The UK’s Digital Halloween – more treats than tricks.

By | November 3, 2017

A close reading of Digital Minister Matt Hancock’s address to the Broadband Stakeholder’s Group conference – laden with repetition and alliteration – reveals a story-telling masterpiece.

The repetition of earlier messages was a treat, reinforced by alliterative ‘Full Fibre’ and ‘Barrier Busting’ and, in a another clear step towards honesty, ” . . . a copper to the premises solution is not fit for the future”.

 Another treat (from the Minister who put Digital into his Departmental title) was the emergence of three keywords – Community, Cities and Local – as long-held doubts about demand and overstatements of costs are at last zapped by the value-realities of user experience. In a Whitehall dominated by macro mindsets, this might (perhaps) signal a shifting focus from protection of investor Incomes to delivery of community Outcomes. For sure the UK has a deployment scale challenge but it would be lazy to assume that big brands are too big to fail. As one delegate remarked, “Perhaps this will be the very last year that a digital Minister will feel obliged to praise the achievement of mass mediocrity.”

This Halloween week also featured the Total Telecom Congress – a more-global gathering of industry experts that serves as an annual opportunity to observe the glacial pace of evolution from the telephonic towards the data-centric. With a core competency in connectivity the entire industry is only gradually realising their need to redefine connectivity by leveraging their convening powers to enable greater cross-sector collaboration. And that tricky cultural shift is urgent: as ‘bluechipness’ fades, the value of the covenant is diminished and collaborative opportunities are lost to more agile competitors.

But this week, treats were triumphant – not least in the emergence of two papers from other parts of Europe.

The first of these was a remarkably insightful economic review of the UK’s regional divergence. Whilst little of this would be entirely new to dedicated ‘localists’, it does provide a great reading of how we are seen by continental observers and underscores the view that the UK economy is merely the aggregation of many, very diverse, local economies – each with very different needs and priorities. Intriguingly the authors didn’t quite clock that the North/South divide is a very English/Englander perspective.

The second of this week’s papers pondered why Sweden has produced such a high rate of ‘unicorn’ businesses relative to its population size. The counter-intuitive answer, apparently, lies in the relatively high taxation that underwrote utility and social investments.   The folks that created Skype, Spotify and others credit their youthful experiences of full fibre in much the same way that some, now middle-aged, UK IT directors have fond regard for the 1980’s BBC MicroB computer.

In summary, this Halloween week brought many stories and, as all parents know, children really appreciate hearing them time and again. It will be the next generation that will need to cope with the ghostly legacies of our past misinterpretations.

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