by Jonathan Rothwell

Go Superfast, Burn £8 million

If you’ve been out anywhere in public lately, or watched TV through a catch-up service with ads, chances are you’ll have seen ads for the Government’s “Go Superfast” ad campaign.

This is ostensibly a programme to increase awareness of the benefits of ‘superfast’1 broadband, just in case receiving perpetual junk mail from would-be ISPs wasn’t enough. The actual Go Superfast page seems to consist of nothing other than links to Openreach’s and Virgin Media’s postcode checkers, the Government patting itself on the back, and a link to the application form for business broadband connection vouchers.

So, effectively, we have the government producing advertisements for ISPs and their fibre broadband services. To my eye, something seems off about this. The Government does like blowing its own horn for infrastructure improvements, and that’s fine, but the majority of the beneficiaries in this case will be private companies (Openreach, Virgin, the various ISPs et al.)[^2] And besides, it’s not like everyone needs fibre broadband: people in single occupancy dwellings may do just fine on a good ADSL connection.

So one wonders why the Government is spending money advertising the availability of fibre broadband. It’s a significant sum. I made a Freedom of Information request to see exactly how much money the Government was spending on this ad campaign.

The answer?

  1. The amount of money that DCMS has spent, to date, on its “Go Superfast” advertising campaign for fibre broadband, and associated marketing materials;

As at December 31st, we have spent £3,336,613.30 on advertising spend to raise awareness of Superfast Broadband. As more people take up superfast broadband in areas that have had public subsidy, more revenue will be returned to the projects to support further broadband roll-out.

  1. The projected total spend for this campaign through to the end of this Parliament or the end of the campaign, whichever is later;

The total advertising campaign budget is £8million.

That’s right. £8 million of our money is being spent on advertising fibre broadband.

The rationale behind the campaign becomes a little more clear when you realise that the intention is to generate a return on investment in the areas where public subsidy was used to roll out fibre broadband. This isn’t necessarily abnormal. The same thing happens with other infrastructure improvements (railways, for instance—most of the fares go straight back to the government.)

However, one has to ask questions about the Government’s priorities when it comes to broadband. While around 75% of the population has access to fibre broadband, for the remaining 25%, the picture is less rosy. The Government has a miserably unambitious target of a minimum service of 2Mbps by 2016. The new garden city at Bicester has no fibre-optic connection, with some customers waiting since August for a phone line thanks to Openreach’s complacency. Every contract for rural fibre has been awarded to Openreach. There are streets where Openreach refuses to compete with Virgin Media, and vice versa. On FTTC lines, connections still regularly drop packets (or drop entirely) thanks to the flakiness of Openreach’s backhaul. Some 45,000 small businesses still claim to be on dial-up speeds. And the government was criticised, by the Public Accounts Committee, for ripping off the taxpayer during the rural broadband roll-out.

So the Government can toot its own horn all it likes, but one wonders if spending £8 million on advertising fibre broadband is wise, given the wider financial situation and the staggering disparity in broadband availability.

Of course, it could merely be a ploy to get positive images of Britain, and of the incumbent Government, in the public eye. Anyone know if there’s an election coming up?

  1. For spinPR purposes, ‘superfast’ seems to mean ‘faster than ADSL's theoretical maximum of 24Mbps (but not always.)’ In practice this usually means fibre broadband, although EE also like to refer to their LTE network as ‘superfast.’ Theoretically, anything can be ‘superfast’ since, to my knowledge, the term has no true technical definition, nor is it legally protected.

Serial and the whodunit format

I was finding it hard to articulate what I found so disquieting about Serial. Thankfully, its host, Sarah Koenig, with the help of a letter from its main subject, did that for me in this week’s episode.

Serial is a radio programme released as a podcast, telling a true story week-by-week. Its first season focuses on the death of a teenage girl in Baltimore in 1999.

Hae Min Lee disappeared after high school on January 13th, and was found dead in Leakin Park a month later by a passer-by. Her ex, Adnan Syed, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Adnan maintains his innocence. The case was brought to the attention of This American Life’s Sarah Koenig by Adnan’s relatives, who believe he’s telling the truth when he says he had nothing do with Hae’s death.

[LINK] Some consumer-hostile selling tactics now illegal in UK/EU

The EU is not perfect. There are many mis-steps in its history: the cookie law; the fisheries and common agricultural policy; the wretched TTIP, etc. etc.

But on the other side of the coin, there’s free movement between countries with no need to apply for a visa; the clampdown on roaming charges; the sensible software patent system, and so forth. And then there’s things like this:

The EU’s new consumer rights law bans certain dark patterns related to e-commerce across Europe. The “sneak into basket” pattern is now illegal. Full stop, end of story. You cannot create a situation where additional items and services are added by default. No more having to manually remove insurance from your basket when purchasing plane tickets.

[LINK] A letter to Sarah Teather MP

The Open Rights Group has created a tool for you to email your MP about the Government’s latest wheeze, DRIP, a grasping attempt to retain the powers struck down by the European Court of Justice. My email is reproduced here: feel free use it as a base for your own.

Dear Ms Teather,

I am writing to urge you to do everything in your power towards stopping the invasive and unwarranted Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill.

DRIP is being forced through Parliament without proper consultation or scrutiny, an act of flagrant insolence towards the European Court of Justice’s rulings on data retention, and shows an abject lack of respect of the public’s right to privacy. The Government should have no right whatsoever to know who I have been speaking to and when, unless I am suspected of a crime—if I am, a warrant should be granted through an accountable judicial avenue and not on the caprice of whichever Minister happens to be in power at the time.

One is far more likely to be killed in a car crash than in a terrorist attack, and yet we are constantly being told that lives will be at risk if we do not entertain these hurriedly-enacted laws, which are wide open to abuse. I hope you and other Members of Parliament will see sense here, and demand a better solution from legislators.

Yours sincerely

Jonathan Rothwell

Changes to the Doctor Who guide

I recently made some changes to the Doctor Who viewing guide in preparation for Series 8, which begins on 23rd August with Deep Breath. (Of course, with the BBC being the BBC, the first five scripts have now leaked.)

For a start, the list of Who episodes with individual ratings has now been broken out into its own page, and as a bonus now names the writer and director of each story. Having everything on one page was becoming unmaintainable; in the future, once I finally get round to producing a list of suggested Classic Who episodes, I might break them out again. Hell, maybe in time a mini-site will be better, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.