for me to be controversial, but today I'm going to put forward a radical proposition.

Some time ago I consulted with OFCOM on the concept of a 'Public Service Publisher', a kind of alternative to mainstream media creating content - or something like that. No one was quite sure what it was, in fact, and the project has hit the rails.

However, in a room full of TV professionals, all representing different social, political and commercial views, I was the only one who stood up and said that bandwidth provision needed to be equal. I was poo-pooed by the largely urban crowd around me.

Now, as BT quietly shelve the C21 rollout and the row between ISPs and the BBC simmers, the issue of bandwidth provision has to be back on the agenda.

And here's my radical thought: nationalise the broadband backbone.

Enable investment in fibre and then let commercial interests (including the BBC) lease out capacity.

There is a precedent to this. Railtrack was re-nationalised. In my opinion the railways are one of the few industries that do not benefit from competition. Indeed, it starves investment as shareholders need to be paid.

I would argue that broadband provision would similarly benefit from central investment and create a level playing field for the conflicting commercial interests in the broadband market.

1 comment:

Phoneranger said...

Back in the day (as a US railroad consultant) we called this POROW. Public Ownership of Right of Way. Even though the private RRs had underinvested in physical infrastructure for 50 years and had no spare funds, they hated the idea. They were (justifiably) worried that a govt. run operation like our FAA would be a bureaucratic nightmare. But their real concerns were competition. They didn't want any. With POROW, any train operator could serve any customer at his marginal cost. Long story short, they killed POROW back in the 80s, here in the states at least. The RRs got their wind back and are now minting profits. Because they don't have effective competition for much of their business. OTOH airlines who have POROW via airports and the FAA are close to bankruptcy. Which outcome is better? For the companies. For consumers.