RWT or maybe it was FNF

By | July 30, 2017

Whether it was a sticky coin slot or its inability to cope with bent pennies, by the time the maintenance technician arrived, Button B had returned the money and the would-be caller had long since gone looking for an alternative phone box. ‘Fault Not Found’ or ‘Right When Tested’, written on the report. NFA – ‘no further action’.

Memories of the old Button A/B phone boxes – phased out from the mid-60’s onwards – were prompted by debate about the origins of the phrase ‘Penny Dropping Moment’.   Some might claim it was down to dodgy door mechanisms in public loos but it certainly came into common currency soon after those phone boxes were first introduced in the decade before World War II. If so, it is faintly ironic that this last week’s penny-dropping moments mostly concerned the telephone company.

Rohan Silva, great champion of upstart digital ventures and writing on Wednesday in London’s Evening Standard, finally caught up with the capital’s broadband poverty.

Rohan’s penny dropped when he realised just how far London trailed the world’s digital capitals.  Maybe he’d been blissfully unaware, insulated by well-funded ventures that could easily afford the expensive charges for business and public sector high bandwidth connectivity – a lucrative market fiercely defended by the incumbent.  Welcome, Rohan, to the reality that was exposed by the IoD and FISP ahead of London’s Mayoral election in May 2016.  The winner promised a Chief Digital Officer – a post that has still not been filled.

But Rohan was not alone. On Friday, Grant Shapps MP launched a BIG report ‘Broadbad 2.0’ focused on the realisation that future-proofing our broadband infrastructure has barely started. The penny-saving wizard wheeze of squeezing life (and revenues) out the old telephonic copper wires now looks like a false economy.

But in a penny-dropping week, Shapps and Silva’s moments were merely incidental as Ofcom lost its battle to force BT to sell ‘dark fibre’ – a notion that had been fiercely resisted by the old phone company. The lack of affordable access to unlit fibre across the UK is a massive constraint on innovation and business flexibility.

On Wednesday the Competition Appeals Tribunal “quashed” Ofcom’s Business Connectivity Market Review – thus stopping the long-sought liberalisation that was scheduled for October. It was perhaps the ultimate penny-dropping moment as a few more folks reluctantly came to understand the reality.  A privatised BT is no longer obliged to serve the UK economy but exists solely to look after its own corporate interests – which it will stoutly defend.

Fault Not Found. The Tribunal found that BT was Right When Tested.

In government policy circles the urgent need for a better digital infrastructure is now well understood – hence HM Treasury’s very welcome Fibre Fund for matching with private sector investments and the pressure on the Advertising Standards Authority to crack down on misleading broadband claims.

Now that these pennies have dropped, maybe Local Authorities around the country can at last crack on with enabling alternative Full Fibre suppliers to properly serve their communities.

Sadly they can no longer press Button B to get your money back.