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Most of the enthusiasts today’s have never heard of Time-sharing . They appear unaware that the on-line world already depends on a couple of dozen data processing and storage complexes adjacent to an equally small number of communications hubs: the result of thirty years of evolution and experience rather than a decade of innovation.
More worrying, however, is that those far-sighted enough to plan server farms alongside hydro-electronic or nuclear power plants assume some-one else will pay for the high capacity, symmetric broadband links over which customers access their services.
One consequence is the growing polarisation of geographic communities into access “haves” and “have nots” and the introduction of caps on usage to ration the bandwidth available.
Meanwhile a combination of regulatory and fiscal barriers to investment in competitive local access networks is leading to a re-creation, in the UK, of the BT infrastructure monopoly of the 1970s, except where there is a sufficient concentration of business for Virgin to make a reality of the duopoly policy of the 1980s.
Unless and until the proponents of what is now called Cloud Computing realise they cannot afford to leave the investment in access infrastructure to others, their dreams of growth risk being still borne. The traditional data centre operators are beginning to understand this. But those whose profits are dependent on pay-per-click advertising appear to believe that net-neutrality means they should stay out of the communications infrastructure market.
They may be right, but if they fail to help remove the obstacles to innovation and investment it will cost them more, in lost profit, than BT and Virgin, combined, are currently planning to spend.
On Monday the Communications Working Group of the Information Society Alliance is due to discuss terms of reference for an exercise to produce briefing material for the Class of 2010, possibly the largest intake of new MPs ever, on the current state of plans for local access.
The aim is to help those who plan to use action to improve local access as part of their own election campaign. This exercise already has all-party support. Cabinet Ministers and their Shadows have attended meetings (including at the Party Conferences) at which they were briefed on the exercise and candidates from their parties volunteered to help review the material for their own own use and report back.
The reviewers, however, include several who understand the technology rather better than those lobbying them, as well as others who may not understand the technology but bear the scars of that which was delivered to their council, health trust or business. Part of the exercise is to therefore to persuade lobbyists to not only participate but get their clients to provide robust case studies and practical examples and help collate these into packages that make good use of the candidates time.
Candidates are even more overloaded than incumbment MPs. They have day jobs as well as campaigns to runs. They cannot afford to waste time on material that is not of direct value, let alone responding to multiple lobbyists saying similar things – without explaining why their differences matter – and to whom.
In parallel the Group is looking to produce more measured guidance for the officials, at all levels, who will have to help the next goverment, of whatever complexion, to bring forward investment in infrastructure at a time of shrinking public sector spend.