Also as we know the government has now put all its eggs into the Broadband Satellite Agenda with Surrey [UCL is a separate issue]. Again how many years has been the gestation period here? Hence, it appears to me that Norman needs to get in touch with physical reality and not play to the terraces.
That is not to say that the UK does not possess any great technologies aka the Chancellors Eight Great Technologies malarkey. But potential is one thing, producing technology companies of the scale and depth to compete against and best the Americans in the term of this five year parliamentary calendar is just not going to happen. Why so? Actually it is fundamentally a banking issue surrounding the culture Norman hails from. Also his former employers at Barclays have gone from being in the top 3 global banks, measured by assets in 2008, to where now? Barclays World-Class? Nope, no longer!
So, what is there for Norman to fix? And just how would a banker go about it? And more importantly what are his timescales?
Historically prior to 1914 all scientific research and development was performed by the ancient universities and scientific institutions with virtually all of it being privately funded. Shall we eventually go back to this funding model? Perhaps. After this war, with these institutions on their knees and near bankruptcy, the British Government (as did other governments worldwide) stepped up to the research plate. In the UK this remained the case until the EU took up the cheque book. Currently the EU provides œ1.2bn with 11% going to the Russell Group of 24 universities.
When was the crossover anyone? Personally I would put it at July 1979 and the beginning of the last bought of UK Privatisation: lots where gained but lots were lost. Are their lessons here for the current Chancellor regarding selling of the MET Office, Ordinance Survey and Hydrographic Office from the states portfolio held by the Shareholder Executive? What people, resources and capabilities would be lost? As for Channel 4, DCMS and Ofcom aspects aside, any takers? Personally I have mixed views here as these endeavours could provide benchmarks for world-class enterprises but I suspect that the funding to establish truly global reach in the private sector would not be forthcoming and they would end-up as diminished rump enterprises. Again it's an RSRE and people thing. Also recall the recent defensive moves by the German automobile manufactures to acquire Nokia's Finnish GPS mapping enterprise arm. What lessons have they learned looking to the future regarding Swarm-Intelligence and AI that is pertinent to these public owned endeavours?
So where would the reader begin to fix the UK? Loaded question? Perhaps.
Why am I being so cynical? Or am I merely being realistic and under no illusions of the gravity of the challenge facing the UK science and technology base?
Just read what I believe are parochial the questions they are seeking to address in this Inquiry:
1) What role should Government, OFCOM and industry play in extending superfast broadband to hard-to-reach premises?
2) Is there sufficient competition in these markets? If not, how can any market failures best be addressed given the investment already made?
3) What are the commercial, financial and technical challenges the program faces in reaching the final 5%? What technologies exist to overcome them? What investment is required, by whom and for what return?
4) Given that in practice a Universal Service Obligation could not capture 100% of households, what should a USO for broadband look like?
5) What are other countries doing to reach the 'not-spots'? How affordable are their solutions?
6) Should Government be investing in more research and development into finding innovative solutions to meet the communication needs of remote communities?
7) Are BT and other communication companies investing sufficiently themselves in reaching these groups?
8) What investment and progress are the mobile network operators making in improving mobile coverage across the UK and enabling a swifter process when users choose to change provider? How could these best be improved?
9) How have the existing Government broadband programmes been delivered?
Regarding the prospect for a Universal Service Obligation, I would begin with two conditions for a fixed line broadband connection: does the premises have a post code and electricity?
If so, there you have your answer. Simply really! All the rest is political will and thus it shall cost what it costs.
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