Article - Digital Connectivity

The last few weeks have been full of news. So the readers of this column could be forgiven for having missed the news that West Dorset has taken another step into the digital future with the provision of free wifi in the centre of Dorchester. 

By itself, this may seem a modest advance. But it is part of a larger picture. Gradually, West Dorset - which used to be something of a communications black hole - is being equipped with high speed broadband and the latest mobile technology. 

It won't be long now before this process is completed, with the introduction of a universal service obligation to provide at least 10 mbps of broadband service and the completion of the first 5G mobile network. 

The economic importance of connecting West Dorset in these ways is enormous.

So there is much to be pleased about.

But, in the course of all this progress, I have discovered two rather less palatable truths. 

The first is that, when things improve because a need (like the need for super fast broadband) is met in one place this makes the inhabitants of a place next door even more concerned than they were before. 

This is an entirely explicable feature of human psychology. It is bad enough not having access to something possessed by people far-off. But it is much worse to know that someone in the next village or the next street is perfectly well served when you yourself are not. 

The result is that, when something is actually getting quite rapidly better, the feeling that there is a problem intensifies. 

There ought to be a name for this phenomenon. For the time being I have christened it the "proximity pang". 

But the second phenomenon that has come to light is even more unwelcome and much less inevitable. 

It is that, so far as the broadband roll out is concerned, the systems within BT Openreach just aren't good enough to handle this kind of program with anything like the efficiency that people have a right to expect.

I should make it clear that the particular, long suffering individuals at BT Openreach with whom I have been engaged in what must seem to them an endlessly aggravating correspondence has been unfailingly helpful and active. But I have lost count of the number of times on which I have discovered that the information reaching the BT Openreach high-command does not match the reality on the ground; and I have also lost count of the number of times when what is done on the ground does not match what BT Openreach high-command have asked for (or think they have asked for).

It is an irony that an organisation devoted to enabling the rest of us to communicate better is so incompetent when it comes to communicating with itself.