back to article David Davis: Jobless should dig trenches for fat UK pipes

Maverick Tory MP and former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis used this morning's Times to call for BT to raise an army of unwashed, unemployed oiks to build the UK's next generation broadband network. The story lay behind Murdoch's paywall undisturbed and garnered with just seven reader comments and five "Recommends", until …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In other words.

    "Apart from its mainly urban population, South Korea also benefited from massive government subsidies to the incumbent operator and also benefits from not having had to open up its network to rival operators – as BT has had to do."

    In other words, Mr Davis, massive infrastructure works better when nationalised, not when privatised.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      The purring of the fat cat

      >>massive government subsidies to the incumbent operator

      Diversion of resources to building infrastructure that possibly no-one needs? No telco is against THAT.

      >>not having had to open up its network to rival operators

      Higher prices [not to mention "licensing fees" etc.] than would be provided in a competitive environment? No telco is against THAT.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Corporate fat cats?

        "Diversion of resources to building infrastructure that possibly no-one needs?"

        Public transport system? Who could possibly need that. Enjoying your rising petrol / gas prices?

        Modern telecommunications system? You know this internet thingy we're all busy masturbating into? A shiny present to humanity from the private sector, was it?

        "Higher prices than would be provided in a competitive environment?"

        So who are the shareholders coining it off the customer in this scenario? Remind me again how a commitment to maximising profit is necessarily good for the rest of us.

        "Or perhaps having massive national monopolies only works when they receive government subsidies because they are so useless and inefficient."

        If you're trying to imply that the private sector is necessarily more efficient than the private sector, please provide scientific proof. Otherwise, let's assume the case unproven, and let's therefore not keep handing money to private investors (who already have enough share of our pie thank you very much) just because Nigel Lawson has an opinion about something.

        There's more disagreement between economists than there is between climatologists.

    2. Neil Stansbury
      Thumb Down


      Or perhaps having massive national monopolies only works when they receive government subsidies because they are so useless and inefficient.

      Because when BT was a nationalised company it was such a technically brilliant company that offered great customer service and was the envy of the world - yeah right.

      The key words here are: "incumbent", "incompetent", "inefficient".

      The answer is simple, run mechanical moles up the central reservations of our motorway network, after that onto the dual-carriageways and A-Roads, the rest we'll get with 4G.

      1. sam 16

        Wireless last mile...

        Remember that wireless bandwidth is shared by everyone using the same channel.

        I calculate that, using all licensed mobile band width, 4G will provide about 4Gb/s capacity, shared by everyone in your cell. The real maximum will be much lower than this, effected by interference and multipath.

        4Gb/s sounds like a lot, but there are currently about 5000 people a cell, so you'd get less than 1mb each.

        This can be mitigated using much smaller cell sizes with lower transmitter power, but at some point you run into trouble getting the signal into buildings.

        Personally, I think that a network of directional transmitters / receivers, like the microwave network already used to ferry data around the country, would be a great way of avoiding all that digging.

        Rather than, y'know, using slave labor.

        Cutting a kids food money because their mum doesn't want to do hard labor so I can watch porn while telecommuting seems a bit disproportionate. And that is ultimately what this is.

        1. Aulty

          web without wires

          That's exactly what you can get where I live in Ripley, Derbyshire, check out W3Z, it's part of a company called Zycomm and they do wireless internet locally, based in Ripley.

          I don't use them as I have 12MB wired broadband, but some villages round here do benefit from their services.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Already there

        Most of the m/ways already have fibre-optic cables laid.

        Done at the behest of, and paid for by, the highways agency.

        The road system has its own high-speed-data network.

        Mehcanical moles ?

        Up the centre...with all the power cables and the other gear....those things are really good at f***ing-up utilities as they wander along underground.

      3. strum
        Thumb Down

        Poor example

        >Because when BT was a nationalised company it was such a technically brilliant company that offered great customer service and was the envy of the world - yeah right.

        That's a very poor example. What changed BT wasn't the ownership of its shares (the least interesting thing about the company). Technology, in the form of digital communications, changed the way BT worked, and the services it was able to offer.

        Privatisation was originally intended to pay for digital exchanges, but it never did - the entire project was paid for out of BT revenue, and 60% of the country had digital exchanges before privatisation.

        Nearly 30 years later, parts of the resolutely-private-enterprise US are still waiting for digital exchanges.

        1. David Beck

          Poor example of poor example

          Not digital doesn't mean not electronic. Germany was still installing analogue (semiconductor based, not mechanical) exchanges into the 70's, as were some providers in the US. Will these be replaced by digital exchanges? Why when digital cable/fibre and cellular systems provide the same coverage and more services. Exchanges (point to point wiring of any sort) will go the way of the dinosaurs.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      What - like the Post Office?!?

      You must be a public sector apologist.

      Massive infrastructure works best when competent people are contracted to meet the requirement, and politicians aren't in the pockets of corporations.

      1. GilbertFilbert

        What - like the Post Office?!?

        "You must be a public sector apologist"

        No - like British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, British Aerospace, Virgin Media, Phorm, Enron, Goldmen Sacks etc etc etc - doubleplus fail.

        "politicians aren't in the pockets of corporations."

        In the good old days corrupt politicians used to take backhanders in brown envelopes, no its all in the open - "office expenses" is a good one, allegedly.

  2. David 39
    Thumb Up


    Make them dig, also while they're doing that, re-tarmac roads, etc. But the again maccy d's will soon go bust, well the UK chain anyway.... so erm...... WIN

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      What about...

      Enlarging railway tunnels so we can use continental loading gauge double deck trains?

  3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Put the unemployed to work... hang on

    Contradiction in terms.

    If this were to happen, they'd be trapped in the bad bit of the Prodigal Son story as well, and through no fault of their own, serving broadband to rich swine but presumably not allowed to have any themselves.

    What we need right now is another video-pornography-claimed-on-Parliamentary-expenses scandal - to remind overyone what broadband really is for.

  4. Andy Fletcher


    So all you really need knowledge wise to build a network is where the spades are kept eh? Why have I wasted my time learning all these acronyms and tedious stuff about protocols. Damn.

    1. Arnold Lieberman

      Um, eh?

      And there was me thinking the cables/pipes magically appeared in the ground as god intended.

      You mean someone has to put them there? Quick! Let's get some pasty-faced network engineers on the case!

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Missed the point

      Your job is still needed. The skills are still needed.

      But you can't do much (other than planning) without some actual cable (optical or electrical or other yet to be discovered/invented) in the ground.

      Digging a hole does not require networking knowledge, just a spade. Once they have laid conduits you're network hardware colleagues can simply come and blow the cables along...

      1. Oninoshiko

        says someone who's never ACTAULLY laid fiber.

        I would not want someone not properly trained running a trencher or a boaring machine. The company I work for has paid (properly trained) people to run both, for the purpose of running both fiber and copper.

        This is not a comment on intelligence either, it's a matter of training. I'm not qualified to operate that equipment either.

        1. Mark 65


          I agree that this would not be the appropriate use for the great State-supported unwashed but the man has a point. I believe that the longer term unemployed should be offered retraining where necessary but that they should also have to give something back. I see no benefit to our society of having these people sit around doing f*ck all for the money. If they volunteered, did community work or in the absence of willingness be made to perform tasks such as clearing roadside scrub, cleaning waterways etc - whatever needs doing - then at least the tax payer gets something back for their outlay. At present the street is far to one-way.

          1. Oninoshiko

            @Mark 65

            I don't disagree with you.

            I just am pointing out, the actual physical part (not just the networking part) of building a fiber network does require training. We are not talking about basic community service like collecting litter or scrubbing the work of vandals, we are talking about operating heavy machinery. I think that has been lost on many here.

      2. There's a bee in my bot net

        RE Missed the point

        I figured Andy Fletcher was being sarcastic...

        Digging trenches still requires someone (usually an engineer) to know where the existing services are so you don't accidentally dig up a 33kV mains cable or cut through some existing fibre or copper services and even that is no guarantee.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surely if you have employed them to dig ditches then they are no longer unemployed ? If the job's there then offer it with reasonable rates of pay and conditions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Just wondering about the thought processes of the person who downvoted you!

      1. nyelvmark

        Just wondering about the thought processes of the person who downvoted you!

        Probably has a master's degree in economics.

    2. mhenriday

      Alas, I haven't enriched Mr Murdoch further

      by paying to penetrate his Times paywall and thus haven't read more of Mr Davis' article than the excerpts published in PCPro and the Reg, but I suggest that «reasonable rates of pay and conditions» are not quite what he had in mind. Unless, that is, one regards the dole as offering such. Mr Davis, I submit, wants unemployed members of the lower classes to work for next to nothing, which, aside from the immediate benefits of the work they perform, would also have the salutary effect of exerting downward pressure on wages for the great unwashed. «Hard Times», redux !...


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Tory policy

        "Mr Davis, I submit, wants unemployed members of the lower classes to work for next to nothing,"

        Isnt that the normal tory policy?

        I mean, what is the point of being rich and landed, if you cant have serfs toiling the fields for you?

  6. GatesFanbois


    So what he seems to be saying is we should give the unemployed jobs?

    1. Thomas 4

      Now, now....

      That's just crazy talk.

    2. AdamWill

      yeah, odd.

      yeah, it seems massively obvious to me too. I mean, who does he think would be digging the holes if we _don't_ have some explicit plan to hire 'unemployed' people to do it? People who already have jobs? I mean...what? *head scratch*

    3. kissingthecarpet

      No, he doesn't mean that

      He means make them do it or they'll have their benefit cut. I'm sure he doesn't mean "use govt. money to train loads of the unemployed to be skilled workers", he means "use them as cheap labour", like a latter day Burma railway, the horrible old bastard.

    4. awomanfromVenus

      Don't be silly

      Nobody knows what amanfromMars ever means!

  7. Elmer Phud

    While you're there

    "Davis started with a clear outline of his views: "A workforce of the unemployed should build the superfast network we need so urgently"."

    "And after that I want them to wipe my bum"

    I'm not sure he realises that we don't have a huge number of intinerant Irish workers anymore to dig things up. Nowadays it's a few blokes and a JCB.

    Anyway, we only need the superfast network so HM.Gove can pwn us with and then there's not so many people to employ.

    They can then join the longterm unemployed who dug the trenches.

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Transparent Advice to the Mad House of Westminster ....... and True too.

    "Davis started with a clear outline of his views: "A workforce of the unemployed should build the superfast network we need so urgently"."

    Doesn't the dunderhead realise that the cream of that crop are extremely busy ensuring that Cloud Control, which more than just the country and the likes of he, a maverick Dave knave, needs so urgently in a superfast network, is made easily available, albeit through astute and relatively anonymous proxies* ...... as was recently advised to the Cabinet Office in a submission planted into the Government works via the SCS2 Executive Director Digital ..... reference REC/10/22 portal.

    * Well, one cannot expect career politicians to be anywhere near up to speed on anything other than the latest evasion of questions techniques, can one ...... as is demonstrated so clearly by the pantomime of the staged PMQ presentation.

    One wonders what the hundreds of millions, which I believe might be even more than a billion, sequestered for cyber security, are being spent on/invested in.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    BT vs other telcos

    So are we really saying that the privatisation of BT is what is preventing the widespread roll out of superfast broadband?

    Or do they just want a monopoly?

    Maybe this might give people pause to think about the fact that nationalised national services are better than privatised ones....

    (I will now go and wait for my crappy train, with massive prices because although they are privatised there is no actual competition...)

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Madness ...right at the top of the political gravy train/politically incorrect food chain

      Nice succinct post, AC, which hits all the relevant points right on the head.

      One does wonder why the Government are proposing to sell back into the private sector, the banks that the public bought in the recent meltdown, and especially so if they are making millions and/or billions in profit again.

      What is the sound reasoning behind it? Do they not work for us or is it that they work just for themselves?

  10. Chris Miller

    Here's the 8th comment posted on The Times (by yours truly)

    Technically illiterate twaddle, as we've come to expect from our political leaders. There may be a case for ensuring that some minimum standard (say 2 Mbps) is universally available (though delivering even that to a croft in the Highlands and Islands wouldn't be cheap), but beyond that lie some serious issues.

    The first issue is a technical one; delivering high-speed (100Mbps) broadband requires a new (probably fibre optic) link to every property. In Japan, S Korea, and many European countries a substantial proportion of the population live in large multi-occupied apartment blocks. Connecting them to the Internet requires just one cable for hundreds of people. But in the UK the vast majority choose to live in our own homes each of which will require its own link, adding an order of magnitude to the cost.

    The second issue is economic - what is the benefit of high-speed broadband? At present, domestic use of the Internet is mainly for accessing web sites, email, and streaming or downloading files. For the first two of these, even 2Mbps is ample. The time taken for web pages to load is actually much more constrained by latency than line speed. I wouldn't pay 50% more for a 100Mbps connexion to replace my current 8Mbps, but I might if I could halve my latency (something Google appear to be working on). As for file streaming and downloading - if I need to download a new operating system image, which might be a few gigabytes in size, I start the process and then get on with something else. It's of little relevance to me whether it takes a few seconds, a few minutes or even an hour. The only time that line speed is important is when watching a streamed video feed and an HDTV channel only requires 8Mbps (that's the bit rate of the HD channels on Freeview+) - exactly how many HD channels do we expect to be watching simultaneously?

    So the "small pine furniture manufacturer in a remote village in my constituency, the young woman who designs and sells handbags, the wildlife photographer who sells pictures online" will see no benefit from high-speed broadband. I can see no prospect at all for the "between 280,000 and 600,000 new jobs" that Mr Davis foresees (except some short-term work for ditch diggers and cable splicers) . For 99% of people, having high-speed broadband is like owning a Ferrari in the middle of London. It may make the neighbours envious, but it won't get you to work any quicker.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Technically speaking you're right.

      But you miss a crucial point here. Mr Davis and his constituents need their pr0n as quickly as possible.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @Chris Miller

      You make a strong case for mediocrity.

      You should be a politician. Or a public sector worker.

    3. Just Thinking

      Streaming video

      If streaming HD ever became viable (as in capable of replacing broadcast TV for a significant proportion of households) then I can imagine a lot of households might want to stream several channels simultaneously. So 100MBps would be overkill, but 8Mbps not quite enough. But the point is, new cabling would be required even if speeds of 100Mbps were not on offer.

      For most other things, I agree with you. I rarely get more than 4Mbps, and to be honest it never causes me any real difficulty.

      1. Chris Miller

        @Just thinking

        I agree. But is it reasonable for the poorest taxpayer to subsidise someone who can afford 4 HDTVs?

        I'm not arguing for mediocrity. Perhaps one day we'll all have full size 3D streams to our personal holodecks which will require much greater bandwidth. If that day arrives, I'm sure the market will be happy to provide the necessary bandwidth. But it would be simply idiotic for government to chuck £5 billion of our money at a scheme to provide extra bandwidth for which there's no demonstrable need.

        If they want a job creation scheme for ditchdiggers, there's no shortage of potholes that need filling round our way!

        1. Mark 65

          @Chris Miller

          "But it would be simply idiotic for government to chuck £5 billion of our money at a scheme to provide extra bandwidth for which there's no demonstrable need."

          Think yourself lucky. In my country (Oz) they're chucking $43bn at it. Bigger country admittedly, but over 70% of the population live in only 10 cities/metropolitan areas. Plus instead of doing FTTC then upgrading to FTTP at a later date they want to do it all upfront and hence get gouged on the prices from contractors. By all accounts from Tasmania (the test case) it doesn't seem to be working that well.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      latency? who cares... what about about upload speed?

      "oh sorry your upload took 16 hours to complete but at least it started within 4 milliseconds of you hitting the upload button"

      If your home or business has never had a need to upload large files then I can't imagine what you do all day that qualifies you to work in IT.

    5. Morat

      You missed the point

      The problem is not getting people from 8Mb to 100Mb it is getting people from dial up or a flakey 0.5Mb on ADSL up to something worthwhile (like 2Mb or 8Mb). Your example of a remote croft is valid, but far from representative. There are many people in rural areas - but those rural areas are market towns, large villages or even suburbs or industrial parks on the outside of major cities who do not have access to reliable internet connections.

      More services are going online, and websites are becoming more bandwidth hungry. People wihtout good connections are getting left behind.

      You may not be aware of the £400m that the gov has pledged to helping with rural broadband throught BDUK. I would support any initiative that allows us to get more network for this money by employing low skilled people to do the shovel work which will be required to get fibre around the country.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      High speed vs Chris Miller

      "So the "small pine furniture manufacturer in a remote village in my constituency, the young woman who designs and sells handbags, the wildlife photographer who sells pictures online" will see no benefit from high-speed broadband."

      Except they will.

      Bigger bandwidth means people use the internet for more and more things, from more and more devices. In a 2 adult, 2 kid family, there can be dozens of devices all trying to access the internet for updates, for purchases etc.

      Now you may not see any one of these as essential - and they arent - but the reality is that it is this constant-on which makes people more and more comfortable using the internet. In the days of 28.8 dial up people didnt spent time browsing shopping sites, people didnt want to look at pictures of goods before they bought them, people didnt want to interact to anywhere near the same level that they do now.

      But with broadband on everything from the TV to the Phone, people *can* look at and buy a handbag from a designer half way around the world because they *can* use the bandwidth to view a 3d model of the bag and zoom in to see intricate detail without dying of old age. People can work from home, increasing the market of people who can do different jobs but this relies fast connections.

      It is almost impossible to do things off-line now, even buying tickets to see Swansea FC is better done via a FAST internet connection.

      How people survive with 2Mbps connections is beyond me. I really hope you were only trolling the Times.

      1. Chris Miller

        @AC 10:55

        You were almost beginning to make sense and then blew it with your last paragraph. There are undoubtedly some benefits from a faster Internet connection, but it's unlikely you'll notice any difference in the time taken to load an HTML page in moving from 2Mbps to 8Mbps. Latency (and the ability of the web server to deliver data) are more likely to be limiting factors.

        I realise that many Reg readers may not wish to pay the Murdoch shilling for access to the full Times article, but David Davis wants to spend £5 billion providing 100Mbps access to every household in the UK. If you think that's a sensible economic decision, I have some magic beans that I'm sure you'd like to buy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          "There are undoubtedly some benefits from a faster Internet connection, but it's unlikely you'll notice any difference in the time taken to load an HTML page in moving from 2Mbps to 8Mbps. "

          Who said anything about loading a single HTML page? You say I was almost beginning to make sense but it seems you didnt read anything.

          In the house, I have iPods downloading updates, I have news feeds downloading video and people shopping where they are inspecting flash-based high res 3d effect photographs of the items they want. I frequently have four people online simultaneously.

          This is what drives the growth of the internet. It has long since moved on from a lone person visiting various plain old HTML pages to read about UFOs or what the latest developments in the standard model are.

          Even the government is driving for us to access all our services online - which will, in turn, add to the burden on the pipe to the house.

          I will reiterate, just in case you missed it, the point isnt that each page will be faster or slower, its that with fast connections, people can do more online, so people DO more online.

          1. Chris Miller


            So you're all accessing web pages continuously then? Most people take the occasional break to read what they're loading, but you're probably able to ingest the data content at the speed of light. And if your occasional downloads are interfering with this, there's something wrong with your prioritisation. I've yet to see a single rational argument as to why I might need to subsidise 100Mbps to every home*.

            Tell you what, take some time out from your 4 people browsing 24x7 and learn how IP protocols work, then come back and post something intelligent.

            * NB "South Korea has this, so I want one" doesn't count for this purpose.

            1. Anonymous Coward

              @Chris Miller

              Just because you have a complete lack of imagination as to what to do with a fat internet pipe doesn't mean everyone is so limited in their thinking.

              Have you not heard the expression (regarding road infrastructure) "build it and they will come".

              I imagine you are one of those people who only runs one application at a time, has only one web page open in your internet explorer browser, and rarely exceeds 50 MB downloads in a month. What a mediocre vision that is.

              Some people actually USE the internet you know.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Thumb Down

              Chris Miller vs 21st Century Internet

              "So you're all accessing web pages continuously then?"

              There is still more to the internet than HTML.

              Three people in the house watching streaming video while one other is doing some online gaming. While this is going on various bits of hardware are connecting to the internet and updating their software / databases etc. God forbid someone wanting to use VoIP at the same time. And when we all move to SaaS, fat pipes will be essential.

              You can keep rubbishing the idea that any household will have more than one person accessing a single 15kb HTML page at any given time. I have no problem with that. You are welcome to keep your 14.4 dial up modem connection.

              The reality is that every time we have had the opportunity to get faster and cheaper access, people have done more on the web. This "more" has resulting in greater economic benefits to the country as a whole. Shops sell more online, more services are purchased etc.

              There will always be luddites who cant see what benefit there is in any thing improving, but the rest of us stopped using fax modems quite some time ago.

  11. Gordon861


    The BT spokeswoman said: "Building a superfast broadband network is a complex business involving highly skilled staff. We're currently passing 80,000 premises a week." She added that by 2012, superfast connections in the UK would exceed those in France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

    Yes but how many of the population in these countries are also still stuck at 1Mb Broadband. We need to raise the general standard of broadband all over the UK not just fast get even faster and the slow just keep the same. Although it'll go nicely with the rich getting richer in the UK right now.


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