Lord Preserve Us From Idiot Journalists – There Is No National Copper Shortage For Parliamentary Telephone Systems

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It’s one of those cynical – some of us prefer to say realist – rules that one should never believe what is said in the newspapers. We can also add the idea (it’s actually a Law, one whose name escapes) that whenever you read an article on a subject you know about the journalist manages to get it wrong. But you then turn the page and believe absolutely everything said to you on some other point with which you are unfamiliar. Written by the same group of journalists who are butchering that just as much as they did the thing you know about.

Or, as we might put it, Lord Preserve Us From Idiot Journalists:

MPs will lose their landlines as national copper shortage means suppliers can only offer Skype

Snigger. No, that’s just piffle.

Things in short supply don’t have price charts that look like that – Credit, Nasdaq

Things in newly short supply don’t have decade long price charts that look like that. So, we know that some presumptive national copper shortage isn’t the cause of anything here:

But the traditional copper-wire telephone network is to be phased out of Parliament entirely within the next eight months, because the replacements for aging parts are no longer manufactured.

Instead, MPs and peers will use the Skype internet telephony service – albeit with a option of connecting to the system with handsets designed like traditional telephones.

Parliamentary authorities made the decision to switch to a “voice over internet protocol (VOIP)” system – the like of which BT is gradually rolling out across the country – after being told by officials that the Palace of Westminster’s copper wire network was “at the end of its supported life”.

This is doubly wrong of course.

The first error is that it’s not a copper shortage causing the change. It’s that there’s a shortage of people willing to maintain a copper based network these days. Well, if we read the actual story, rather than the phantasies of the subeditor who wrote the headline that is. It’s not possible to get someone to come maintain the network, thus it must be replaced.

But this is then where it goes doubly wrong. Because it won’t be the copper wiring part which is the problem anyway. This little piece of scribbling you’re reading is being delivered, from this end, over a copper network for example. As is my occasional use of Skype. Sure, it’s all rather slower (the electrons move at the same speed, it’s how wide the pipe is to allow the information through, not the speed at which the bits of information flow) than fibreoptic but you con’t need to replace copper in order to gain a VOIP network.

Sure, it’s a little difficult to diagnose at this distance but it’s almost certainly the switching equipment that has to be, must be, replaced, not the wiring itself. And if you’re doing that then why not go the whole hog?

So, err, no, Parliament is not getting a Skype telephone system because of the national copper shortage.

Much more fun through is that if there were a national copper shortage then us all having fibreoptic would actually be the cure:

Analysis British Telecom is, as a telecoms company, worth minus £30bn. Yes, that’s a negative number there. And yet it is literally sitting on top of billions in assets.

It all starts with this point made in relation to cable theft:

BT’s network relies on more than 75 million miles of copper cable
People are stealing the cable, as we all know, because the metal is incredibly valuable. Strip the sleeve off the cable, drop it off at an accommodating scrap yard and get paid in cash. And as BT themselves say, (and yes, I’ve checked that they really do mean this) they’ve 75 million miles of this stuff festooning the countryside.

Ten pairs of copper cabling weighs around 132kg per mile. Which by the miracle of multiplication can be seen to be about 10 million tonnes of copper. Which, at current LME prices of just over £5,000 a tonne, is £50bn.

BT’s current market capitalisation is just north of £20bn. So, as an operating telecoms company they’re worth £30bn less than the mountain of copper they’re sitting upon: that is, they’re worth less than the physical assets or they have, as a telecoms company not a mountain of scrap copper, a negative value.

There’s anecdotal evidence (ie, people say that this was said) that AT&T got seriously worried in the early 80s during a copper price boom. They realised that in the form of their wiring network they were sitting on the world’s largest and purest stock of copper ore. Something nominally worth very much more than AT&T at the time….

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Soarer
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Soarer

Its hard to know where the stupid starts & ends with this piece. For starters, you would surely deliver VoIP over WI-Fi in The Palace of Westminster, not (mostly) over fibre. This would allow our politicians (spit) to use fixed or mobile phones to make calls. AS Tim rightly says, VoIP doesn’t care if its implemented over fibre, copper, wireless or wet string (though the quality suffers with the last of those). Secondly, Skype is not the only VoIP service available, and has been fairly severely borked by Microsoft, such that it is not nearly as reliable as previously. Surely… Read more »

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Tim – here’s one source for your ‘Law’: Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.) Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the… Read more »

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

It’s a fun fact about BT’s copper having a higher valuation than the business itself. But (I suspect your tongue was firmly in your cheek at ElReg, as you’ve frequently pointed this out) that’s the same mistake as saying that the ‘value’ of manganese nodules at the bottom of the oceans is umpteen billions/trillions/whatever. If the cost of getting it out exceeds its value, then it ain’t worth spit. If there were really pots of money to be made, BT (and similar large telcos) would be actively replacing copper with fibre and selling off the bounty. And they’re not.

Spike
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The thieves stealing copper wire (notably, from new homes under construction, where it is easy to get at) are unemployed, reducing the extraction cost. Importantly, their government benefits don’t decrease based on their new-found employment stealing copper. It is not TelCos but journalists assuming that all the TelCos’ “assets” are that easy to get at. Yes, the cost of installing a new system would not include the costs of completely removing all evidence of the old one. It is amusing reading about MPs disturbed about the change to their daily procedure. A dollop of Krazy Glue can restore to the… Read more »

jgh
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jgh

When I was a local councillor FIFTEEN YEARS ago we replaced the landline system in the Town Hall with a VoIP system. And it used more copper than the old system as it was wired with 6-core ethernet cable. And it wasn’t because anybody was running out of copper, it was because the switching system was running out of switches. I seem to remember reading that when BT replaced the trunk network with fibre they did strip out the old copper and sell it off to contribute to the funding. But most of the network is buried under so much… Read more »

Devils Kitchen
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Devils Kitchen

“As is my occasional use of Skype. Sure, it’s all rather slower (the electrons move at the same speed, it’s how wide the pipe is to allow the information through, not the speed at which the bits of information flow) than fibreoptic but you con’t need to replace copper in order to gain a VOIP network.” The point about fibre optic is, as the name suggests, that it uses light to transmit the data: so, photons rather than electrons (although the practical difference is, I grant you, minimal). But, that being the case, the really major advantage of fibre is… Read more »

Chester Draws
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Chester Draws

I’m sure there will be no security issues at all with MPs moving to Skype.

Diogenes
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Diogenes

Someone might point out that BT is really a bond investment trust attached to a telco that is much smaller in size

Moosealot
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Moosealot

It’ll be Skype for Business that they’re using which is what used to be Lync and was Microsoft Office Connect before that. Completely different to the consumer-oriented Skype product. S4B is a typical Microsoft product: just about good enough that the effort to replace it with something better isn’t quite worthwhile; expensive but not so expensive that the majority of purchasers will go to the effort of looking elsewhere, and integrated with the rest of the Microsoft services stack to a degree that means it’s doable but that every instance will have its own wrinkles and whoever is running it… Read more »