Real Q and blunt As




Q & As


These are a number of real and fairly blunt questions put by various interested parties (including civil servants) together with some direct answers. They are offered in no particular order:

Q1 Does the UK need one central server and one monopoly supplier of that service, to achieve the Government's initial target of 50% of pupils and 75% of teachers having an individual email address by 2002 or the Stevenson Report's target of one each?

A We don't need one email service to achieve these Government targets. The government could do nothing and rely on a patchwork of commercial national and local providers to offer free emails. We already have Excite, BT, Dixons, FreeMail etc.…

…but the problems of relying on these commercial providers include exposing children:

  • to the commercial exploitation of such offers (both targeted mailshots and behaviour tracking),
  • to irrevocably link the government's targets and their promises to that exploitation...
  • ...and would lose the valued added advantages of a single central service.

Without the central service the government would hit its targets but the price that children would pay is too high.

Q2 What are the advantages of a single central approach and what are the disadvantages?

A Apart from the protection of IDs that a central service would offer only such a service would be able to enlist the support of key national agencies (ChildLine, Health Education Authority, BBC, Teacher Training Agency, etc., etc) in generating national on-line activity and in supporting families in their understanding of the issues.

The inclusive national nature also allows such opportunities as, for example, having email follow-up available in exhibitions and museums - visiting a museum's new gallery something catches your eye and interest, you 'swipe' your mail id card and follow-up is posted direct to you. Similarly the national inclusive nature of the service gives a jump start to the policy of widening the number of access points in public places. This is really a step change in our national communication infrastructure.

Q3 What are alternative ways to achieve the targets? Will the free market approach not achieve the same result?

A See Q1 above. But three other reasons also:

  • firstly the advantages of a single national service enable a mass of opportunity in terms of a direct channel of communication to all children that would simply not be possible with a piecemeal tapestry of partial coverage by commercial providers inside and outside the UK, this is the service not a service.
  • secondly there is a clear need here for a public service to exist as a countervailing balance to the commercial services. This service will not replace the free market mail or service providers.
  • finally commercial providers have commercial needs to fulfil and these are very different to a sponsor's needs. There is clear evidence that children's behaviours and preferences would be both collected and sold by commercial providers unless we have a national scheme with an independant steering committee. Legislation / regulation will not help, commercial providers will place servers outside of UK legislative reach.

Q4 What are the advantages/disadvantages for schools from a centralised approach? What are the cost implications for schools?

A The cost to schools of the free market approach will be inevitably to see them tied into local service provision in a way that seriously reduces their ability to change provider which makes services expensive. This is the default position if we don't act and we are already seeing LEA's getting tied into this problem.

The cost to them for the centralised Millie Mail service should be zero. No charge, no admin (unless you prefer the school admin to the Post Office - discuss), no catches.

Q5 How would such a project fit with a managed services approach?

A Fine.

But the email identities need managing in a way that is hard to imagine could be done effectively and in a coordinated way without a central public service.

Q6 What if schools choose not to use this facility, but use other providers?

A This email identity service is for children and of course their families and schools will benefit immeasurably but it will be those parents and children that decide to use the Millie Mail service.

Remember that schools, families or individuals will still need a service provider (ISP) to connect them to the Internet, there is no attempt to replace this primary commercial function.

Remember that at the moment there is no choice of public or private provision at all.

Q7 What are the technical specifications for the project? How can we assess the appropriateness and capability of the technology to deliver the volume of e-mail envisaged?

A Obviously this needs a long answer, no one has done this before on such a scale, but see Q8 below or the Details section of this website.

However, for now a guideline might include the following certainties:

Web based service, usable by any computer that can run a browser, with any operating system including Java tablets.

Adheres to IP, ISO and open standards.

Every child will have 20Mb (+?) of storage space with a full object database structure underpinning. For a quick reminder of Oracle's capability I suggest a quick look at the web starting from this section in oracle's web site:

Q8 ls there a danger of disillusionment and negative impact if e-mail addresses are available without the adequate roll out of infrastructure and training to support it?

A A phased start with plenty of information flow is essential and intended.

It is also very hard to see how anything else might be better. Can teachers can be trained from this year's NOF money for a service that only might evolve from the free market? Given the nature of that market it is fair to assume that disillusionment and confusion would be guaranteed. With a planned central public service we know what we are getting, indeed can influence what we are getting, and can plan or train for it from Initial teacher Education through to In-service education and training of existing teachers.

Q9 What security for children will there be? Is this not a paedophiles dream come true?

A Mass mailing of children is only available by application to the Steering Committee for appropriate organisations and activities. There is no publicly avaliable database of ids. Any child can initiate an email conversation but any individual cannot initiate a conversation with a child.

In addition the national nature of the scheme makes policing and reporting of mail abuse simpler. With the current chaotic variety of mail id providers there are no guarantees that, for example, a service will not be built specifically to collect identities of children. Security decrees that this must be a public service, centrally provided.

Q10 Are there other possible UK or European suppliers of this service? What will be their reaction if the UK Government supported this one proposal?

A The profitable bit of the market is for service provision and content and tools. This proposal simply grows the market rather than competing with it. 11 million internet users will make service providers very happy indeed.

Q11 Can this be reconciled with non-government procurement procedures and practices? What are the commercial benefits to Oracle? How would Parliament regard a deal with one supplier if the procedures were not followed?

A. These kinds of projects do not fit in with procurement (sponsors are giving not receiving). An indicator is how ministers regarded another Ultralab national project SchoolNet 2000, for all UK schools which Tesco sponsored. That project was wecomed with open arms and a heartfelt thank you.

Q12 How would such a project link to recommendations resulting from the report by NOMINET on school e-mail domains?

A there is a debate to be had about this but as a guideline remeber that a school is part of a student's identity but it is not necessarily part of their e-mail address (children don't change their name when they change schools, why should they change their email identity?). This means that a student's school will be an identity attribute in the database but not in the mail address. It is a nice illustration of why we need to underpin the whole system with a powerful relational database and object technology.

Q13 How effective are the guarantees that young people will not be subjected to direct advertising and marketing? What happens when they leave school education?

A currently, without Millie Mail there are no guarantees that they will not be subjected to direct advertising and marketing.

the Millie Mail proposal protects them against this absolutely with the steering committees described in detail elsewhere.

All teachers keep the mail id for life too, offering a useful way to keep in touch and help returning teachers.

Q14 Who decides what is/is not appropriate sponsorship or advertising and what information can legitimately be sent to young people? Is there a cost attached to this?

A At the moment, without Millie Mail, no one does this which is a significant reason for the proposal. Millie Mail proposes that the database is vouchsafed by its own steering committee who must be approached for approval before any mass mailings occur (Childline OK, Meat Marketing Board not OK?) and each child's web based database of addresses will only contain the names of groups they have initiated a conversation with or groups that they have membership of (their school for example, or maybe a sports club).

Q15 What are the cost implications for the government, for example, is a regulatory body required to protect consumers?

A For Millie Mail, a centrally funded, central committee is needed, with some administrative support. This Millie Mail national database steering committee will provide the guarantees of appropriate behaviour and should be clearly independant and clearly in the public sector.

The alternative is a vast expense setting up some regulatory framework which inevitably will be ineffective.

Q16 Is this proposal anti-competitive?

A No. The proposal has been discussed at length with the telecomms regulator Oftel who remains a helpful advisor.

Q17 Is there an opportunity cost of not proceeding with the project? What would be the effect of Oracle piloting it elsewhere?

A The opportunity cost would be in terms of missed opportunity and children will suffer the loss unnecessarily. There will be similar missed opportunitiesfor the professional development of teachers.

Q18 Why now, why not later?

A There is a broad concensus that some form of value added identity matters and a clear view that the UK needs something that is the service rather than a service.

But beyond policy and political promises it is hard not to see a project of this significance as being millennial; the coincidence of timing as the 3rd Millennium approaches is fortuitous but sets some timing imperatives for the project too.

Finally, it can be done now, it couldn't technically, be done before. Oracle's software makes the difference.

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