Update; 7th February: National Broadband Strategy – what is it, indeed, where is it heading?

Update; 7th February, CoC meeting

 

Please take a look at the FITV‘s short report on the closed meeting held at The Chamber of Commerce (CoC) on Thursday 6th February 2020. The presentations made by the Falkland Islands Government and Sure South Atlantic were intended to update CoC members about the National Broadband Strategy.

The FITV video included an interview with ex-MLA Mike Summers, who is the current Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce talking about his thoughts following the meeting.

On the morning of the meeting, OpenFalklands published a post entitled “National Broadband Strategy – what is it, indeed, where is it heading?” where one of the options for the National Broadband Strategy going forward was stated as being:

The islands’ business/community push for a Visionary Strategy.
Following intense activity based around creating consumer and business awareness of the benefits of a Visionary Strategy, MLAs and FIG are presented with an authoritative cross-community demand to start an evaluation of a  Visionary Strategy could be delivered. Assessment: This would be an excellent path to take, but it would take considerable time to get off the ground. It would require a high level of community involvement to deliver. If that commitment is missing, nothing will happen.

It’s reported that there was strong support for an evaluation of the benefits of a local intranet at the meeting from those that had been asking for it for many years. This was mirrored in the CoC Chairman’s statement that the CoC might set up a “small sub-group” to study this and “would be more than happy” to make a proposal to MLAs in due course.

This really is excellent news, and I am pleased to see that this initiative has been formally taken up by the CoC. I look forward to seeing where this positive initiative leads to. Of course, I hope that OpenFalklands will be invited to contribute to this activity in due course.

This really could represent a major innovative step-change for the Falkland Islands Internet.

Mike Summers, Chamber of Commerce Chairman (Provided with permission of FITV)



National Broadband Strategy – what is it, indeed, where is it heading?

I have waited with high expectation for the publication of the National Broadband Strategy as introduced in the March 2019 Falkland Islands Government (FIG) Communications Week, but nothing has been published beyond a paper and comments made in Penguin News concerned with upgrading satellite capacity in December 2019. So, what was it and, more importantly, where is it heading?

To kick-off, here are several definitions of terms relevant to this post.

Vision: An aspirational description of what an organisation would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action.

Strategy: A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.

Visionary strategy: A visionary strategy is incredibly effective. The visionary approach empowers an organisation to create a future with some degree of predictability, but with some risk, by seeing an opportunity and pursuing it single-mindedly.

Cost / Benefits analysis: costbenefit study is a process businesses use to justify decisions. An enterprise or government sums the financial benefits of a situation or action and then divides the costs associated with taking that action. If positive, then the action is deemed to be justified.

Let’s start by going back to March 2019.


April 9th 2019 OpenFalklands post

The National Broadband Strategy was first mooted in the March 2019 Communications Week, but the objectives were not published at the time. This prompted me to think about what these should be if it was to deliver positive benefits to the island’s consumers and businesses.

The result was that I wrote a post entitled “The Enigma of the Falkland Islands National Broadband Strategy” where I postulated that the scope and the vision substantially lacked ambition: The following paragraphs summed up my views at the time.

“In my opinion, the use of the term National Broadband Strategy is far too limited in scope as it implies a focus on only justifying and planning an increase in satellite capacity. This is of course important, but is a smaller part of what the Falkland Islands needs to do to really participate in the global digital economy that is transforming the world.

In my limited view of Communications Week, I never heard anything about encouraging the development of local Internet businesses and entrepreneurs to develop Internet services in the Falkland Islands.

The Internet does not just exist everywhere outside of the Falkland Islands; it should exist locally in the islands as well as it does in most other countries.

I would strongly suggest that the name of the strategy be changed to the National Internet Strategy.”

My out-of-the-box conclusion of that post challenged the stakeholders FIG, Communications Regulator, Sure South Atlantic and consultants to create a visionary strategy for the islands:

“Finally, an exciting challenge for the Communications Week consultants

There really has never been a better time to really articulate a wide-ranging Falkland Islands Internet strategy and the opportunity should not be allowed to slip away. In that vein, I’d like to throw out an exciting challenge to the consultant companies that attended Communications Week and who are aiding the Falkland Islands Government in the development of the National Internet Strategy.

The challenge is to step out of the normal comfort zone and not just provide a boiler-plate set of Incremental Approach safe options, but, maybe, in addition, propose an Exponential Approach, 5-10-year Internet vision for the Falkland Islands.

This will detail what actions, regulatory changes, financial investment and KPIs are required to develop a National Internet Strategy that will dramatically transform the islands Internet future and be something that consumers, businesses, FIG and current MLAs could look back and be proud of achieving in ten-years’ time.”


April 10th 2019 Regulator’s web site post

My post seemed to have hit a nerve as the next morning the following statement was posted in the News section of the Regulator’s web site. This seemed to support the ambition that I wanted to see that the strategy would go well beyond just recommending an increase in satellite capacity.

“National Broadband Strategy – Next Steps

What is required?
A clear vision and statement of commitment, championed by the Falkland Islands Government, for the development of communications in the short, medium and long term. This vision should be embodied in a strategy containing realistic and quantifiable targets with clear measurements for success, which will provide all stakeholders with a cohesive and collaborative vision of where the Falkland Islands wants to place itself with regards to connectivity in the next 10 years.

Access to increased bandwidth and faster download and upload speeds allows access to both knowledge and opportunities that will help those living in the Falkland Islands increase their potential to succeed. The importance of a clear and cohesive strategy cannot be underestimated in encouraging investment and innovation striving towards a shared goal. The plan will form the basis on which future decisions are taken with regards to the development of communications.

What should a strategy include?
A national broadband strategy cannot be about supply-side issues alone and the rollout of infrastructure and networks. It needs to consider demand-side issues, including computer literacy, Government online service delivery; the totality of components that maximise the available connectivity. A strategy for the Falkland Islands should include:

  1. A defined vision on increased broadband speeds, affordability, reliability and how this links to broader national plans (such as the Islands Plan 2018 – 2022).
  2. National targets regarding the availability of wifi, both to the home and mobile, broadband speeds and a clear action plan on how this will be achieved both in Stanley and in Camp.
  3. SMART objectives to ensure the strategy initiative is focused and success is measurable.
  4. Clear, publicly available, strategy and action plan on improved international connectivity, steps to secure this and the funding mechanisms in the short, medium and long term.
  5. Development of the Government’s online presence, leading the way in terms of online engagement (eGovernment).
  6. Promotion of digital literacy skills across the community, public sector and private sector.
  7. Identification of those who are specifically accountable within a wider notion of collective responsibility that the national broadband strategy belongs to all.

A strategy is required for development in each of these areas:

  1. Infrastructure, connectivity, devices
  2. Content, applications and innovation
  3. Capacity building and awareness
  4. Policy, legal and regulatory environment
  5. Financing and investment”

The last section, in particular, seemed to indicate that the strategy would go way beyond off-island satellite capacity justification.

This is all good typical consultant language, but looking back at it from the perspective of January 2020, I would have to say that the outcome is rather underwhelming and below expectations.


December 2019 doubling of satellite capacity

Please don’t read me wrong. I am VERY VERY pleased that the satellite capacity has been doubled to improve the performance of the global Internet for islanders, but this is hardly commensurate with the ambition and aspiration of the first sentence of FIG’s response: “A clear vision and statement of commitment, championed by the Falkland Islands Government, for the development of communications in the short, medium and long term”.

What about the rest of the Strategy? I have to say that only increasing satellite capacity does not cut the mustard as far as a short, medium and long-term islands’ communications strategy should entail.

Unpublished research

During Communications Week,  FIG’s consultants, Incyte Consulting and LS Telecom, interviewed many businesses across various market sectors as to their future communications needs. An analysis of these sessions has NOT been published, even if redactions are required. A User Habits survey was held to gain an understanding of how consumers used the Internet in 2018. The results of which have NOT been made public either. I have already discussed the non-publication of the results of the studies undertaken in relation to subsea cables here:


What I learned when I visited the Islands

I spent much time during my November 2019 visit talking about the issues discussed in this post with consumers and businesses. There was a pretty wide understanding that a visionary approach was needed to be taken FIG in respect to the islands’ communications. In fact, there was a far greater understanding of the need for a high-speed intranet than I thought.

However, my discussions with a ‘top-of-the-tree’ individual (who shall remain anonymous, but generally understood and agreed with my views) expounded an important opinion.

I was informed that the only Internet improvement that was needed by consumers in the Household User Survey and the sector interviews were an increase in satellite capacity. The need for an islands intranet net was absent. On this basis, I was advised that I should probably give up my efforts of pushing for an in-island intranet as they will not be rewarded.

This is hardly surprising as this would be the expected result as most consumers do not currently understand the benefits of services provided on a fast in-island intranet. However, I do believe that most businesses really do understand the benefits.

I was told that unless a broad spectrum of consumers and businesses proactively push MLAs and FIG to formally consider an in-island intranet then nothing will happen. How could I disagree with this view? 

However, I do. It’s a fact that any company that only relies exclusively on needing active demand from its customers to determine whether to develop a new product or service is doomed to insolvency.


Possible elements of a National Internet Strategy

I have written extensively on OpenFalklands about what a genuinely Visionary National Internet Strategy could involve so I will not belabour them here other than to list some elements that have been recently discussed on OpenFalklands.

  1. The financing and development on an in-island high-speed internet to enable desperately needed services for consumers and businesses.
  2. Removal of commercial obstacles that are preventing Falkland Islands’ entrepreneurs and businesses from creating locally-hosted Internet services.
  3. The removal of quotas being applied to in-island Internet services.
  4. Enable the provision VSAT services at a reasonable cost to allow local businesses to provide appropriate backup capabilities to prevent service outages when the Internet cannot be accessed.
  5. etc.

This would certainly be a good basis for a Visionary Strategy.


Possible options going forward.

Here are my thoughts about the possible options for what could happen in 2020.

  1. National Broadband Strategy gets put on ice.
    It has achieved its ambition of increasing satellite capacity and so there is little else to do for three years. Assessment: This would be an easy option for FIG and Sure Falkland Islands to unconsciously adopt. If a strategy not talked about openly in public, it would soon be forgotten I suspect and lost in last year’s archived papers.
  2. National Broadband Strategy focuses only on off-island connectivity.
    This will involve ad hoc talks with satellite providers based on the possible “significant advances are expected in satellite technology”. Assessment: This represents a passive ‘engineering-based’ strategy that completely ignores the need and development of an island-based digital economy with all the economic and social benefits that will bring. This approach would seem to be most likely to be adopted from past experience.
  3. Sure South Atlantic proactively proposes a Visionary Strategy.
    This would be an obvious source of an insightful Visionary Strategy that could be offered to FIG and the island’s community. It represents a startlingly new and welcomed approach from Sure South Atlantic that significantly improves its image. Assessment: This is what I would expect to see coming from a telecommunications service provider elsewhere in the world to demonstrate their commitment to their customers. This could be done at the behest of an headquarters-based ‘champion’ who is willing to push against corporate resistance that is not required where there is competition. Just because there is a monopoly, it does not automatically lead to stagnation. The opportunity is there to demonstrate a real commitment to the islands if it is taken up.
  4. The islands’ business/community push for a Visionary Strategy.
    Following intense activity based around creating consumer and business awareness of the benefits of a Visionary Strategy, MLAs and FIG are presented with an authoritative cross-community demand to start an evaluation of a  Visionary Strategy could be delivered. Assessment: This would be an excellent path to take, but it would take considerable time to get off the ground. It would require a high level of community involvement to deliver. If that commitment is missing, nothing will happen.
  5. FIG proactively proposes a Visionary Strategy.
    MLAs and FIG believe that the next step is to create a Visionary Strategy that takes the National Broadband Strategy looking beyond off-island connectivity. Studies that are undertaken identify what a Visionary Strategy involves and a series of activities and milestones that lead to a step-change in the islands Internet capabilities. Assessment: This activity would be seen as the natural next step for the National Broadband Internet Strategy. The real challenge is that a FIG ‘champion’ needs to be identified that could drive this work forward with the knowledge and passion required. The St Helena Government has achieved this.

Which approach do readers think will be adopted?


Wrap up

Development of a Visionary Strategy requires real passionate belief and a single-minded drive to take it forward and get it delivered. Acceptance of a degree of risk is mandatory. No risk, no gain.

The Internet would never have been born if its development had relied on favourable costs/benefits analyses as its real-world impact was unknown. It was driven by the vision of a number of individuals.  It’s great that the satellite capacity has been doubled, but this is only the tip of an iceberg of what could be achieved by adopting a visionary approach. It’s NOT simply about the provision an Internet Access Service.

A Visionary National Internet Strategy is a must to build on the 2018-2022 Islands plan. A strategy that looks well beyond “We will strengthen the Falkland Islands’ connections to the world?” is required. This would meet the aspirations of that first sentence in the April 10th FIG post:

“A clear vision and statement of commitment, championed by the Falkland Islands Government, for the development of communications in the short, medium and long term.”

Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. It could be considered that the first step has been taken with the doubling of off-islands capacity; now let’s look inwards.

Copyright: January 2020, OpenFalklands

One Reply to “Update; 7th February: National Broadband Strategy – what is it, indeed, where is it heading?”

  1. Why does everyone in power come across as a bunch of reactionary luddites satisfied with the status quo in this article? 🙂

    I really, really hope the business interests of Sure aren’t overruling national best interests.

    Is it merely a question of government representatives not being up to the task from a technological and economic perspective? Happy to be moved along as good little sheep by industry lobbyists?

    Sounds to me like telecom deregulation is 30 years too late in coming to the Falklands.

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