Third time’s the charm

It’s all go in the theatre of international politics this week. At the time of writing the number of candidates for the next Tory leader and UK Prime Minister has reached 13, Brexit remains the defining topic for most of them, and the state visit of the US President rolls on like a poorly written docudrama. The NHS has replaced the Northern Irish boarder as the latest political football, violence has erupted in Sudan, and not much is improving in Syria despite it having vanished from the majority of media channels. With so much going on, I have this week been focussed on a particularly pointy Parish issue – high speed broadband is coming to the village, again.

For some time now the UK government has been committed to rolling out high speed broadband, achieving 100% coverage at some date in the distant future. I won’t go into the tiresome details of what constitutes ‘high speed’ and ‘coverage’ but I can’t help but feel it is already fast enough. As I write this post directly into the cloud whilst simultaneously listening to today’s cricket World Cup match on a live stream, I feel I am receiving a perfectly reasonable level of domestic service from my provider.

However, this is not about me. My has attention has been drawn this week to a poor chap just down the road who is about to have his driveway dug up for the third time in 12-months. Notified by a laminated A4 sheet attached to a telegraph pole, yet another high speed broadband provider will arrive next week to lay fibre optic cable under his driveway which also serves as access to two isolated houses. I am fairly late to this, with my first engagement being sight of an exasperated letter of escalation to the District Council; but the back story seems to be thus:

  • Under the UK government commitment a number of companies have been contract to install fibre optic infrastructure across the country, with a particular emphasis on rural communities.
  • These companies are now clambering over themselves to deliver this work and hoover up the associated incentives. I speculate that this delivery is prioritised to minimise their costs, and therefore focus on particular geographies that suit them logistically. My speculation is supported by the large drums of fibre optic I have seen dotted around the countryside of late, patiently waiting for a home.
  • The associated planning activity seems fairly ‘light touch’ so as not delay progress, and I suspect to prevent penalty charges from the companies being prevented from meeting their commitments.

The sum total of this is that these two isolated houses, and the gentleman raising the objection, will soon receive their third high-speed broadband connection option in under a year, and the hero of our story will get another week of disruption and a third scar along his driveway as a living reminder. Now I don’t wish to be ageist, but due to the advanced years of these potential high-speed broadband customers I do not think they really appreciate being amongst some of the most digitally connected consumers in the country. Even if they did, a near speed of light communication channel is unlikely to be improved by the addition of two more. To quote from the letter of escalation, “We didn’t want it the first time, so we definitely don’t want it three times over. Is there no common sense?”.

It’s an excellent question. I’ve always been of the view that common sense is not very common; particularly when you move into the arena of national initiatives, ‘one size fits all’ approaches, and the annualised budgets that underpin so many nonsensical decisions in public sector procurement. This is exactly the kind of idiotic logic that sees unnecessary re-surfacing of perfectly good roads and pavements towards financial year end, whilst other essential services remain underfunded.

So what can we do? It turns out not very much by way of instilling some logical thought into proceedings. There are options, however, to fight bureaucracy with bureaucracy. It turns out that part of the driveway/access road is ‘unassigned land’ and hence utilities companies can do pretty much anything they want with it. However, an application to assign the land to our hero, even whilst pending, puts an instant block on any planned work. If the request for assignment is rejected, he can simply apply again; giving him the ability to frustrate this work indefinitely or at least until the latest broadband crusade has marauded onto the next village. Based on the correspondence I’ve seen to date, he is clearly up for the fight – and good luck to him.

At some point in the bureaucratic chain, this represents a diabolical waste of taxpayers money (including mine); but equally it feels like a valid resistance to ‘big money’ muscling their way through, and literally leaving a scar on rural communities. I am confident this kind of thing is going on across the country, and at a scale far greater than this. I do, at least, now have a front row seat and the opportunity to get ahead of the next piece of nonsense that hits (at very high speed) by Parish inbox.

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