Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 22/11/2005Back in London, I see Graeme Wearden giggling at his desk. It's a bit too early for his customary blast of nitrous oxide, so I had to ask him what was going on.

Tuesday 22/11/2005

Back in London, I see Graeme Wearden giggling at his desk. It's a bit too early for his customary blast of nitrous oxide, so I had to ask him what was going on. "Ofcom!" he said. "Made idiots of themselves again!"

"Just type here", I said, sliding over a laptop and seeing the chance to slip off for a quick sharpener…

"It was the Broadband Britain Summit at the QE2 centre on Monday." Graeme wrote. "We'd already had the DTI guy celebrating botnets, when the time came for Ed Richard's keynote. He's the chief operating officer of Ofcom, and as big a wig as you see outside the High Court. So, our master of ceremonies Declan Curry (of the BBC) calls for Richards. Nothing happens. "Ah..." said Declan. "Mr Richards, are you there?" Silence. A few titters. "Is there anyone from Ofcom?". Silence. "He is in the building", volunteers one person. "Ah, OK, perhaps someone could go and tell him that the room with all the people is where he's meant to be". Giggles. "Well, you never know with these watchdogs. They're often too clever to spot the obvious". So, we all wait.

So Declan says. "While we're waiting, let's have a show of hands. Who here knows what Ofcom does". Hands go up all round the room. "Who thinks Ofcom is doing a good job". A smattering of hands. More waiting.

Then, with a bang, in strides Ed Richards. He marches to the front and, without a sniff of an apology for keeping 200 people waiting, launches into his speech. You'd think he was the headmaster of a school — but it can't be arrogance. Hey, this bloke works for Ofcom, the champion of the citizen-consumer, and used to work on policy in Number 10, a place where humility is a way of life. So I sit there, for a speech talking about how well Broadband Britain has performed since Ofcom came into being a few years ago (no mention of BT's price cuts, or rural activists, or media pressure).

We move onto the challenges of the digital divide still existing (no suggestion that it's Ofcom's fault. hey, they've only just got here). But maybe the increased take-up of digital and IP TV will help, he says. Then, as Richards is mid-flow, he stops. Someone is waving at him. No, it's not some awestruck fan seeking an autograph, but Declan. "Sorry, but could you wind it up in the next 60 seconds?". Richards looks like he's been told to pencil a moustache onto a photo of Tony Blair. "Well. That will be very difficult." He said, shuffling copious notes. The Ofcom sermon clearly had some way to run.

"Well, give it a go" responded Declan. Richards isn't easily stopped, though — he embarks on a long monologue about public-private partnership in the telecoms space, the challenge of DRM, and then — as suspense grows in the hall that Declan might swing onto the stage upon a vine and bundle Richards clean from the building — the man from Ofcom gives us a rundown about the forthcoming disposal of the analogue TV spectrum. And then he stopped — to applause that I noted down at the time as "cool". "

"Cool?" I asked, returning from my reviving break.

"The clicking of pens was loud during that last sixty seconds that he spun on for five minutes."

"They'll probably regulate against that sort of thing, pre-watershed" I suggested.

"Ofcom, eh?"