This was the only evidence to indicate that Londoners equate communications technology with the provision of essential services. Perhaps if the scope of the survey had been a little broader, it might have thrown up a suggestion that a capital-wide intranet be instituted, or that SMEs in West London be entitled to the same quality of data communications infrastructure as those in the City. But let?s not get too carried away. As Captain Mainwaring would say, we?re in danger of drifting into the realms of fantasy here.
Many are averse to the return of a GLC-type body, and the Government has indicated that it is willing to throw the issue open to a referendum. One suspects that few voters would consider the necessity for a properly orchestrated policy for IT in the capital to be high on their list of priorities; yet few would deny the importance of a centralised road traffic strategy ? or any other essential utility. The point is that IT has long ceased to be a ?luxury?: it is a utility, and should be recognised as such.
A number of consortia have come forward with communications initiatives for the metropolitan area. One such is the London Interconnect group, which represents six London cable operators. These initiatives are being driven by free market forces. And the problem here is that, although free market forces are told to be ?largely self-regulatory?, they can seldom be trusted. If there?s a corner to be cut, they?re tempted to cut it.
All of which means that it is surely imperative that the incoming Labour government recognises the importance of IT to the livelihood of the UK?s major commercial centres ? its cities.
Meanwhile, reaction to the 5th Network News/Black Box Catalogue Network Industry Survey?s findings over network crashes has uncovered some revealing new thinking on vendor/customer relationships.
Some commentators have drawn a comparison with the situation in North America, where many big users expect the same service-level guarantees from their internetworking solutions providers as they currently enjoy with their WAN providers. US telcos and providers of managed network services are regularly stung for compensation by customers.
Although this convention is designed to make WAN service providers work harder to ensure the reliability of their network infrastructures, whether the compensation clauses have any real effect is debatable. Most telcos secretly accept that they will never achieve zero downtime (or 100 per cent uptime, depending on whether you have a ?half-full? or ?half-empty? mentality). They just accept the charges in the knowledge that the additional business such undertakings bring in means the outward payments can be written off as an acceptable loss for what can be considered an occupational hazard.
Looking to the future, it does behove the big network vendors to think hard about how they manage users? expectations. If they continue to make outlandish claims for network reliability in their marketing ? claims that prove fictitious once the contract has been signed and the kit installed ? they will build a pyre of resentment and so fuel a fanatical backlash calling for legislation that compels them to deliver the impossible.
Jim Hayes is editor of Network News; you can email him at [email protected]
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