Mobiles as an essential service

Is our love affair with mobile phones turning sour?

Tariffs are complex, service is variable and over the last two years, 100,000 people have complained to the national advice line Consumer Direct about their mobile phone deal.

Well, we are launching a public report and consultation today to investigate what the problems are with mobile phones and to campaign for solutions. You are welcome to feed in

More UK households use mobiles than fixed line phones. Mobiles used to be seen as a luxury but I think they are now an essential service and need to be treated as such.

The great postbox game

I met with Richard Pope this morning on our Consumer Focus Labs work to promote online tools for consumer empowerment. He pointed me to the work of Mathew Somerville who has turned postboxes into a national game.

A Freedom of Information request to Royal Mail basically found, if I have this right, that while there are 116,000 post boxes across the UK, it doesn’t know with exact precision where they are (or that is, it does at a local evel but apparantly not, beyond postcode and some text description, at a national level). Matthew has set up an online platform for people to feed in the coordinates for their local postbox.

So far, 14,168 postboxes have been found. That is  101,832 to go…

150 energy slaves

Reading Anthony Giddens new book on climate change, he quotes an American researcher, Richard Heinberg, who calculates that if you add up the power of all the fuel-fed machines that keep us warm, let us travel  and light our homes, then you find that each of us has the equivalent of 150 ‘energy slaves’ working for us twenty four hours a day.

Debt and data

Budget day and trying to make sense of all that debt, but also in the detail the go-ahead to the broadband USO. That is surely good news, and if slow to begin with, let’s campaign to build data speed over time.

But I wonder too why it is that energy efficiency is forever the afterthought… we need to find a better way.

Little digital Britain

digital-britainI went along to the Digital Britain Summit today, a small affair of 250 people or so in the British Library coming together to debate the welcome strategy that is coming together around new technology infrastructure. We had the political heavyweights,  Brown, Mandelson and Burnham, but also an excellent set of digital entrepreneurs and commentators.

The dramatic report from Consumers International which showed this week that the UK has the worst copyright regime in the world for consumers (come on Intellectual Property Office, admit it – have you no professional pride?) caused some debate.

Conversely, the UK is seen as a competitive broadband and mobile leader (even if customer service has been shoddy at times) but the point was made that we can’t talk about digital Britain without talking about digital Europe. Other stuff that I found interesting is that we are consuming 50% more digital data every twelve months and it is migrating away from the PC, with more people accessing the internet worldwide through mobiles than through laptops and desktops.

The jewel in the crown of the Digital Britain project is the commitment to universal broadband (and also mobile) access – welcome and forward-looking, though at what speed?  My guess, reading between the lines, is that this might come down to whether we as taxpayers will cough up donkeymoney to cover the households that the market will not deliver for through competition.

Good luck to the forces of light on this – because a donkey universal broadband speed  is still a donkey, not yet a new Digital Britain.

We the public

An excellent new book launched today consumer-in-public-servicesby Richard Simmons (University of Stirling) and colleagues looks at the public use of public services. I have done a foreword for The Consumer in Public Services, which has a great tally of authors and the key researchers looking at public services today.

RIP Mini McGhee

I have to report that Consumer Focus Scotland’s latest recruit – wee fish Mini McGhee – is no more. All this is courtesy of one satisfied and now fatter catfish, the celebrated Sucky.

Plucky Sucky has always had strong views on teamwork, both in his energywatch days and with the new opportunities of the merger. Pauline tells me that Glasgow colleagues have now removed the two goldfish from the same office fish tank for their own safety…

Nine meals away from anarchy?

london-yieldJohn Thackara (Doors of Perception) tells me about the comments of the head of the UK Countryside Agency who warned recently that Britain was ‘nine meals away from anarchy.’ Britain’s food supply is so totally dependent on oil – 95 per cent of the food eaten there is oil-dependent – that if the oil supply were suddenly to be cut off it would take just three full days before law and order broke down.

This chimes with a recent film I saw hosted by my local Transition Town on how Cuba responded after oil was cut off in the 1990s. Doomsday thinking is obviously on the rise.

An exhibition in London looks at different ways that cities might be transformed from consumers to generators of food.

Why act


I argue in “The Risk of Forgetting the Poor” – a  pamphlet out today from Green Alliance in their great series on climate risks, that we have to act to end fuel poverty among consumers as part of the action on climate change.

Neither are simple but together, they are easier to tackle.