The Infrastructure Debate, Random Jottings

I picked up a “Tweet” today from an academic in Boston MA called Danah Boyd who Tweets under the name of zephoria. Although they have the equivalent of our Carter Report, who’s Implementation plan was publicised in timely fashion by Chris yesterday (I would never have found it!), called the National Broadband Plan they are still thinking through how it might impact on Education. Danah Boyd put out a call for peopl’s thoughts and ideas which are being posted here but try as I might I couldn’t get them to give me access, so I thought I might put the thoughts here, and maybe develop them because they’re a bit random at the moment – some might argue that my thoughts are always random – hey ho!

Take the British experience as a benchmark (to be aspired to or to be exceeded is up to you – at least it’s not about health reform). Here, it’s called Next Generation Access, NGA for short though the arguments get blurred between people who talk about core networks, access network, economic benefit and social benefit. Lesson 1 – make sure you and the other person are talking about the same thing! There are a couple of strands to this one, the economic and the social. In economic terms it’s a battle between our two dominant service providers to keep market share. In social terms it’s about the haves and have not’s, what we call digital inclusion, which is where I work.

An early evaluation on what NGA might be worth in terms of ROI was published by the Broadband Stakeholder Group (basically a trade body that advises government) from a consultancy called Plumb – hence, the Plumb Report – you can see it here. While it has been generally ignored it does make a good attempt at putting money into the argument; worth a read but take a deep breath.

It was largely ignored because the UK Government commissioned Francesco Caio (ex- Cable & Wireless) to produce a report that basically said, leave it to the market. You can see it here.The problem with Caio is that it sidesteps the impact of geographical and social exclusion, never really confronts the impact.

The Government was partially persuaded and they produced a digital inclusion action plan:

So Stephen Carter (ex- NTL) was then commissioned to take a wider view and he came up with the much publicised Carter Report, Digital Britain. This forms the basis of UK policy for the next x number of years and has resulted in an implementation plan.

Problems and possibilities? The good stuff is that digital inclusion is embedded into government thinking. The not so good stuff is that it doesn’t communicate down to regional and local government and so there are tensions. Having worked on the first implementation of broadband into UK schools I have no doubt about the impact it has had on education generally. I know that it has widened the gap between those that have access at home and those that do not. I also know that of the 29% of British people who still do not engage with the digital agenda, and that group includes what we call NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and PPOs,(Persistent and Perpetual Offenders) that their disadvantage and disconnection is deepened because of their exclusion.

Just because you cannot say what NGA will “do” in education doesn’t mean that it will not “do” anything – in 2001 when we began the initial roll out of connectivity to UK schools we only had the vaguest idea of a universal good – the impact has outweighed the original possibility many times and I firmly believe that it will do so again. Not that we don’t have issues: rural exclusion, social exclusion, business competitiveness in areas of poor provision, a weak market place.

What am I saying? I’m saying that you cannot, not do this but if you can, do it equitably with a view to the benefit of every young person and you will reap the rewards a thousand fold, even if you don’t yet know what that reward is!

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