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August 17 2011

Big broadband names must back £530m government drive to reach rural areas, experts warn

Plans to extend fast broadband to all of UK must be supported by the major internet service providers, industry figures say

The government's £530m drive to get super-fast broadband to the UK's rural communities will fail unless more is done to encourage the biggest providers to reach the most remote customers, industry insiders have warned.

Jeremy Hunt announced funding for Northern Ireland, Scotland and the English county councils this week to bring broadband to every home and business in the country. But a pioneering council-run project which has used £90m of public subsidy to build a network in South Yorkshire is already running into difficulties.

Five councils will have built a fibre-optic super-fast broadband network reaching 80% of premises across the Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham areas by the end of the year, but none of the best-known internet service providers – BT, TalkTalk and BSkyB – have so far signed up.

Without them, demand from consumers looks likely to be so low that the consortium, Digital Region, may be forced to abandon the aim of selling to householders and focus its attention on businesses and the public sector.

"The local projects are failing. Take-up is very low because of poor marketing and the limited choice of internet service providers," claimed Piers Daniell, an entrepreneur whose company, Fluidata, connects some 40 of the smaller internet service providers (ISPs) into BT's network.

"The bigger ISPs are key to driving uptake in the regions because they have the brands people are familiar with, they have big marketing budgets and additional services like television and phone calls."

Linking into a small regional network means renting optical fibre to connect that region to an ISP's own servers, and many of them are based in London. It also requires money spent matching up computer systems so that the process of adding new customers can be automated.

Most internet service providers are not prepared to make the extra investment, even in an area like South Yorkshire, which has 40,000 businesses and 500,000 home users.

ISPs prefer to buy their broadband capacity from BT and at most one or two other networks, said Daniell, which meant many of the dozens of rural networks being funded by government subsidy could be ignored, unless they are built by BT.

If the government's money is well spent, remote villages in regions such as Cumbria and the Scottish Highlands, where it is currently hard to load a simple web page, should be able to download or stream high-quality movies by 2015.

But Digital Region has also run into difficulties with BT. The consortium runs its fibre to street cabinets, but relies on BT's copper wire to get the signal from the cabinets to individual premises. Telecoms watchdog Ofcom has been asked to intervene over the price BT charges to connect new customers – Digital Region is charged £127 per customer, while connecting a BT customer costs £75.

David Carr, chief executive of Digital Region, said: "We support the government's apparent desire to introduce competition into the super-fast broadband market, but we question how committed it is to creating the regulatory conditions in which that competition can flourish. In this respect, we're hoping that the price reduction recommended by Ofcom will bring pricing more in line with what BT charges itself internally."

Carr said council-run networks had considered clubbing together to form a single access point for ISPs which want to reach rural customers. Fluidata is hoping to offer this service on a commercial basis, and to advise councils as they build.

"Local authorities need more support in building networks that can be sold," said Daniell. "It's easier if we have got communication with the people building these networks while they are building them, rather than trying to fix them afterwards."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


April 19 2010

Your hidden treasures

If a Superman comic can fetch $1.5m - as one did recently at an auction in the US - then how much could the toys, records and furniture in your house be worth? Emine Saner puts a price on some unlikely collectors' items

Comics

During the war, the only American comics that made it to the UK were brought by US sailors docking at Southampton, who would swap them for sweets and cigarettes. Sadly, that means the chances of finding a comic in your attic to rival the 1938 issue of Action Comics No 1 (the first Superman cartoon), which sold recently for a record-breaking $1.5m, is remote. Nonetheless, says comic expert and auctioneer Malcolm Phillips: "Any British comics from the war years are very collectable. There would be a lot of propaganda in them aimed at children, which was very interesting. You'd get a picture of Hitler hanging by a rope, dead."

Phillips is well placed to judge. In 2004, he sold a copy of the first Dandy from 1937 for £20,350. "What was rare about it was it came with its original free gift – a whistle," says Phillips.

A Beano from the early 40s could go for up to £40, and special issues can be double or treble that. In a pile of 50s comics, Malcolm always looks for issue 452 – the comic in which Dennis the Menace makes his first appearance.

It isn't just comics either. Phillips recently auctioned an almost complete year of Melody Makers from 1963, which includes its first Beatles cover."We are inundated with people wanting to sell stuff, but we turn a lot of it away," he says. Most comics from the 70s onwards, in good condition, are still only worth a few pounds.

Toys

"There is a massive market for 20th-century toys," says antiques expert and TV presenter Jonty Hearnden. Indeed, last month a collection of toy cars fetched £100,000 at auction. Anyone who has ever watched an antiques show will know that collectors prize mint condition, but even if you weren't one of those odd children who never took their robots or Batman models out of their original boxes, there is a chance your old toys could still be worth something.

"I was at a car boot sale last year and there were all these old Sindy dolls," says collectables expert Tracey Martin. "They were in terrible condition – their hair had been chopped off, some were missing feet – but I bought them for £1 each because I liked their outfits." Then she put them on eBay and they all went for £70-80 each. "It turned out they were rare, which goes to show that even something in awful condition can be worth a fair bit if it's rare enough."

The Green Lady picture

This otherworldly, or sickly, depending on your taste, face of a young Chinese woman gazed down from the walls of sitting rooms across the world in the 60s and 70s, but it was particularly popular in Britain. "You could buy prints of this picture very cheaply in Boots," says Martin, "and they're still in people's homes today." This print, by painter Vladimir Tretchikoff, one of the most famous ever made, still makes snobbish art critics recoil, but thanks to the ongoing trend for kitsch, says Martin, it now sells for around £100.

Record collections

Whenever anyone finds out what Ian Shirley does – he's the editor of the Rare Record Price Guide – they always want to know how much their own collections are worth. "Obviously, it depends on what they have. They could have 200 records worth £10,000, or 2,000 records worth much less." The best way to find out is to get a copy of the price guide, or do a search on an internet auction site to see how much records have sold for. There are two things that determine value: scarcity, and mint condition (this usually means never played, even better if it has never been taken out of its sleeve). Lots of people will have Beatles or Rolling Stones records, but there aren't that many mint copies, says Shirley. Records that didn't sell well when they came out are worth much more. Vinyl from the 50s and 60s is usually collectable, and at the moment certain genres are doing better than others: 70s prog and folk rock, psychedelic, reggae. Even more recent records have become collectable – a collector will pay around £40 for a copy of Blur's Parklife, for instance.

Wedding presents

In the 50s and 60s, many couples received stainless-steel tableware such as teapots and toast racks as wedding gifts. "Look out for anything from the 50s onwards from Old Hall," says Mark Hill, co-author of Miller's Collectables Price Guide and presenter of BBC's forthcoming Cracking Antiques. "Lots of people were given teapots and other kitchenware in the 60s as wedding presents and they've been forgotten about in cupboards." A collector will pay up to £150 for a teapot from the company's Alveston range.

A popular 70s wedding present was Sheringham candlesticks, produced by Kings Lynn and Wedgwood Glass and designed by Ronald Stennett-Willson. "Again, they fell out of fashion, but now they are starting to emerge from lofts and sideboards," says Hill. They are made from coloured discs of glass, and the more discs the candlestick has, the more valuable it is – one with eight discs can be worth more than £1,000.

Marbles

There are marble collectors who will pay up to several hundred pounds for a shiny sphere and a pretty pattern. What you are looking for here is late 19th- and early 20th-century marbles. "They were handmade in Germany and you can tell what they are by looking for two rough patches at the top and bottom," says Hill. What happens with all collectables is that once the very rare, early examples of an item are bought up, collectors move down the food chain to the not-so-old-and-rare versions. "So later marbles made in America by companies such as Akro Agate and Christensen are collectable too, and rising in value. I went through my collection from childhood and I found I had a few good ones." As ever, the better the condition, the better the value, so look for ones that aren't chipped and scuffed – and common cats' eye marbles aren't particularly collectable.

Vintage clothes

Items from valuable designer names such as Ozzie Clark, Biba and Mary Quant are already well-known, but there are others, says Martin, packed away in trunks or hidden at the back of wardrobes that any vintage collector would snap up. "Look for anything by Bill Gibb, the 70s fashion designer, which can be worth up to £600, or Jean Varon – this label was designed by John Bates, and a good maxidress can be worth anything up to around £400." Even modern clothes can fetch high prices on internet auction sites, particularly designer high-street collaborations, says Martin. "Matthew Williamson's 'peacock dress' for H&M can fetch as much as £250."

Ercol furniture

Chances are, you probably won't have an undiscovered Tufft table in the spare room, but more recent furniture can be valuable too. Hill's top tip is for mid-century Ercol furniture, which is particularly sought after at the moment. "Look out for the nest of three 'pebble' tables, particularly in blond wood," says Hill. They are worth around £150, with some shops charging several hundred. "You'd imagine that sort of furniture sitting unloved in a corner somewhere."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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