Why don’t you still have a black and white TV?

In the UK there are still 13,000 homes with black and white TV sets even after the digital switch over. You can still buy them and they’re ludicrously cheap – only $10 on eBay, plus shipping.

So why don’t you own one?

Because the experience with a colour TV is so much better. You can do more, you can see more, the TV sets are now the kind of science fiction experience we used to talk about in hushed tones. Flat TVs that look like windows rather than boxes, that could double for pieces of art in some cases (looking at you, Samsung, with that gorgeous $55,000 4k screen). Coupled with thousands of channels, access to Netflix and Hulu, connectivity with your mobile phone or tablet and suddenly the
TV is so much more.

The fact that you can buy a black and white TV and get perfectly good reception and perfectly good television on it at a crazy low price doesn’t stop you going out and buying the more expensive product because the more expensive product provides a better experience.

You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.

But what if that new flat panel LCD screen only showed the same three channels as the black and white TV and only showed them in black and white as well. Would you then spend your money on the newer set or stick with the old?
Then you’d probably have to stop and think about it. Is having a shiny new flat panel telly really that important? The difference is minimal and sure, there are some whizzy bits with it (it uses less power, it’s cooler to look at) but overall the experience is about the same.

At that point I’d probably see the wife acceptance factor kick in and find myself wilting in the face of children’s orthondonture, vet fees and a new kitchen.

We face exactly this dilemma with the move from copper to fibre.

Fibre’s entry level price is being touted as about the same as copper, but the speed is only as good as you get from VDSL2 and nowhere near as good as you get from LTE, neither of which require anyone to come to my house and drill holes in the living room wall.

Sure, it’s fibre, and there are plenty of advantages to making the leap, but you have to put up with your drive way being dug up and your garden being trampled (Enable’s before and after shots say they’ll do a good job and from what I’ve seen they do, but still…) and even then it may not work well I’ve seen failure rates of 80% reported, and frankly, I can do without having to explain to the family why we have no phone or internet for a third day running.

The selling point of fibre is that you can do more with it, so why are we throttling it back to 30Mbit/s down and 10Mbit/s up? There’s really no reason from a technical point of view. Fibre is fibre and can scream along at far more than that. Yes, this will be a contended network and yes, telcos like to differentiate so they can upsell, but when the difference between one service and the other is so close and yet the ‘cost’ of implementation is so high, you can understand why customers aren’t beating down the doors of their fibre companies demanding to be connected immediately.

Keeping the cost of copper artificially high will do nothing to push customers towards fibre. The cost of copper simply isn’t the driver toward fibre that the government thinks it is. People will move to fibre when you give them a reason to and without any promotional work, without readily available content, without a speed bump that makes people sit up and take notice, why on earth would anyone sign up?

Uptake rates are woefully low. Costs are woefully high for Chorus (we haven’t seen the costs per connection for the local fibre companies), install times are long and wait times are growing. Customers in rented property can’t get Chorus to install, customers in multi-dwelling units or down right of ways are in the too hard basket.

The problem isn’t the cost of copper. The problem is the lousy selling job we’re doing on fibre. Fix that and then we can talk about whether copper prices should go up.