When it comes to surveillance, the UK is a world-beater, and way out in front of the rest of the country in terms of CCTV cameras per square mile is London where, as Andy Warhol might have said, everybody can be famous every 15 metres. But who can we get to watch all of those screens? Well, what about the entire population of "one of the UK's most deprived areas", soon to be "the largest ICT literate broadband community in Europe"?
This enticing vision of the electronic neighbourhood watch is offered by the Shoreditch Trust as a part of its Shoreditch Digital Bridge (SDB) project, which aims to build a broadband digital network covering 20,000 residents on housing estates in the Shoreditch area. Alongside video on demand TV services from Homechoice, the SDB will offer a "Community Safety Channel" which will allow residents "to monitor estate CCTV cameras from their own living rooms, view a 'Usual Suspects' ASBO line up, and receive live community safety alerts." Will they get to press the red button to decide who should be ASBOed next? This could be vastly more entertaining than most TV is, these days.
It's difficult to see how the proposal could conform with the UK's CCTV Code of Practice, but it's sure to be of interest to the Information Commissioner. And if it ever flies, local police will no doubt also be impressed by the very, very, very large number of calls the system is likely to generate.
Other aspects of the Shoreditch Digital Bridge are less controversial, but likely to be considerably harder to execute. The SDB proposes an education channel, "allowing children and adults to take classes, complete on-line homework assignments and log-on to 'virtual tutors'", a "Health Channel" allowing patients to book GP appointments, and providing "virtual Dr/Nurse consultations and on-line health and diagnosis information", a "Consumer Channel, allowing on-line group buying of common services such as gas, electricity and mobile phone tariffs", and an "Employment Channel, providing on-line NVQ courses, local jobs website and virtual interview mentoring."
So within that little lot, the educational aspects will require substantial input from, and involvement of, existing schools and colleges, the Health Channel will need a whole new interface to NHS systems that are already struggling to implement their own new electronic booking systems, and the Consumer Channel will merely have to reinvent the co-operative movement electronically. Simple...
Quoting "local Shoreditch resident Steve Bedwell", who we suspect may be in some way related to Shoreditch Trust co-chair Steve Bedwell, the press release tells us: "These channels are amazing. I still remember the stir in our block when my dad got our first black and white tele. The impact this service will have on the local community is going to be tremendous."
The project has been established by the Shoreditch ‘New Deal for Communities’ programme, ‘Shoreditch Our Way (ShOW), and is receiving funding from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and via European Structural Funds. It will succeed where other "Wired Up" projects have failed, we are told, because subscriptions from residents and businesses will "ensure that... the Shoreditch Digital Bridge is self-financing and scalable outside of Shoreditch across London and beyond. Research has indicated resident and business readiness to pay if the high value services that they want... are delivered." Ah, but how many ambitious projects have stumbled over just that sort of "if"?
ShOW also seems to be pinning a great deal of hope on the 'consumers union' aspects of the project succeeding: "Affordability for residents will be a key issue. At the heart of the value proposition for them will be the savings generated by e-consumer services such as group buying of utilities. These will increase resident disposable income sufficiently to make the SDB subscription a viable choice. ShOW is piloting an offline service that will identify the best deals for residents and negotiate on their behalf with suppliers. This ‘consumers’ union will remove the time and effort costs of finding the right supplier and leverage residents’ buying economies of scale."
So what happens if substantial savings can't be generated via group buying of utilities, and residents don't find an SDB subscription a viable choice? It all looks pretty chancy. ShOW claims that savings through lower bills and increased take-up of benefits will add up to an annual increase in disposable income of £300 per household. Residents will then enthusiastically spend this on SDB subs, and community, engagement, involvement and Europe's largest ICT literate broadband community will somehow, magically, emerge from all this. Honest.