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Fixing the UK's broadband crisis

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Rob Killick had written a provocative piece trailing the debate, where he described all the moaning about British broadband as an example of Digital Malthusianism. Science could invent its way out of our troubles. Look closer, he said, and you saw special-interest pleading:

"What seems to be driving today's panic about an internet crunch is the needs of ISPs and media competitors, who have an interest in stoking up fear about the BBC and others causing an internet collapse, and also a general sense of cultural pessimism."

Legal academic Chris Marsden, a policy advisor on regulation, had some thoughtful points on the nuances between British and European regulation. He also had one suggestion that may make Reg readers choke: we should think about Phorm as an evil necessity that helped pay for better network infrastructure.

(Ahem.)

Journalist David Crow said that more pricing flexibility was needed, and thought it was absurd that heavy users, such as "Pete" who downloaded video and music all day, should pay the same as light users. Pete was to haunt the debate to the very end.

David added that he didn't think most people were Petes - and most people on the internet paid for their content. Now the very fact that there's a pejorative word for David - "Paytard" - tells you that a few people will disagree.

Write to him, not me.

The questions reflected the diffuse nature of the debate - the topic is so broad that we could barely skim the surface (or even mention many things). One questioner wanted government intervention in the market - while most people opposed government regulation. There was also some concern about "private networks", but as Keith McMahon pointed out from the floor - the intertubes is almost all private networks. There's Google's, there's Akamai's... even the BBC is up for it.

While I admire the Spiked crew's optimism and faith that we can invent our way out of almost any problem, we're not in a broadband pickle because of a lack of optimism or invention. How long has IPv6 been embedded in routers, and supported by the clients? Ten and five years, I reckon. Getting innovations from the lab to the market, so they're actually useful to us, is what characterises this business. Most of the players have no incentive to invest in better infrastructure, something the regulator hadn't bargained for when it "designed" the British broadband market.

So a few more shoes had to drop - I mentioned legal P2P services as an example of something that may increase demand and investment. But to be honest, I can't think of many more.

Only after the discussion closed did I realise that no one had mentioned municipal fibre. Unlike Muni WiFi, which has crashed and burned because there's no business case for it, Muni fibre projects are commercially justifiable - if they follow a cross-subsidy model. Maybe that's another debate? ®

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