Murphy Raises An Eyebrow

Murphy raised one eyebrow — not an insignificant signal to those attuned to his complex facial geography. They’d often joked that he backcombed them for extra bushiness. Some said he was inspired by his namesake in Spike Milligan’s Puckoon but, try as he might, his eyebrows never travelled ‘as far south as his chin’.

This quizzical flag spoke volumes — an efficient shorthand communication that was no mere banter. It demanded an explanation. But what had raised his curiosity?

The wall of the cottage was rock hard and Murphy’s shoulder settled comfortably on the warm doorframe as he watched the work — the new fibred connection strung across the old telephone poles to avoid the trench warfare that other broadband providers must battle with.

Murphy was not surprised that fibre was being delivered — it had been long promised.

Nor was he surprised it was being delivered by BT — apparently this ‘fibre broadband’ really was proper ‘full fibre’ and, ‘as part of a trial’, it was most definitely not the copper dependent (faux) fibre broadband that they’d wished on others.

Credit and congratulations are due then to the monopoly that seemed, in rural Northern Ireland, to be stirring from its long telephonic slumber.

So why the raised eyebrow?

Murphy’s stone cottage down a rocky unmade road was not the digital desert it might have seemed — and neither was Murphy. If BBC’s Mastermind ever beckoned, Murphy’s specialist subject could be the agonizingly slow death of analogue telephony — a battle, as he saw it, against the digital elements. And then he made the connection. Nestled alongside the fibres that promised liberation, he spotted a pair of copper wires.

Only that morning he’d tried to download the latest PDF from consultant Analysys Mason – BT’s most faithful advocate. Only that very morning he’d choked on the 1st sentence of the 2nd paragraph and uttered a despairing sigh. ‘GDP growth is the ultimate objective of policies for better broadband’– a seemingly innocent conviction a million miles from Mazzucato’s mission focused insights or Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’. And here, before his eyes, was the physical manifestation of that economically primitive silo mentality.

But Murphy said nothing — this was no time to detract from the work in progress. In his book, central battery telephony systems predated a reliable power grid, solar panels, packet switching and distributed computing. He would be well able to ignore the analogue and use digital voice channels — he’d long since travelled the path less chosen. Indeed, his chosen path was to leave the UK behind, remain in the EU across the border, take his business with him and leave his fully fibred cottage to a new owner.

The FTTH Council Europe surveys the broadband landscape and marvels at diversity — the rich variety of policies and practice across EU Member States and the tapestry of solutions within them

Regardless of ‘top down’ policy directives, what really matters is the motivation of local communities. The national averages of fibre provision ultimately reflect their local determinations. What else could explain the successes of community-led fibre deployments such as B4RN? None of them start from a desire to boost GDP — they just want decent health services, better schooling, less travel, stronger communities, places for families to grow and freedom from the constraints of dependence on a previous era of telephony. It would be jolly handy if the broadband service had some resilience at times of flooding — and, being county-folk, if no-one else will, they will do it themselves.

So it’s not surprising that the FTTH Council’s annual fibre-fest slogan urges grass-roots activism with a Gimme Fibre Day on November 4th. This has little or nothing to do with old empires of the telephonic era unless they step fully into the entirely different digital daylight. For sure, it’s difficult to leave the past behind but now is the time to move on and enable enlightened communities.