The problem with Hyperfast Broadband is not the technology.

During recent hustings, an opposition candidate opined that cabled internet was a thing of the past and Wireless was the future. She stated it was a technology that was redundant.

This shows a complete lack of understanding of the technology, and I should know, I used to work in the field.

Firstly, all of the wireless technology currently coming on tap needs to be connected to something, that’s usually an underground fibre connection. Secondly, wireless technology while great on the move has issues with latency, which is fine for the average user but no good if you are a pro-gamer or someone who uses high bandwidth for work reasons, and you need a quick response time.

Underground fibre technology has a very large place in our technological future.

However, politicians are so consumed with the technology themselves that they fail to grasp that Scotlands issues with rollout are not a result of the technology. They are a result of “economic viability” caused by complications in rolling out those technologies.

How many times have you seen the rollout of a new type of internet technology or other utility services? Just think about it for a moment, because every single one of us has seen it at some point in our lives. How we see it, is usually a massive hole ripped in the street. This is where the bottleneck in rolling out superfast broadband is, not the technology, not the cabling, but the way in which it has to be laid – usually by ripping very large holes in the road surface.

This comes with huge cost and it is extremely time-consuming for broadband providers. It also upsets the equation of profit vs loss. If you are a broadband provider, you cannot reasonably roll out technology where you are going to make a loss – your shareholders would eat you for breakfast. This results in the only real possibility for new technologies being Openreach, which consistently take vast sums of public money to do it. But because of the cost and the time to roll out such technologies, rural areas are often two or three generations behind inner-city areas.

For the private companies, well they concentrate on tightly grouped, highly populated areas which make the cost of digging up streets worth it because they can recoup the cost by providing many connections.

Government is investing in the wrong thing.

Government invests in the technology and rollout of technology using old methodologies when it should be investing in the surrounding infrastructure. It should be investing in concrete pipes, not fibre optic cable.

Now, this might raise an eyebrow, but what if there was a way to assure the rollout of new technologies at a much faster pace, even to rural areas and allow councils the opportunity to actually make a profit in the long term? There is!

What the Scottish Government should be investing in is paying local councils to upgrade the under road infrastructure. As councils replace road surfaces, the Scottish Government should be funding councils to dig a little bit deeper, burying large conduits which are big enough to carry all utilities to peoples homes. This should be done as a matter of course in new developments, and in old towns and cities, as the councils replace the road surfaces. Or, if Scotland is to be bold, as a standalone infrastructure project across the length and breadth of Scotland, creating jobs and apprenticeships over a 10-year term – something which could be very helpful in post-covid recovery.

By burying proper conduits into the ground it delivers a number of benefits. The first is that councils could lease the space underground to utility providers to pay for the cost of maintenance, and for the cost of rolling out such infrastructure. Those utility providers would be happy to pay those charges because it assures the upkeep of that conduit network, but also because now they can lay their utilities without having to pay for the road to be dug up every time a cable needs fixed, or laid for the first time, or to upgrade existing technologies.

The second benefit is that a rollout of a new technology to a housing scheme would take a day to lay the cables, where before, all of the digging would likely have taken weeks/

The third benefit is that because companies are no longer having to dig for themselves, their overall cost reduces, meaning that companies that once only concentrated on high population areas would suddenly find, all they really need to pay for is some cabling. This would make areas of the country where other providers previously would not go, highly attractive to all of the different providers. With new providers comes competition for Openreach forcing them to up their gain.

A whole other raft of opportunities also opens up, like local communities being able to install and roll out their own network locally with ISP’s simply connecting onto it. However, the one thing that would happen is that as new technology appears, it could be rolled out rapidly, without the logistical nightmare that we currently have. So rather than 10 years to roll out technology with different parts of Scotland having different generations of communications technology, all parts of Scotland could have it within a few years. Where government assistance for rollouts would be required, it would be much less than present-day, because all they would be assisting with funding, is the underlying technology, not the cost of digging up the street.

But here’s a large benefit – the cost for councils of maintaining road surfaces would drop substantively because many a pothole is created by the digging of road surfaces for utilities. If it becomes as simple as opening a manhole and dropping in a cable, there’s no need to destroy the road surface.

If Scotland is to compete in the 21st century, we need to rethink how we roll out utilities and services to end-users, and the only way to do that is to rethink everything around it. Proper pathway infrastructure for utilities is where we must start if Scotland is to be fit for the 21st century.

And this now leads me on nicely to democratising electricity – Please have a read: https://www.martinjkeatings.com/democratising-electricity/

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Email : martin@martinjkeatings.com

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