AMITIAE - Wednesday 18 March 2015

Cassandra: Britain's Budget and Broadband

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Not that I am a fan of the Tories in the UK, but the Budget - the annual announcements of what the government plans to do with taxpayers money - has just been announced at Westminster. There is the usual tradition with displaying the box as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) appears in Downing Street; and the formalities of addressing the House of Commons, but unless there are enough votes to stop it (or any parts), this is the master plan.

Of course, there is some election bait, particularly with a reduction in tax on beer and some lower levels for personal taxation: quite normal from any party in the approach to an election, especially if that approach is decidedly uphill as it appears to be this time for the creaky Tory-Liberal coalition.

At one time, the UK was far behind even some third world and developing countries when it came to the Internet. I remember a presenter from IBM at a show in Olympia saying that the major drawback to British innovation in Internet technology was the point that connecting to the telephone system was costing consumers 2p per minute, so they were less likely to stay online.

In the US for years local calls on the telephone had been a basic charge for as long as you liked; and it was the same in Thailand, where (then, at least) great strides were being made, especially by young people, initially using Bulletin Boards (BBS) and then the fledgling Internet. When HTML and then the graphic browser arrived, the whole thing mushroomed.

There has been much improvement in recent years with the arrival of ADSL systems and latterly broadband, with governments, business, education, and unfortunately the security services, all seeing the benefits of online connections. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron is not known for his technical abilities and made some highly criticised comments about control after the tragedies in Paris a couple of months ago. Like his Home Secretary, Teresa May, he was firmly against Internet control, although he is now just as firmly for it.

George Osborn - Image from UK Govt site The Chancellor, George Osborne, along with all the rest of his election flavoured candies is planning to invest in the Internet of Things and as an example gave us (to quote his phrase), a ridiculous example of someone who has two kitchens.

Although that is apparently not that ridiculous when one considers the numbers of Ministers and Members of Parliament who make wonderful claims under the rules that allow them to claim for second homes. I also wonder, if he thinks it is ridiculous, why mention it at all?

He is aware (or has been advised) that connecting two refrigerators from afar will need better broadband availability and intends to invest up to £600 million "to clear new spectrum bands for further auction, so we improve mobile networks."

In addition, we are told, satellite technology is to be used to reach remote locations, some of which may not even have one refrigerator.

Another provision is to provide funding for Wi-Fi in public libraries, although a problem for that is that many of the former excellent libraries that had existed when I was a kid are now shuttered, or only open a few days of the week. No matter, want it or not, there may well be 100 Mb/sec connections by the time the program is done.

Or not. These things have a habit of running out of steam, particularly if the costs for the new aircraft carrier rise by another £1 billion, or the election is lost. Or won.

This is what the Chancellor said. . . .

And we'll invest in what is known as the Internet of Things. This is the next stage of the information revolution, connecting up everything from urban transport to medical devices to household appliances.

So should - to use a ridiculous example - someone have two kitchens, they will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone.

All these industries depend on fast broadband.

We've transformed the digital infrastructure of Britain over the last five years.

Over 80% of the population have access to superfast broadband and there are 6 million customers of 4G that our auction made possible.

Today we set out a comprehensive strategy so we stay ahead.

We'll use up to £600 million to clear new spectrum bands for further auction, so we improve mobile networks.

We'll test the latest satellite technology so we reach the remotest communities.

We'll provide funding for Wi-Fi in our public libraries, and expand broadband vouchers to many more cities, so no-one is excluded.

And we're committing to a new national ambition to bring ultrafast broadband of at least 100 megabits per second to nearly all homes in the country, so Britain is out in front

As they say, the best of British (luck) with that.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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