Friday, 16 March 2012

BT and the insanity of over-large companies

Here's a thing. Rural broadband. It's bad. It's bad partly because it's a long way along copper lines to the houses from the exchange (although I know people next door to their rural exchange who get suspiciously low speeds). This major element of the problem could be quickly and easily resolved by moving to fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). The cabinet is typically only a few hundred yards from the houses it serves, and fibre optic connections can carry signals over great distances with minimal loss of performance.

But BT, who rural residents are dependent on for infrastructure, don't see rural exchanges as economic to upgrade. The same BT, but in a different department, are tearing their hair out over the cost of maintaining copper infrastructure for these rural exchanges, as copper theft becomes increasingly common and rural locations are relatively low risk targets. Replacing a stolen length of copper serving an entire village is expensive in so many ways; the cable is expensive, the civil engineering that can be required is expensive, the telephony engineers to reconnect all the connections is expensive, the customer support dealing with complaints for the week or so the village is disconnected is expensive; and then there's the societal cost where elderly residents are cut off from the outside world for that long, potentially putting lives at risk.

Is it really so expensive to move rural exchanges to FTTC? That much more expensive than the costs of the copper cable thefts? More expensive than lives? Is it really uneconomic? No, probably not. But the upgrade department budget will be so very, very distant from the repair department budget; there's almost certainly no one with oversight of the two cost centres at a detail level necessary to see the opportunity. So rural residents get hit from both sides, having the lowest level of service while paying the same amount for their connection, while BT pay out for patching symptoms of a problem they could just rid themselves of.

Big companies don't have to be run in this short-sighted, disconnected way. But so many are...