You didn’t misread that. On Monday 14th January 2002 the BBC asked this exact question. This nascent technology was not welcome as far as I was concerned; I was happy selling 2Mb leased lines for £2,000 per month to business customers. Fast forward to April 2006 and Talk Talk launched their “Free Broadband Forever” offer. Broadband had gone from near zero to 70% SME penetration (OFCOM figure) in that time.
The Talk Talk offer of “Free Broadband Forever” caused no end of trouble for their network and reputation. Charles Dunstone, interviewed in the Sunday Times, likened it to “a little baby who’s waking up every two hours and is disturbing the family and making our lives a nightmare”. On the BBC programme Watchdog in 2006 he said, "I got it wrong. I didn't realise that free broadband was going to have the effect on people it has."
For the last decade you could argue that the fallout from this is still being felt. The average SME has been conditioned to buy on price in the telecoms space. They want faster, cheaper broadband at every point of contract renewal and telecoms resellers have been more than happy to oblige. It’s not Talk Talk levels of “cheaper”, as you cannot get more cheap than “free”, but they want it cheaper. And faster. And for it to never go wrong. Ever.
At the same time, the average SME is becoming more and more reliant on their broadband. Data usage doubles every 14 months. “Cloud” is winning over on-premise services. Office 365 is hoovering up email. To lose connectivity risks business survival.
I have just spent an unpleasant five minutes looking up dilemmas and Hobson's Choices (and Sophie's Choice). What we have here is a dilemma. Someone once said “cheap broadband isn’t good and good broadband isn’t cheap” and therein lies the problem. Broadband is a POTS (Plain Old Telephony Service) and today people need PANS (Pretty Amazing New Stuff).
I am a big fan of Masterchef. Loads of pressure, high stakes, tight timescales, successes, disasters and momentous triumphs. It’s just like running a small business. Also a lot of pots and pans. In those busy restaurant environments I don’t see a £170 Beko dishwasher such as the one at home keeping all those business-critical pots and pans ready to make money. These guys go for a £13,000 Hobart with all the business-grade guarantees it brings. Why doesn’t a business do this with its internet connection?
You can now get a 1Gb fibre link for about £500 a month if you are in the right place. That’s pretty amazing new stuff. You can get a 100Mb fibre link for that price in most places which is pretty amazing too. It’s not a lot if you look at the trade-off.
A business will accept a £500 car allowance in order to make one person productive. The next time you go to sign that off, just take a moment to look at all the staff hanging off the cheapest broadband you can buy (which must never go wrong, ever) and ask yourself one question:
“Would this money be better spent making everyone productive instead?”
The year 2001 was meant to be when the internet in the UK grew up. It was supposed to usher in connections 10 times faster than dial-up modems, and enticing multimedia applications that would make everyone in the country determined to surf at high speed. That was the dream shared by the telecoms industry and the government, but it did not happen.