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Letters / Election time

I had to smile at the letter bemoaning how slow the ‘broadband’ connection is over at South Whiteness (Super fast nation; SN, 04/01/15)

I’m not entirely unsympathetic, but I don’t see that there’s that much cause for complaint, considering that 420 kbps down and 64 kbps up (measureable) is all that’s on offer up here at Uyeasound.

And that’s only as long as the internet connection isn’t down, as it was AGAIN yesterday and last night, thus making it impossible for online searches to be carried out, and for work product uploads/downloads to be executed.

Not for the first time, I reflected in frustration disgust that this place is simply not yet open for business, eight years on from ‘broadband’ being made available on Unst; and that anyone who decides to come up to Uyeasound to live, while continuing to work online, will face a nightmare of annoyance and frustration, as well as commercial loss – unless, that is, he or she is prepared to go to the expense of equipping themselves with a satellite internet connection. And before anyone decides that I’m trying to sell something. I’m not: I only do that kind of work for myself, like a great many other things.

The main (but not the only) reason for Shetland’s broadband problems is, of course, that privatisation of BT in the early 1980s absolved the government from the future hassle and expense of upgrading the telephone infrastructure – specifically, replacing the copper cabling which was only ever intended to carry voice frequency transmissions, of which fax is one. BT’s only obligation in law is to maintain what was already in place at the time when the network was sold off; and it’s only through a miracle of very slick and elegant electrical engineering that ADSL is available at all on the copper cabling, all of which needs to be re-pulled using fibre optic cable, in order to allow it to be of any real use to its subscribers.

The other part of the problem for Shetland is that much of its broadband traffic is routed through a microwave link to the Scottish mainland, rather than via any kind of subsea cable, fibre optic or otherwise. This feature sets the upper limit of internet traffic volume – the ‘bandwidth’ of the system, loosely – against a hard stop. The addition of faster broadband services inwith Shetland – such as streamed TV channels, for instance – simply eats further into the available bandwidth; and the overall effect is to slow down internet speed in the first instance, and then to cause the kind of denial of service to outlying consumers that I experienced on Saturday.

The only way to work around this limitation – which BT are not required in law to address, see above, means that uploads/downloads/remote-connection PC-to-PC online repairs can only be executed at certain times of the day, to stand any chance of succeeding. This, in turn, means more usage of electricity to run the PCs and their peripheral equipment, and working at what most people would consider to be unsociable hours. This is not a reasonable way to have to do business.

The same side-stepping of infrastructure-replacement obligations occurred when the electricity and water utilities were privatised at around the same time. Many slurs have been laid at a particular door for this over the years, in terms of ‘politicians paying off their mates’ – but my take on it is that the sell-off was actually for the same reasons as the telephone network: i.e. that the government of the day foresaw the vast cost of infrastructure replacement and updating, and took the easy way out.

Whichever was the controlling reason, the net result has been the same: that the whole of this country’s vital water, communications and electricity-supply infrastructure has suffered piecemeal repairs and ‘maintenance by neglect’ for about thirty years now, and consequently the whole country is unwittingly sitting on a timebomb of expense and loss of service that NONE of the privatise suppliers have laid any money aside to cater for. SSE’s need to replace Gremista is a case in point – it can’t be done out of savings or cashflow, as we’ve seen.

I suppose that the government – the UK taxpayer, actually – will be expected to stump up the funds required to make good this situation at some point in the future, and that as a result of it we, the UK taxpayers, will be made to pay twice over for the same crock of the well-known article that has delivered a reduced and generally poor level of service over the past thirty years. This, in spite of obscene levels of upper-management bonuses and shareholder dividends that we’ve read (and seethed impotently) about, during the whole of that time. The fact that no obligation in law was stipulated at the time of privatisation reveals, to me at least, the true thrust of those initiatives.

The question now has to be asked: who is to blame for what’s happened to our infrastructure services, that they should now be in such a cash-strapped mess? The answer is, of course, the system of government that allowed this situation to arise in the UK in the first place, and the people who paid for it to be made to happen.

Two books exist at the moment that, once read, will show their reader who did it and how, and who paid who for it to be done. One of these titles can be found in the Shetland Library – ‘Dirty Politics’ by Steven Kettell,
(https://capitadiscovery.co.uk/shetland/items/133078?query=Dirty+Politics&resultsUri=items%3Fquery%3DDirty%2BPolitics%26offset%3D0%26aj%3Dt).

The other is ‘Treasure Islands – Tax Havens, and The Men Who Stole The World’
(http://www.amazon.co.uk/Treasure-Islands-Havens-Stole-World/dp/0099541726/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420402256&sr=8-1&keywords=Treasure+Islands).

The second book isn’t available at the Library yet, but can be bought online from outlets such as Amazon, in thee forms.

Neither of these books wastes any time or energy on futile and fanciful conspiracy theories. Both are completely factual, and simply state the case and the names of the players involved. Once read, everything concerning the UK’s present predicament will become appallingly clear. Both books led me to the conclusion that honesty is for fools – a view that I feel is simultaneously both depressing and liberating.

What’s to be done about it? Recently, David Cameron described the forthcoming May 2015 General Election as being ‘the most important election in a generation’. In my opinion, he got that exactly right – which is why we should all make sure that, as with the Scottish Independence Referendum, we are properly informed, and are all able to cast our vote when the General Election comes around. Thorough library and internet research of all of the names and issues (on the one hand), and registering for postal voting (on the other) would be two very effective enabling techniques in that process.

The last time that sort of thing happened, Salmond’s
toxic little ‘Braveheart’ pipedream got kicked into the long grass in 28 out of 32 Scottish constituencies back in September 2014 – which demonstrated very clearly to all what an 82% voter turnout across all age groups could achieve, once everybody had got up to speed on what was being offered.

I’d venture to suggest that the UK General Election in 2015 is a far more important event than Salmond’s futile bid for power and personal glory, at what would have been the probable cost of the permanent destruction of Scotland and its economy – and that its outcome could even decide the future direction of this country for hundreds of years to come.

Just in case anyone thinks by this point that I’ve drifted off the original subject a bit – I think you’ll find that I haven’t. Shoddy infrastructure services are a fundamental part of what’s gone wrong (I mean, ‘has deliberately been made to go wrong for private profit’) in this country – and BTs’ excuse for a broadband network in the UK is, in my view, a major part of that wrongness

We could now have the best shot in three (and maybe four) generations of saying to our elected leaders that the time is past when ‘just shut up, pay up, and live with it’ is what we all meekly have to accept by way of a response, whenever concerns of all kinds are voiced. We need to make sure between now and May 2015 – which is barely eighteen weeks away – that we don’t miss our chance of doing something effective about it all.

Philip Andrews
Unst

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