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How to be rid of telegraph poles

February 2011

I have a plan that will allow us to pull down all telegraph poles, which I have long believed are scars on our landscape, and simultaneously improve our national economic prospects; it can’t fail.

What’s behind my plan is that whilst I know that use of the internet will grow, I also know that more people than you might believe will not use it all. 

Some people will actively decide to have nothing to do with it, of course, and that’s fair enough, it’s not compulsory.  Plenty of perfectly sensible and sane citizens won’t buy a television either (mind you, I recently discovered that one friend of mine who has taken this high minded stance for many years, and boasted about it regularly, has been getting his elderly mother to record the programmes he wants to watch and bring them over to him on tape).

No, I am not concerned about the people who deliberately deny themselves the internet, even though they could well afford it.  They’ll never get an email from their granddaughter, or chat for an hour or so with a friend in Australia for nothing, or catch up on a missed television or radio programme whenever it suits them, or buy a washing machine for the best price without leaving home, but that’s up to them.

What does concern me is the large number of people who have no access to the internet through of location, inexperience, poverty or ignorance, but could probably benefit from it.

A recent study commissioned by Google concluded that one-fifth of the adult population of the United Kingdom, about nine million people, has never gone on-line.  As it happens, almost two thirds of those of us who are over 65 are in the same boat, but that’s changing; more than half the new UK users of the internet in the last year were over 50.

Cost can be an issue, but that was not what the survey found; in fact it was only the fourth most mentioned reason, after lack of need to go online, lack of skills and lack of desire (to go online, you understand). 

Now, as I say, connecting to the internet is not compulsory, thank goodness, and it never should be.  But without it, many things will become increasing difficult to achieve simply.  We are always being told to “check the website for details”.

There is a direct parallel with our road system, it seems to me.  Without that we would be in a sorry state, both socially and economically, and I believe that it’s the duty of our rulers to focus on building a similar digital network throughout the country, available to all to use, without charge, in the same way.  To ignore the potential benefits of a high class digital network is to run the risk of being left way behind.

As things stand, most of us who connect to the internet do it through miles of elderly copper wire, strung between ugly telegraph poles.  These wires are not really up to the task, and if you don’t rent a land line (increasing numbers don’t) you can’t join in anyway.

There is some hope that satellites might provide a solution, but that technology is in its infancy, and has some way to go.

In highly populated areas it pays the commercial providers to install better systems (usually fibre optic cables that use light to transmit data at enormous speeds) but it’s uneconomic everywhere else, which is most of the country.  Compare this with the road network: roads are built and maintained in all areas, however remote; they are designed to connect with each other and are of a fairly even standard.

So, if I were in charge (it can only be a matter of time, surely?), I would manage the digital communication network just as we manage the roads.  I’d set about building a massive high speed, underground, fibre optic system that is at least as large as the road network.  Like the roads, it would be free to use and would be funded the same way.

Not only would it provide a lot of work just installing and maintaining it, it would offer huge opportunities to improve our commercial lot evenly across the country.

And we could get rid of all those wretched telegraph poles.