Monthly Archives: July 2013

Rethinking Broadband Infrastructure Investment & Development

The UK Government is investing in super-fast broadband in the name of international competitiveness (speed), as well as to facilitate access to digital by default public services and the burgeoning internet economy (connectivity). It is committed to stimulating digital participation amongst newcomers to the digital frontier (i.e. promoting super-fast broadband take-up). And, it continues to take steps to deliver against its ‘assisted digital‘ agenda, in theory, to smooth the transition to the Next Generation world that is currently under construction.

The extent to which its plans are deemed adequate and/or value for money are well-rehearsed and, not least, in the context of recent parliamentary debates and NAO reports on the subject.


Irrespective, we are concerned to find precious little evidence that the Government is taking steps to guarantee affordability of access to contemporary telecommunications infrastructure – save insofar as it can point to an independent regulator in Ofcom – for public sector service reliant communities. We are concerned that narrowly investing to benefit the corporate internet will do little (if anything) to stimulate STEM skills acquisition, knowledge economy job creation and related business development in deprived settings.

And, we are concerned that the lessons from past infrastructure planning and implementation by Governments might, once again, undermine the potential for rapid innovation and those socio-economic benefits that might otherwise flow from a more flexible and diverse framework for infrastructure investment and development.

Is there not scope for community intranets to host essential hyperlocal content and services – free at the point of use? Is there not scope for public sector service providers to invest efficiency savings from digital by default service roll-out to subsidise the cost of internet access for deprived communities? Is there not scope for a not for private profit backhaul wholesaler to emerge from a consortia of stakeholders supporting/representing our deprived communities? How might a group purchasing scheme for internet access in deprived communities function in practice? Is there scope for collaborative consumption or the ‘sharing economy’ where facilitating internet access for ALL is concerned?

We’ve talked elsewhere about civic engineering and self-built then horizontally managed networks developed by and for communities – the implications of which include STEM skills development and knowledge economy jobs and business creation. Is the planned roll-out of contemporary infrastructure by “experts” from outside a community liable to leave a comparable legacy in its wake? And, how will we be better placed in the future than we are today when it comes to digital competitiveness (overall) and/or we need to upgrade our infrastructure to keep pace with technological advancements?

We are privileged to be supporting a number of civic engineering initiatives across the UK which aim to explore such questions over the coming year. In particular, we are supporting the work of The Creative Coop and Merthyr Valleys Homes to establish a prototype network in the Gellideg estate in South Wales which draws upon the learning of open, hybrid and symmetrical pioneers – – in Catalonia. If you’re involved in something comparable – whether at home or overseas, we’d love to hear from you via @commonfutrs.

The Future of Open – Possibly, the Largest Open Network in the World…

The ‘open’ movement has a lengthy and broad-ranging history, but has gathered serious momentum over the past 35 years years in relation to tech.

You’ve probably heard about the plethora of open source software platforms being developed which include various strains of Linux. And, you might already have encountered the growing interest in open data and open government initiatives. You might be less familiar with the implementation of open standards by the UK Government. But, you’ll almost certainly have picked up on the growing number of open hardware projects that are underway around the world, which range from development of the Arduino to the Global Village Construction Set and, more recently,  Wiki House.

Now, London has a unique opportunity to build a platform for open sharing at the heart of Tech City: data, tools, spaces, skills and resources that everyone can use to learn, work and collaborate. It is a chance to provide something new of benefit to a wide range of communities but, most importantly, to bring shared interests together around new collective opportunities.

So, we were thrilled to be invited to The Future of Open along with our partners to respond to an open call to co-develop the Open Institute London.

We began by meeting Olivia Tusinski to talk about the scope to incorporate thinking (and doing) around digital assets, enterprises, data coops and open networks developed by and for communities – read the full interview text. And, tomorrow, we look forward to the ‘main event’ during this brief development phase.

Specifically, we will be asking people whether they agree with us that the Open Institute London has the potential to build upon the fine grain of long established local institutions, harness the can-do and know-how of Tech City communities, and translate that via a truly open infrastructure so that innovation, services and growth can benefit everyone:

Because, ultimately, we believe the future really must be open – to all.

Community Broadband Pioneers: South East Chapter

In search of civic engineers pioneering the development of #digitalassets for community benefit, we found Fibre Gar-Den in the North West and Lyme Regis Development Trust in the South West – respectively, addressing the challenges presented by market failure in ‘rural not-spots’ and exploring the potential for a dedicated telecommunications network to enhance regeneration plans in a coastal community.

More recently, we were invited to visit the folks hard at work in Caterham to develop a neighbourhood plan, build upon the excellent work to develop traditional community assets led by the Caterham Barracks Community Trust, and diversify with support from partners to establish a community broadband offer – unusually, in an urban setting.

So, we will be following their efforts over the coming months with great interest – and, with a view to capturing the learning from their approach to benefit others through the Our Digital Community programme we’re supporting. Needless to say, the approach they’re adopting benefits from a distinct enterprise and regeneration flavour which we think has enormous potential to benefit communities elsewhere. But, for now, their plans remain ‘under wraps’ (for obvious reasons)…