Some time ago (mid June) someone (I think @ruskin147 or Rory Cellan-Jones of Auntie Beeb) re-tweeted a request from @ChrisMason for help in getting input to some work on the experiences of the rural broadband user. Ever keen to get my message across (that the rural community needs ADSL as much as the city dweller, and that the rural communities are seriously disadvantaged and uncared for by the telecoms industry) I tweeted Chris and we set up a dialogue. Over the course of the next few hours we exchange emails, and then phone calls discussing the issues at stake, particularly in the context of the government’s impending announcement on the “2Mb for all” policy.
After listening to my rant (!) Chris decided that I’d be a useful sound bite in the forthcoming article on Radio 5Live.
Within a few days the government made the announcement and Chris and I were in touch to fix up an appointment to record a few words. In the end as I was attending a business breakfast in Cambridge, we agreed to meet there – Chris was coming from London, and then moving onto rural Suffolk to spend some time with a BT engineer to see the practical issues in rural ADSL.
Setting the interview up was an interesting process! We sat down in 3 or 4 places only to find that peripheral noises were likely to be a problem both in recording and in editing – I’d not given too much thought to the latter but Chris explained that some noises (especially music) would distract the listener and potentially lead them to listen to the background (and hear the cuts in the edit), rather than listen closely to my dulcet (not!) tones. We eventually relocated one last time to a balcony which had some quiet motor noise in the background, but this was better that the crisp clear notes of the wineglasses being set out in the restaurant!
I’ve done interviews a number of times – but all on video. Each of these experiences had me (mostly irrationally) edgy and nervous, and was not what I would call pleasant and easy. They’ve mostly been done for Microsoft Tech*Ed conferences, and are therefore to a closed community (but highly expert) so my testimony could be harshly judged. But the sheer fact of a camera (or more than one) quite literally in your face is something I just don’t feel comfortable with.
With Chris it was so much simpler – no director, cameraman, soundman etc. Just Chris, and his state of the art microphone with built in digital sound recorder. Immediately it’s a more natural situation and more comfortable to deal with – just a conversation (which draws on the previous discussions).
Before starting Chris ran a couple of recordings to check that a) his microphone was really recording OK and b) to ensure that the background noises were sufficiently in the background to avoid the editing traps, then we were off.
Chris was impressive in his questioning – at no time was I led in any direction, but open questions were asked which allowed me to get across my frustrations, and make points that I wanted. A couple of times I found myself just go down a cul-de-sac without any idea how to reverse out, so we just stopped and then started again. Inevitably there were things that I forgot, and Chris helpfully reminded me of my previous comments, and we got the statements down. But the most interesting points for me in the experience (as opposed to the subject under discussion), were the “when we discussed that before…” observations from Chris when I completely forgot a really good point, and even more so – Chris has a great ability to keep thinking further ahead in the conversation to keep it going smoothly rather than stop, check a list, and then kick off. There’s a lot more to pre-recorded interviews than I thought!
During the day Chris had to go to Suffolk to see Mr BT, and then edit his footage (?) and then transfer to the studio for transmission. Very kindly Chris also kept me in the loop to tell me when the interview would air, and late in the afternoon I got the confirmation that I would be used to cut into the Minister’s (Jeremy Hunt) interview at 5 to put certain points to him. Earlier in the show would be the BT engineer segment, and then later a BT spokesman would be on. Fame (of a sort) at last!
My wife and I were organising a car rally that evening, so whilst en route we listened to it live and I found myself substantially unembarrassed by the sound of my own voice (register your surprise in the comments!), I could hear where the editing was done, but it was surprising to hear three separate parts of the conversation edited together to give one much more focussed and pointed observation to which the minister had to respond.
Completing the service, Chris then emailed me the segments (mine, and both BT people) so that I can embarrass myself in perpetuity.
Even better, Chris has released the segments as audio boos, and you can listen here:
As for (some of!) my views, well:
- The rural broadband gap is really bad and getting worse. In the old days of modems there was a gap between city centre (say 56.6Kbps) and rural lines (say 28.8). But overall the difference was a factor of 2. With the basic broadband of 512Kb and some providers delivering 50Mb, the factor is now 100. Content cannot be delivered assuming one or the other. I would like to see some sort of rule of thumb that requires providers to ensure that the divide is no more than (say) a factor of 10. This would mean they would HAVE to improve the rural experience before delivering insane speeds in city centres.
- Working from home is normal, and the government wants us to do more. The biggest environment impact is out of town people driving into the cities and towns for work. We generally have no choice because the public transport options are so rubbish.
- Information technology businesses are, by their very nature, more able to work in distant locations – yet the Broadband structures specifically work against that
- Consumption of high data amounts is now the norm – yet provision is not up to the demand. Training and education courses require webinars or video downloads – who’d do that when the download will take many hours?
- Patching (and waiting) – everyone needs to update and patch their computers. Yet if a full patch is measured in GB rather than MB, then a) they are discouraged, and b) they will be exposed to the vulnerability for longer.
- Remote working and support for customers – another ideal ‘work from home’ setup – again frustrated.
- Opportunity for villages to do information businesses in place
- SLA’s – there are no proper SLA’s in place for broadband provision. You lose your phone line and ADSL, and who knows when it will come back. This needs to improve so that any business can assure themselves of their connectivity.
- Finland – has made ADSL 2MB a standard service. Alongside water, electricity, gas etc. A mature response.
- And when sewage or gas is installed into rural locations – why is nothing done to piggy back the infrastructure and deliver a better broadband or mobile phone experience?