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 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….