June 16, 2009

Don't tax my phone line

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8102756.stm

So the latest great completely stupid idea of the government is for all of us with phone lines to pay £6 a year to make Britain “the digital capital of the world”.

Wonderful. By 2017, our internet speed will have caught up with where Japan and South Korea are… um… well, where they are in 2009.

Something doesn’t seem quite right with this deal…

- 3 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Mike Willis

    Japan and South Korea often come up in discussions about broadband speed in the US or UK. Japan and South Korea have higher population density than the UK and the fantastic speeds quoted for those countries are probably (I can’t be bothered to look it up) only available in the densest urban areas anyway.Tthe urban sprawl of which Tokyo is a part contains around 35 million people and the population density is around 5000 people per square kilometre. The UK population density is 250. So the logistics are rather different.
    Also, certainly in the case of Japan, their infrastructure is a lot newer that ours so doesn’t present as much of a hindrance to progress.

    We the tax payers will be paying for the infrastructure upgrading anyway since fibre optic runs are sadly not something found in nature, so I don’t personally have a problem with a 50p a month levy on phone lines to help raise the cash. That personal who came up with the phrase ‘digital capital of the world’ shouldn’t be allowed to speak in meetings any more.

    17 Jun 2009, 12:51

  2. I can’t agree with the assertion that the logistics are too different to compare the countries. Whilst Japan may have a higher population density than the UK (333 people/km² to 253 people/km²) it is actually somewhat less urban (66% compared to 90%; figures yanked from the CIA World Factbook). If a country with a higher population density is supposed to find it easier to have higher average broadband speeds, surely that should be even more true for higher urbanisation rates?

    Yes, Japan’s infrastructure started off new. But that’s because they realised they needed it. The UK of course decided that it was too much time/money/effort to do that, and just tried to build more and more on top of phone lines. That’s why you can only get fast speeds off private networks (e.g. Virgin cable) which then only serve the areas which are going to maximise profit for its owners.

    In terms of raw figures, I raise you this document from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation published last year. You’ll see that not only does it state that Japan and the UK both have the same household penetration at 55% (which in my view makes it perfectly reasonable to claim that Japan’s urban uptake of broadband is at most 5 percentage points above that of the UK), but it also states that Japan’s average broadband speed is already 63.6Mbps. Now if we give every household in the country 50Mbps by 2017, our average broadband speed will be… well, 50Mbps. That’s still behind where Japan has already been and only just ahead of where South Korea currently stands. Where will these two nations be by 2017? What about the Scandinavian countries?

    I also don’t understand why most people assume that installation of fibre optics implies digging up roads everywhere. Heck, “100Mbps broadband via sewers not a new idea nor a hugely expensive one. However, if the approach of ripping up all the roads is where the people in charge want to take it, then that’s fine by me.

    What would be really nice is if, while they’re at it, they could give me a mains gas connection, given I’m less than 15 miles from a North Sea gas terminal. The report also says they want the whole country to have the giddy speed of 2Mbps per second by 2012. Given the choice between mains gas and broadband, I think the only people who would choose against gas are those whose livelihoods depends on broadband and those who don’t know the horrors of living without gas.

    The report itself states that 75% of Germany is supposed to be at 50Mbps by 2014. Finland has further committed to 99% of the nation at 100Mbps by the end of 2015. At the moment, “100MBps for 90% of the UK by 2017” is just a proposal. Will they try to make it happen? Maybe. Will it happen? Probably not.

    It’s not so much the concept of the levying I’m against, because the money isn’t just going to appear from thin air. What I’m fundamentally against is taking away my money to provide a service in the distant future that I both should be having now or in the near future, yet won’t be sufficient by the time I do get it. I’d be prepared to pay a somewhat larger tax than £6 a year if I knew that by 2017 I would be getting a connection to rival anywhere in the world.

    17 Jun 2009, 20:49

  3. (How I wanted to end that comment, given I broke the limit!)

    But as we see with any infrastructure investment governments have been involved in with the last couple of decades, rather than actually invest in a new network when it is needed, they go for the cheaper option of try and add a bit more until it becomes an inefficient mess and will cost far more to rebuild from scratch. Even then given the choice of two from good/fast/cheap they always drop the quality, often with speed and cost then not happening either. Just look at our roads and railways as an example. This won’t be completed by 2017, it’ll take more than an extra £6 a year from us to fund it, directly or indirectly, and above all, even if we did get full speed 100Mbps will not be leading the world in 2017. Given current strategies elsewhere, it won’t even be leading Europe.

    17 Jun 2009, 20:49

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