The purpose of the project is to take a new approach to the ownership, financial and deployment models used traditionally, and still proposed by, telecommunications companies. These models invariably leave rural areas outside of the scope of economic viability for the telecoms companies, and have helped to create the Digital Divide between rural and urban Britain.
The event was packed – standing room only and a lively audience with lots and lots of questions. It seemed surprising to some local people there that there were so many “foreigners” there. As a Yorkshireman, based in Kent, I am foreign in so many ways! One distinguished-looking lady kept asking “Why are they here? What are they doing here?” and someone else said (and you can see it on video) “The eyes of the world are on you!”.
It was a great event – the various politicos; Mayors etc seemed impressed and quite surprised at the strong turn-out. A notable (and worrying) absence of Lancaster Council officers and County Council people; and no one from BDUK (though I’m sure they would have been welcome!). You may speculate why they were not there…
Here’s a video of the Mayor cutting the cake!
I made an Audioboo in the event space immediately after the formal presentations finished, trying to capture some of the excitement in the room. You can hear it in the embed below.
I also spent a bit of time with Barry Forde – and was keen to get his take on what ‘demand ‘ means. I also wanted to understand the dynamics of this project.
And there was massive interest afterwards in looking at the network plan…..
Here’s a liveblog, which went live at 0912 on 15th December, catching tweets with the #b4rn hashtag. I tried my best to use it for the launch but poor connectivity defeated me.
I was invited to hear his first keynote on Media and Technology – and here is the liveblog of the event.
At the bottom of this post you can see the liveblog I made at the time; while Jeremy Hunt was speaking. Using Scribblelive, I also added in content from those making comments on Twitter. I streamed live from the event using Ustream Broadcaster on the iPhone but just some of the questions. There’s no point trying to stream the speech – Ministers rarely depart from their prepared texts and in any event the transcript is usually available immediately. Questions are different however.
I’m embedding the stream archive here. The person in shot on the immediate left is Mark Thompson DG of the BBC – check out the body language.
The Future of Broadband in the NE and the world
In a busy, buzzy and engaging event, over 100 of the NE’s leading business people and entrepreneurs discussed the Future of Broadband – looking at the prospects for the NE in the new wave of broadband services, often called “Next Generation Access” or “NGA” some of which are being developed here in the region.
The scale of the opportunity
In their opening remarks, Fred and Mercedes mentioned the importance to the NE’s businesses of getting to grips with the coming services as broadband develops; this is especially important given that the region is increasingly looking to create new jobs in the digital and creative sectors; such as games, animation and software. Mercedes described how NorthenNet offers types of technology and broadband speeds to smaller companies previously only available to the very largest and on a much more flexible basis. She argued that “It’s not about the technology; it’s about the people” and that the benefits of creative and technical people working together are beginning to be realised.
The move from Copper to Fibre
To provide a basis for the conversation, Adrian Wooster, Chief Technology Officer of the Community Broadband Network, talked about “From Copper to Fibre” and covered the types of new services based on optical fibre technology and their impact on business. He mentioned that it’s important to remember that it’s not all about download speed. Increasingly the speed at which you can upload files and other content is becoming more critical to businesses. He said “New technologies are coming, some of them already being implemented in Gateshead, that offer the potential for new services. You can get closer and closer to customers.” He stressed the business relevance and innovation potential of new services.
G-ti – “Getting it done” in Gateshead
Liz Reed from Gateshead Council (pictured above) focused on G-ti (which stands for Gateshead Technology Innovation) a ground-breaking project bringing ultra high speed service to the Baltic Business Quarter. “Our job is to make sure we get businesses and jobs; jobs for local people.” That G-ti is an example of collaboration between the private and public sectors, is a very open and competitive network and that it demonstrates what Gateshead needs to be competitive. That it’s important for local authorities to demonstrate leadership. She spoke passionately about the “need to unite creative and technical people in using this new stuff”. Liz said that Gateshead was “About getting things done.” At the end of LIz’s presentation, Brian Condon a director of CBN and an independent consultant on technology and business, did a ‘straw poll’; asking the audience to vote on whether this project was a good use of public funds – admittedly an unrepresentative audience – but they voted in favour (with not a single hand raised against).
Caring for the “Not Got Anythings”
Other local projects featured highly in the session – Cybermoor Limited whose Operations Director, Kevin Wood, said that in his area of Weardale ‘NGA’ stands for “Not Got Anything”. Cybermoor are working with local communities to install optical fibre and improve access to services and innovations such as high capacity ‘Telehealth’. He agreed with Liz that it was about “Getting things done”. He said he wasn’t afraid of the “Community” word. He was open about some of the issues of small scale projects; and that a lack of depth of resources could give problems. He concluded that “It’s about making things happen when no one else cares.”
George’s “Stories from the Coalface” from ITPS and Virgin
George Galloway, MD of ITPS brought what he called “Stories from the coalface” of real business in the region. ITPS is a successful and growing privately owned IT services business with over £10m of turnover. George, who was on stage with Chris Walsham from Virgin Media, provided examples of how ITPS operates. They were the first Service Provider to offer services on the G-ti network (there are now 5 competing providers) and they partner with a range of companies including Virgin Media. Chris stressed the importance of partnership working and the need to collaborate. He said that their strategic relationship with ITPS was a good example as it shows that both large (and Virgin Media has a £15bn network) and smaller players can benefit. George gave the example of a successful project where a move from Copper to Fibre (of one of the types described by Adrian earlier) had delivered operating cost savings of 30% while simultaneously provding a 10-fold performance increase. Chris added that these new technologies can help companies reduce their carbon footprint; reducing the need to travel and saving time.
Partnership working to ‘bridge the gap’
Simon Roberson who is the NE Regional Manager for BT Group gave a different perspective from a very big player in the market. He talked about BT’s plans to deploy “Superfast Broadband” to 66% of the UK population by 2015. He said it was a very big project and that it would be difficult to reach those people described as being in the “Final Third”. He said “We have to remember that the ‘Final Third’ is one third of the population; not 1/3 of the country.” and that there are still very big distances to cover outside the dense urban areas.
Simon gave an example of partnership working in Northern Ireland as a way for the public and private sectors to work together. He argued that, despite what some other speakers had said, what will pay for the investments will be premium services such as HD and 3D TV which need more bandwidth than existing services. He said to businesses in the meeting “For you guys it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
Stand by me . .
In a charismatic multimedia keynote presentation, Houston Spencer (above, left) Vice President of Alcatel Europe (the private sector partner in G-ti) used the Ben E. King song “Stand by me” coupled with images from the 50s and 60s to show how much the world has changed and how much more change there is to go still. He showed a video called “Stand by me; playing for change” which was made in multiple locations by multiple players and brought together to form a single performance. He told us that the original record had been played over 7 million times on the radio since its original release 50 years ago but that this video, released only 2 years ago had already been watched over 12 million times on YouTube.
Houston talked about the changes that are coming; and that big organisations came about because of the ‘need to aggregate capital’ because everything was expensive. The IP/Broadband world changes all that – and that it’s now much easier to create and distribute new forms of content and products using the internet. Houston asserted that many people mistake the intent of new forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter; they are not about “broadcast mode”; “It’s not about self promotion, it’s about making connections with people, building relationships and forming an ‘ecosystem’ of people connected together”. Houston concluded that there was a risk that the big players might destroy the ecosystems they are creating by too many rules or changing the conditions that brought them about. He finished with an optimistic picture of how relationships sustained by the internet can result in an explosion of global collaboration and connectivity.
Photo credit: Simon Williams, Crest Photography
Creative Licence – how the creative industries are reshaping the economy
I’m Liveblogging this fringe event, one of a series of meetings being hosted in the Fringe of all the party conferences. Please refresh the page to see the updates.
12:34 The Creative Industries are a ‘key’ sector at the heart of the recovery.
12:36 Peter Bazalgette
Opens with remarks about RAI and Berlusconi. Involving the BBC in too much politics is a mistake. Parties all have a policy on the BBC. PB Supports Bradshaw on top-slicing of the BBC. But top-slicing needs to go into quality, not tired regional news.
“There is no digital dividend” – most media companies don’t see what theor business model is anymore. This is a big problem.
“We need as much ‘nudge’ as ‘fudge'” on the management of digital rights.
12:40 Needs better balance between ‘pay’ and ‘free’. ITV is commercially challenged. Product placement is marginal but does improve the position for advertisers. Medium term prospects for TV uncertain. Bur longer term it will work.
Professional content will always be attractive to advertisers – this won’t change. Training is a major issue, he says and it’s getting worse.
12:43 Richard Wilson – TIGA
Games sector makes an important contribution to the economy and is very export focused. Important role to play.
In the games sector qualifications are higher (80% at degree level) and average salaries are higher than other sectors at £30k.
Sector is growing globally but contracting in the UK. Poor supply of staff is the issue. Need incentives.
12:50 Miranda Sawyer
Public Money is often a hindrance to progress. But there is a role for public investment in the arts. We tend to under value our capabilities in this. Example of Liverpool as the Capital of Culture – drove investment in the city. Public money is needed in education and in big projects. Public money can be used to attract private investment and stimulate the economy. But it’s also about stimulating well-being.
12:53 Ben Bradshaw
The assumption is that the creative industries are re-shaping the economy. He thinks this is true. Every fringe event at this conference on creative industries has been ‘packed out’. Hears the pleas for support from people like Richard Wilson.
12:56 Creative industries are ‘not a luxury’, they are central to the economy and to our heritage. Museums very important also.
But how do we defend our creative value in a global economy? How can we make sure artists get compensated for – £180m a year ‘lost’ through illegal file-sharing. Digital Britain bill will reflect the unity of the musicians who made announcements last week. It’s an important issue. Bill will be brought forward in this Parliament.
Universal broadband access is an important aspect of the bill – this is something that the market will not provide – he says 40% of the country can’t get it. Needs to go further than 2 MBbps – need universal NGA through fixed-line levy. We need to understand what support there may be for local news – re-use of digital switchover money – BBC won’t get it anyway.
13:02 Training opportunities are key to the Government’s approach to Digital Britain – society wins and so do individuals who will be trained.
Culture is not a ‘luxury add-on’ – they contribute to the economy £1 spent of culture comes back as £5 in economic contribution
Now moving over to Q&A
Colin Tweedie – Governor of University of the Creative Arts. Vitality of the creative universities – they are worried by the potential cuts.
Q re product development and merging the Film Council and Games Council.
Q from Gary Townsend from Skillset. Future jobs in creative industries; need to think of supply of new talent but what about CPD for the existing workforce?
Sawyer says that the more ‘modern’ universities will demonstrate their value over time. A law degree from Oxford is one thing but it’s a bit of a stereotype – so dpn’t worry. Quality will out.
Bradshaw says that Universities will continue to be funded and they are capable of identifying the courses needed. New skills will come through – media studies not as ‘airy fairy’ as they used to be.
13:12 PB says training of ‘high-level’ graduates (not apprentices). HEFCE’s in meltdown and meanwhile Skillset is being cut.
Q re ‘cutting off’ illegal file-sharing from a woman from Ofcom – hierarchy of sanctions
Q from a writer and producer (Carol Haymann?) re rights deals on digital broadcasts
13:15 Bradshaw – hierarchy of sanctions will come into force needs to be funded by rights holders. PB says “it will never work unless we do a ‘nudge’ at the same time”.
Bradshaw says it’s an education job as well. Wilson says pirated games are running at 3 pirate copies per 1 gane sold in some cases.
Broadcasters need to be held accountable says Carol Haymann (radio producer and writer). We generate little money from repeats on BBC7 for example.
13:20 Sophie Jones from Channel 4. About C4’s role – Digital Britain is ‘bang-on’ about the importance of C4 public ownership to preserve support of new digital companies.
Nick Hull from 118118 – we’ve spent years trying to offer services at a reasonable price over mobile and have failed. How can creative producers do that?
Wilson asked to comment on 118118 question. A lot of games businesses would like to ‘self-publish’; broadly optimistic about business models for content suppliers.
PB mentions Moor’s Law. But there’s “Less’ Law” – which is that as content proliferates lower revenues result.
Sawyer says ‘free model’ will kill newspapers.
Bradshaw sums up – the market cannot guarantee all – BBC is a good thing but it needs to be more sensitive and recognise its effect on the whole media landscape. BBC governance structure doesn’t work. Much private sector activity benefits from the economies of scale of the BBC. But we need to re-assert the legitimacy of the BBC ‘with every generation’.
Why events like this are needed (if frustrating)
I live blogged the Digital Summit at the British Library – using twitter and a blogging tool called ScribbleLive. Independently, unofficially; because I wanted to. You can see the results here. Also, If you look at the #digitalbritain hashtag on twitter you will see a mass of tweets many insightful and thoughful; a few negative and destructive. I was watching Tweetdeck, trying to take my own notes and include tweets I thought were useful.
There’s been a bit of activity on blogs. Not much. Some of the ranting appears to be about the surprising fact that most of the people running our incumbent Big Media and Telco businesses are white, male and wear ties. Some of the people in the audience were like that too.
Yes, it was frustrating and yes it was quite a lot of the ‘same old same old’ – but saying ‘you don’t get it’ to people who don’t get it isn’t going to advance the debate. Shouting “You horrible green scaly monster” at one of the many Media Dinosaurs still roaming the planet may be true but it doesn’t help at all. In fact it polarises the debate and makes it less likely that we, who passionately believe that we need serious bandwidth, everywhere, for everyone will carry the argument.
Of course, the agenda for the meeting deliberately tried to polarise the audience. The idea that you can separate the Poetry from the Pipes for example – you need both and they have to work together to create Digital Britain. The idea that you need a ‘one size fits all’ solution or all else is chaos plays only into the hands of a small number of players with market power.
We need events like this one, where at least there was some cross-sector presence. Notable that many of the questions and points from the floor were raised by people from community-related organisations.
We need more events and dialogue – preferably designed to work out ‘how it can be done’ rather than finding all the reasons ‘why it can never happen’. We need the sorts of Unconference activity proposed by @dbuc09 and we need to do them on our territory and make the invitations as open as we all want the networks and services to be.
Ultimately, I think we will need a ‘Patchwork Quilt’ of solutions that meet local needs – not some top down model. Enterprise networks are patchworks, the internet itself is a patchwork where the pipes and poetry can coexist. Our job is to get out there and build the Patchwork.