Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mayflies In An Elephant World

There are days I get up and think 'maybe things aren't so bad' - the UK isn't in the same place as Greece or even Italy, is it ? But the trouble is, politicians are mayflies in an elephant's world. They work on the same principles that are followed by the bankers who fund them. A day is a long time, a year is eternity and anything beyond the next next bonus, sorry, election, is irrelevant.

The current UK Government has many failings but they have started to tackle issues like transport and energy security that were an anathema to their predecessors. We need more railways and nuclear power stations and we needed them a decade ago. If we had them, entering wars in the Middle East for oil wouldn't be necessary.

But as with any company, you will have weak spots. The Home Office is clearly a mess and Vince Cable is clearly working on policies he doesn't believe in. The management team is hardly unified.

But there are areas that could have been sorted which are just breathtaking. One of them is 4G. The Americans have had high speed mobile for ages, as have the Scandinavians, Koreans, etc, etc.. We're still waiting to shut off analogue telly and to sort out our military (how did the country who did so well at war down the ages manage to develop the most incompetent military bureaucrats in the world ?).

Jeremy Hunt is obsessed with local telly and pluralism, which are both very important issues. But surely making sure that every Brit has better and faster connections to the outside world trumps saving the city, building roads and rail and airports (you don't need them if you have great bandwidth). Meanwhile, making up spurious initiatives around the 'Silicon Roundabout' and inflationary house building are madness when the main things we now export are finance, education and software services, all of which demand world class bandwidth.

I'm no economist, but my gut feel is that for every pound spent on making sure we get 100MB bandwidth at reasonable prices to every person in the UK we will make a thousand times back in imports and revenue. Certainly, this is what my companies prove. I can no longer work from my home in Wales, where bandwidth has deteriorated in rural areas to farcical levels, but I can run a company that imports almost all of its inputs and exports almost all of its outputs, from my sofa in London, making a lot of money for HMRC in the process. So I will go where the bandwidth is. Everything else is irrelevant....

But this is tomorrow's vision, so having a press conference with Google and Microsoft and Facebook is the political mayflies' way of showing 'tech creds' and 'future thinking'. We might have decent 4G in urban areas by 2014 (a technology that has been around for more than five years and is reasonably cheap to implement). That means we are five years behind the real, developed world. But that, of course dear reader, is in the next election cycle....