Thursday, 25 November 2010

Follow up of broadband enquiries - Oxfordshire CC & BIS

David Robertson

I have a long and informative reply from David Robertson, lead councillor for the Oxfordshire broadband project.

His reply is very encouraging. Here is the gist of it.

1 Suppliers BT & Virgin do not seem active in rural areas as it is not in their commercial interest...

2 Sign up to BT Infinity is recommended as a way for residents to leave them in no doubt about our interest. There doesn't seem to be any other offerings...

3 There are policies to have broadband as part of the infrastructure in new developments where this is currently possible. For example in Banbury Canalside. But not in rural areas where provision would be difficult.

4 The government has a source of funds called Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and details are on the web site See below.

5 Oxfordshire has an embryonic project to roll out broadband to everyone in the county. This could use the existing Oxfordshire Community Network (to offices, schools, libraries, etc). Local independent broadband service providers could connect to the OCN to provide internet access in rural areas where the market has not delivered. Funds will be sought from BDUK. Full info soon.

Good - if a little slow

Cornwall have already a defined plan and money from the EU ERDF & BT to cover all the county, Oxfordshire need to run fast to catch up.


I have ploughed through the BIS BDUK web site, you should too. It is full of spin talk but there are some good bits. Objectives

Screen shot 2010-11-25 at 21.02.05.png

More later as I find it out...

The wheels of government grind slow, filesharing etc

I have just spent a boring 1/2hour reading the guff on the BIS web site. What I noted was these simple things

1 The government regards "Piracy" as stealing if a PROFIT is made, and this is a criminal offence

2 Filesharing i.e. copying for yourself, is "wrong", and is a civil offence

They have a strategy as follows

1 Grow legal markets (downloads)

2 Educate users about rights and illegality

3 Have a graduated response for rights holders and ISPs to use under civil law. Run by Ofcom who will notify illegal activity, and have ISPs release the ID of offenders so that a civil action can take place.

4 Have the Technical Strategy Board look into new ways to pay (e.g. micropayments), rights models and personal security.


Good news? - Broadband roll-out

Tony Baldry

I wrote to my MP (Tony Baldry) about the idea of having broadband as a mandatory utility. It seems he is taking a personal interest in this and working with the Oxfordshire CC.

David Robertson

I also contacted Ox CC directly (David Robertson) and they have yet to get back to me. Some plans are due to be announced in December?

Ed Vaizy

I have now received some information form Ed Vaizy himself (Min Culture, Comms & Creative Ind, Dep of Biz, Info & Skills). I summarise what he says,

1 The 2Mbps broadband is a Universal Service Commitment, it is a minimum "floor". So he has committed £530M from the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) to broadband rollout.

2 We need investment in super-fast broadband and aim to have the best in Europe by 2015.

3 In the spending review four pilot projects were announced for provision of super-fast broadband in rural and remote locations.

4 The £530M support is only part of the solution. The private sector he believes will provide access to 2/3rds of the population by 2015. The £530M is intended to support broadband rollout to those parts of the country the market won't reach on its own.


A national broadband strategy will be launched in December.

Clear as mud isn't it?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Trying to make sense of UK broadband development

I have done a little browsing, and this turns out to be a very complex subject. Forgive me if some of the stuff below is wrong.

FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet - in the street) gives 40down/15up Mbps

FTTP (Fibre to the premises) give 100down Mbps

ADSL+ (copper wires) 6-10down Mbps


The EU commission has a digital agenda,

- "Basic broadband" (unspecified) by 2013

- 30Mbps for 50% households by 2030

- Next Generation Access (technology to use FTTC/P, WiFi, WiMax, LTE & Satellite)


eGovernment drives the need for faster and universal broadband. But BT's USC (Universal Service Commitment?) does not contain anything about their duty to install broadband at any minimum speed at the request of anyone in UK - it covers telephone lines, anyone can request one and get it. But see below about USC...

Government has made some hazy statements of objectives (on the BIS web site)

1 Universal Service Commitment of

- 2Mbps by 2012

- using DSL, FTTC

- £200M funding + other (industry, private, consumer)

- Sale of spectrum and mandatory improvement in mobile coverage

2 Next Generation Fund (charge +50p on every phone line)

- Between Virgin and BT 2/3rds of homes should get super-fast broadband

- The last 1/3rd will be served by current generation paid for by NGF

They have also said they will get Ofcom to open up BT infrastructure, giving people access to the dedicated school broadband networks. By mandating broadband as part of new building programs & developments from Xmas 2010. And accelerating the auction of radio spectrum released by switching to digital TV for use for LTE wireless broadband.


BT Openreach, which is the part of BT doing the network installation, will provide

- FTTC 4M households by end 2010

- FTTC 16M households by 2015 (2/3rd of premises)

- Cost said to be only £2.5bn... which seems like peanuts in today's billion pound squabbles...

- FTTP 30Mbps by 2014 with 50% population at 100Mbps

These figures are taken from various press releases. They seem a bit confused (spin talk).

BT has two "divisions" involved in fast broadband, Openreach which install networks and allows other ISPs to piggy back on them, and BT Retail which sells broadband products to you and me.

BT Retail has a current short term marketing exercise running called "Race to Infinity" which invites people to sign up interest in having new fibre broadband. BT will do two things with the list of signees, pass it to Openreach for them to decide where to start the exchange upgrade programs and use it themselves to get back to people and offer broadband services.

Other ISPs can join the program, and nominate exchanges for upgrades, after making a commitment, but none have so far.

They will complete the top 5 exchanges with upgrades by 2012.

If you want fibre to your home the better solution they hint at is to get local authorities to fund the program, maybe by getting UK government or EU funding... see below.


Cornwall CC (and a development company they have) + BT + EU ERDF Convergence fund + SWRDA have got together and launched a project. Paid for by BT £79M, EU £54M. To upgrade all Cornwall's 100 exchanges to FTTC/P and provide better service to everyone (a few will have to use ADSL copper wire and some wireless to get connected...).

I'm off Twitter

I'm off Twitter.

If any one chose to follow me at "syganymede" then forget it. I have deactivated my account, I wasn't twittering anyway and I don't think I will start now. This blog will continue however.

Why have I stopped

1 I never really started
2 I find Twitter completely banal
3 I don't understand it, @ signs, # signs ... what are they for?


Fire Toast

Every time that we make toast in our kitchen, either it is underdone, or burnt to a cinder. I keep twiddling the timer setting on the toaster, up and down, but different breads need different times and so I never get the perfect toast.

But what I have found is that if I put the timer on max, "don't care if you burn", then at about the right moment that the toast is how I like it the fire/smoke alarm in the hall goes off. It seems very sensitive and goes off as well when I cook bacon...

So that made me think. Why not do away with the timer in the toaster and put a fire alarm in instead?

Now isn't that a brilliant idea? Get to it toast makers.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Will Ofcom jump? BSkyB-time

Ofcom has, at the request of the government, started an enquiry into the 100% take over of BSkyB by Murdock. The submissions finish today...

The issues that Ofcom have asked for submissions about, and my inputs, are:

Issue 1: Content type:

We are seeing a merger of content types, a parallel transmission by word, movie and sound.

The potential control and choice of the delivery method must not be under dominant control

Issue 2:Audience:

Audiences today are global. Any tighter control of delivery chains will persist the micro subdivision we have today of the distribution rights of content.

We have to open up content in a way that allows the audience to choose the delivery, no matter how or where they chose

Issue 3:Media platforms:

There is already too much control over delivery platforms.

Print is controlled by newspaper publishers...
Music is controlled by labels through restrictions on media used, CDs...
TV is very restricted to specific radio channels, terrestrial and satellite. What is worse these channels are often encrypted by DRM to limit the user...

The internet has the potential to open up a user controlled platform. But already forces are in play which are taking control of this end-to-end. The new YouView and lots of other offerings are perpetuating this closed model.

This must be stopped, the interface has to be rolled back to the content provider, supplying it to a competitive market of platforms competing commercially on price and technical capability, with no inherent rights control

Issue 4:Control of media enterprises:

Media enterprises are just content providers, in fact they are less than that, they are cooperatives of artists, writers, etc.

We need much more openness and freedom to connect the content creators directly to their audiences, without both opinion and commercial editorial control.

Issue 5:Future developments in the media landscape:

The internet changes everything. It is disruptive.

But we must not fight it. We have to stop any one, or a limited number, of delivery chains from controlling the channel through which we access creative content.

We need to roll back the rights licensing issues and ensure that creators output their content freely, with no restrictive channel control.

Further note that media today is integrated, sound, video, text move simultaneously in parallel supporting any one topic. This must be encouraged, no channel must be exclusive to any one media type.

Additional comments:

The discussion is larger than the BSkyB shareholding. It is about how we intercommunicate today and tomorrow.

The key is more openness, not closed delivery channels.

Getting better broadband in Oxfordshire

In a previous posting I analysed my poor broadband service, "My Broadband speed - or lack of it".

Next step

I have had a couple of run-ins with Oxfordshire CC (this is a copy from an email I sent my MP Tony Baldry):

"Browsing the Oxfordshire web site ( and found this news

"Encouraging broadband improvements
Published on: November 11, 2010

Oxfordshire County Council and its partners are encouraging local people to register for BT Infinity in their thousands to get across the message that people in the county want a better standard of broadband.

I have emailed them to say

1 They should take the initiative themselves to insist that broadband provision is part of any planning approval, just as water, electricity and sewage are

2 They should NOT be recommending any one supplier over another, it is wrong for them to ask us all to go to BT. I for one do not want anything to do with BT as their service and arrogance to me has been unacceptable. I would not sign up for this service if I could get it from another ISP."

Council follow-up

And I have written to the person who is driving the matter in the CC (David Robertson):

"Dear David

I live in an area of Banbury which is a broadband blackspot (OX16 1GB). None of the suppliers I have contacted (BT, Sky, Orange...) can quote me better than 0.5Mbps speeds. In reality I get less than this and have an average download speed of less than 400kbps).

I don't think I am alone is having such a poor service. As far as I understand it this is due to the fact that BT have not upgraded my local exchange, or made any planning what-so-ever to install equipment to improve matters. I have been in direct contact with them about this (Alison Bauress at

I have today found on the Oxfordshire web site an article about improving broadband speeds across the county. I would comment

1 I object completely to be asked to register for BTs new proposed fast broadband. It is wrong for the council to be promoting BT commercial services over other ISPs. I will not register or ask for any services from BT after the poor and arrogant customer service they have given me in the past (about which I have already complained to Tony Baldry before I could get them to even talk to me..)

2 It should be a part of the fundamental running of the county to have broadband as a service, in the same way as electricity, water and sewage. You should mandate the provision of minimum standard broadband (2Mbps) as part of any planning approval. No broadband, no approval).

3 Since I have a very keen interest in this matter, I would appreciate being kept up to date with any and all thinking and decisions about the matter. Thanks.

Best Regards

Antony Watts"

I will post replies when and if I get them.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

They just don't get it - DE Act

What we, the petitioners said:

"...abolish the proposed law that will see alleged illegal filesharers disconnected from their broadband connections, without a fair trial..."

The issue as you see is "fair trial". The DE Act as it is allows people to be threatened at the request of rights owners, without presenting any firm, legal evidence at a court hearing. It is already happening. ISPs are revealing the names and addresses of subscribers who are "alleged" to have shared copyright files. These are then being perused to claim damages with no proof that the evidence against them is valid.

No one doubts that people are file sharing. But the current DE Act is not the way to stop it. It must be repealed and redefined, together with new laws on copyright itself.

What the government replied:

"The Digital Economy Act includes a number of
to tackle the
and we expect these to be successful in significantly reducing online copyright infringement. However this is an area of
rapid technological change
developing consumer behaviour.
The Act therefore includes a reserve power to
introduce further “technical” measures
if the initial measures do not succeed. These technical measures would limit or restrict an infringers’ access to the internet. They do not include disconnection."

- Yes the bill includes measures, badly thought through and badly applied by Ofcom
- It is not a problem, it is a market that is not working. Fair prices for media and people will buy, unfair prices, terms and profits to middle men, not artists, and people will not buy.
- Yes there is rapid technological change, including now file sharing though totally anonymous "file lockers", which cannot be detected.
- Yes consumer behaviour is changing, it is hardening against the current laws of copyright which are seen to be ridiculous in the digital age. Current laws, for example, do not permit you to copy a CD you purchased to your iPod, they prevent transcoding a video from a DVD to play on your iPad...
- There is no point whatsoever in introducing "further technical measures", they will not work. Just as DRM today is broken. DRM and technical measures just make the consumer experience worse and worse.

It is the structure of the industry which has to change to new models that encourage people to buy media and offer it at reasonable prices and terms.

As far as disconnection is concerned, this is futile, anyone can simply go out and buy a 3G dongle and get on line again with a PAYG chip...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Very, very low cost HiFi amplifier

Can you believe I paid 0.99euro for two of these kits to build a 50+50W HiFi audio amplifier!!! (eBay from HK).

TDA7294 amplifier.jpg

I have also ordered a power supply (rectifiers and capacitors), this is £16. And all I need now is the expensive UK part, the 22-0-22V mains transformer, £38 from Farnell UK.

The Amplifier

Putting this all in a box should bring the total spend to less than £70 for a high performance HiFi amplifier. Can't be bad!

I plan to assemble it in a 10cm square aluminium tube, that will match the footprint of the new Apple TV. But I have one circuit to find before I can connect the two - I need a DAC to convert the digital optical audio output of the Apple TV to analog input of my amplifier.

A DAC is needed

Hopefully I will find a DAC that will also fit in the box of the amplifier. But DAC prices look like £50-£90 or so (see Gefen one for example). Humph. I would design and build one but this will cost even more as the printed circuit boards are expensive. I wish some one in China would make a decent DAC kit at a decent price. Technically I want to use the best DAC chips I can and I think these are the Wolfson WM8742 ICs... I will keep searching the web and eBay.

Good bye to the CD, hello iTunes

This is both a commercial and a technical goodbye.


Commercial, because frankly music these days is downloaded. The Internet has provided a new delivery chain which has by-passed the CD. Revolution in the music business which has for all its life held control over the delivery chain (Vinyl then CD), but which has now lost it to iTunes, Amazon and the streaming services like Spotify. As a side effect of this is the loss of high quality audio. At the moment all popular internet delivery uses lossy compression at various bit rates.


Now on the technical side. The CD has dominated digital delivery for years. It is a system that captures music at 16bit/44.1kHz sample rates. And this is the feed that is also used to encode the internet delivery in AAC or MP3 at 192 or 320kbps data rates. Recovered audio is at 16bit/44.1kHz.

Future is different

But, future interest is not in the arcane rate of 44.1kHz (where ever that came from), but in using 48kHz, 96kHz and even 192kHz rates. The future is also a wider bit depth of 24bits in place of 16 bits.

1 DAT uses 48kHz, normally 16bit

2 Stereo output (not 5.1) from disks provides 48kHz, 16 or 24bit when not protected by DRM (HDPC on HDMI links to DTVs..., Blu Ray disks etc)

3 The BBC uses 48kHz internally (with a up/down conversion to/from 44.1 at various parts of its delivery chain and output to us - they haven't got their act totally together yet). They use 24 bit at the front end for concert recordings, but downgrade to 16bit along some chains.

You will notice one thing, 96 and 192 are multiples of 48. That means it is much cleaner to down sample from 96 or 192 to 48. But down sampling or up sampling between 44.1 and the other rates is a software nightmare and a noisy mess.

So the CD at 44.1kHz and 16 bits is dead. Now what we need to emerge is a solid way of getting 16 or 24bit/48kHz or 96kHz audio to our homes. This has to be done on the internet.

File choices

The second choice is whether to abandon lossy encoding (AAC & MP3) and stream or download source PCM files (AIF or WAV formats, or lossless ALAC or FLAC formats). Lossless files are x10 bigger than lossy, so it really depends on the progress we make in having a bigger, faster broadband pipe - and that's another story - but it is the future of high quality music to the home. After all the BBC says you need 2Mbps for iPlayer video, so why not use 2Mbps for high quality audio streams?

Apple's not quite there?

Although there is not a lot of official information about the sound channels in Apple iTunes, Airplay (music over WiFi in the home), Apple TV and Apple Airport Express, it looks like all WiFi streaming is done at 16bit/48kHz using the ALAC lossless codec. This is good news, 24bit would be even better...

But iTunes music arrives at 16bit/44.1kHz (CD standard, but with lossy AAC encoding). This makes no sense and it seems to me that they need to revise their AAC delivery to 16bit/48kHz to avoid re-sampling before WiFi streaming using Airplay. All Apple iPods support 48kHz too.

What I would like to see is Apple iTunes have two delivery routes, for iPods etc AAC 16bit/48kHz for low cost music with fast downloads, and 24bit/96kHz lossless at a (slightly) higher price (not x2 as I have to pay for wider broadband width to get it!) for high quality stuff. The 24bit/96kHz could be re-sampled to 24bit/48kHz for WiFi streaming if the Apple TV & Express hardware can support 24bit (the core audio of Macs supports up to 32bit).

They need to push the recording industry in this direction and firm up their own strategy.

Monday, 1 November 2010

My Broadband speed - or lack of it!!!

I have just written to my MP to see if he can put some welly behind actions of Oxfordshire CC to get an improvement in our broadband speeds.

My current speeds are less than 0.5Mbps down and less than 0.4Mbps upload. This has been checked on various web sites of different ISPs including BT, Orange and Talktalk. I have also had a run-in with BT about the matter after they repeatedly sent me advertising bumph offering 'up to 20Mb broadband', but they were unable to offer any improvement.

Note to my MP

I have been doing some reading to try to get a handle on the 'broadband problem' in Banbury and more specifically why I cannot get better than 0.5Mbps!

First I found this:

"The Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) has met with BT and announced plans to improve the county's broadband internet access by bidding for UK government cash in December 2010. It's estimated that 1 in every 6 local homes receive poor broadband or no connection at all. Some 17% of the region experience speeds of less than 2Mbps and 90% of people live outside the main city of Oxford."

Then this:

"Broadband should be treated as a universal service – a basic requirement and right, just like electricity, gas and water.” - Tina Sommer, Federation for Small Businesses’ EU and International Affairs Chairman

We need to understand the position of Oxfordshire within a national context of Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband penetration. Work is being carried out to assist Oxfordshire County Council and its partners shape a realistic, viable and sustainable future broadband strategy underpinning Oxfordshire’s wider social, economic and business goals."

And I found the data about broadband speeds in my area. The charts are attached

1 A broad overview of the status of broadband in Oxfordshire. As you see the north of Banbury is poor

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 16.44.11.png

2 A zoom in to Banbury itself. Blue areas are 'Poor" speed ones

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 16.16.02.png

3 A very close look at my estate, again blue means 'Poor'. Just as I suspected the blue cloud has settled right over me!!!

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 16.17.03.png

Are you interested in this matter, and what can you do about getting a better service for the outlying areas of Banbury?

Best Regards

No one was thinking

I live in a new house (less than 5 years old). I am amazed that at the time no one considered that broadband should be a universal service like water, gas and electricity. I have got all those, neatly laid underground. But I don't have good broadband.

Now how to make a bigger noise about this???

I did find a report from the Oxford Times saying:

"COUNTY hall bosses have pledged to try and boost broadband access in Oxfordshire, as a Euro MP warned the lack of coverage posed ‘serious risks’ to businesses.

Oxfordshire County Council deputy leader David Robertson said the authority had met BT bosses and would bid for Government cash in December to extend coverage."

There's hope yet.

Thinking about future TV/IPTV

We have got ourselves into a right old mess today trying to combine TV and the internet. Lots of crazy solutions are around, content suppliers don't know which way to turn and who to licence for delivery of their work. We have chaos and profusion: BT Vision, Virgin, TalkTalk TV, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Channel4 4od, Five demand, Sky player, iTunes, Blinkbox, Fetch TV, 3View, Seesaw, TV Catchup, Joost, JumpTV, and so it goes, on and on...

Frankly that is no way to treat consumers or suppliers. These middlemen are crazy, or maybe it is us, we are crazy to even think about using them and content providers are crazy to keep pumping their content into these delivery channels.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was an alliance of suppliers, all delivering their content in the same way (pay per view for example, with consistent technical standards - MPEG4/H264 etc) and we could just chose our favourite viewing software or box as a consumer preference - just a piece of hardware/software all compatible with any content supplier... That's what I want anyway. Not to be badgered by thousands of diversified offerings!

Wrong thinking

In the home we have a TV. This is often the centre of our living space, and arranged so that we group around it for a common viewing experience. Why then would we want internet browsing on the TV (a la Google?), who is going to do the browsing and who are the unfortunate ones who have to watch someone else click around?

No the TV cannot be a way to browse the internet. There has to be something specific (iTunes?). And again here we have a problem: IPTV services can be created so that the internet can be the delivery chain for TV, but what's the point in that, satellite is much better (bandwidth...). And no broadcasters seem to be able to provide POD (programs on demand, past and future) because of rights limitations.

What the internet can bring is VOD (movies). You request the program you want, and you get it ASAP. All that is then needed is a way to pay for it and the internet can do that also.

But you still end up with a communal viewing experience. What if you want to check out the internet whilst viewing a program?

You need a 2nd screen of course!

Another thing

The greatest problem is that all current offerings are one way. They are directed solely at the TV screen.

But what we need is integration between the computer and the TV. We need the two way flow of data.

This means the data that drives the EPG must be output from the TV to our computers. They can then use this to provide a better consumer experience.

I could have my iPad in my hand, it could provide me with official statistics while a politician is answering a question on Question Time. It could give me sports statistics while I watch the Olympics, because it knows, from the TV data, what being shown and can run off to the internet and find the data.

The future of systems like YouView is not on the TV screen, it is on the

TV AND the personal computer,


The current obsession of media delivery chains to have exclusive delivery of copyright content to one screen, your TV, is a distraction from this development.

Media control

I am absolutely fed up with being turned over by the media companies. The three way struggle: the studio makes a film, they licence it for distribution to specific channels using the draconian copyright laws, and I get to see it only if I subscribe to the chosen channel, Sky, Virgin, BBC, iTunes, etc.

I am being systematically fleeced. The distributors are misusing copyright, which is supposed to encourage artists to be creative, make money and let them control the distribution of their works, not make the media labels rich. And it gets worse, you know you can buy this movie on iTunes, but you can't rent it. You can buy it only in USA, but not in UK. You can see it at Odean cinemas but not at others. You can get it from Netflix or LoveFilm or Hulu, but not in UK.

And the delivery chains think they are doing a good job of providing us with a service.


Shake up needed

This market needs a huge shake up to induce competition in the delivery chain, not based on exclusive content but on cost and convenience for the user. Unfortunately this is not going to happen by commercial forces, in fact the current forces are just making things worse, just ask Spotify about opening their services in the USA...

It needs political attention and political will to do something about entrenched forces and the overdue need to revise copyright laws. We need to look hard at the exploitation of control of the delivery chain, to the huge disadvantage of the consumer, not by artists but by the media delivery companies. Its not the artists who are making any money, its the medial labels, the middle men who control the delivery chain in a selfish and self-seeking way.

We need to have a public interface at the level of the creators, and let consumers chose how their work will be delivered to their ears and eyeballs. If I want to view a film on TV, at a time of my choosing, I should be able to do it - and pay for it to the creators - at the time I chose and wherever I chose. If I want to view a movie I purchased, in anyway, DVD, download... I should be able to watch this on any hardware I own with no restrictions. I should be able to loan it and resell it.

As an addendum...

The BBC has no mandate to provide an exclusive delivery chain, but they are doing this with iPlayer and YouView participation. They are there and paid for to make programs and provide open access to all past and future programs. They should provide an open interface for any software, commercial or open source, to deliver their programs to the consumer. They have to get used to the fact that they are an open, public broadcaster, paid for by a licence fee, and the material they output is public, past, present and future. There should be nothing illegal about sharing public broadcast material.

Sky, Virgin, BT Vision etc are basically delivery chain exploiters, they make few, if any, programs. I cannot for the life of me see why people pay for a TV licence (£140/year) and then pay another huge subscription to Sky (£500/year), just to get so many channels that have little value and which they have no time to watch. And as for gimmicks like 3D TV, Video Recording... Internet on TV, oh my.

I am led away screaming.