Broadband rollout is an incredibly popular topic amongst British people, mostly because they aren’t getting it. Matt Warman (MP for Boston and Skegness) secured a parliamentary debate on superfast broadband in June 2015. He believes that high-speed internet is the largest infrastructure project of our generation.
This government project was triggered by Jeremy Hunt’s aspiration in 2010 to provide the ‘best broadband in Europe’. Warman was a journalist at the time and believed some creative work with the figures would be necessary.
Turns out it wasn’t figures he needed to fiddle but language. Against “comparable nations”, Warman argues, we have made “incredible progress”. To loud cheers in the hall Warman proudly declared that we have “the most competitive marketplace”. It isn’t hard to achieve goals when they are abstract ideological fetishes.
I often hear conversations on the street, in cafes, down the pub where people are delighted to live in a country that has the most competitive broadband marketplace. Certainly not stories about terrible customer service, endless delays or monopolies.
Corporations don’t really care about customer satisfaction as long as the bottom line looks nice. Because beyond retaining customers the only duty they really have is to their shareholders. Therefore it comes as no surprise that while acknowledging there are rural problems Warman wants to focus rollout on urban areas where there are dire issues and conveniently a high density of paying customers per square mile. Commercial companies don’t see the value in rolling out to the homes and businesses where they will serve dozens.
By using profit-making entities to lead infrastructure projects, quality comes second to profit. Corners are cut, in this case maps of the country are reduced to ringroads, rural areas are fobbed off. It’s all well and good aiming to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number, but if the greatest number is packed into a small area, we end up with a tyranny of the urban majority.
Understanding broadband and technology in general is difficult and scary, its kind kind of like magic in the Middle Ages. People are content to leave it to our experts and their top-down, centralised ways because who has time to think about laying fibre after family, friends, work and life in general? Instead of comparing our rural areas with our urban areas the government ends up trying to compete with other nations.
“The market is letting areas of the UK down…Instead of one-nation we’re seeing two nations emerging in broadband.”
Warman says we’re doing well against comparable nations like France and Germany. He isn’t alone in this, the 2015 Ofcom European Broadband Scorecard brackets the UK with Germany, France, Italy and Spain. What this does is blinker who we should be comparing ourselves with. It plants the assumption that big countries and little countries have little to offer one another when it comes to strategising infrastructure.
When you have a large scale comparison the little guys get brushed aside. We are fooled by statistics and wordplay from providers. “Fibre is here!” They shout. But it doesn’t go far enough, it ends at the cabinet all too often.