- 12 Sep 08, 07:58 GMT
When I messaged friends to say I was "in an Amsterdam cafe sampling some great fibre", I got a lot of outrageous replies suggesting that I might be smoking something I shouldn't be. But this is a city which wants to be known from now on as a leader in fibre-to-the-home rather than Europe's capital of soft drugs.
Amsterdam is completing the first phase of Citynet, an ambitious and expensive plan to bring fibre to all of its 450,000 homes. The cafe where I sampled some free fibre was in Zeeburg - a docklands area which is the first to be linked to the new network.
The city council has invested heavily in the scheme, putting up a third of the cash needed so far. At €800 - around £600 - for every home passed, it's not cheap, and there've been accusations from some telecom firms not involved in the scheme that the council's cash amounts to state aid. So far, Brussels has rejected their arguments.
But what's Amsterdam getting for its money? Supposedly a state-of-the art fibre network, offering up to 100Mbps now and more in the future. I saw it in use in a number of places - in some architects' offices lodged with others in a brand new docklands building, in a canalside family home, and even on a boat. Yes, fibre-to-the-barge has come to Amsterdam.
But I didn't yet find any great clamour for the kind of services a lightning fast service might offer. On the boat for instance, the owner Oliver Ax was enthusiastic that the fibre cable draped over the quayside would now replace three wires bringing him internet, television and telephone. But he was only paying for an up to 20Mbps service, and his ISP wasn't yet providing digital television.
Similarly, in the family home I visited, they were not yet downloading HD movies or playing games online. They too had only signed up to a 20Mbps service, and felt they did not yet need to pay for something faster.
Amsterdam is really paying for future-proofing before the demand for fibre - and the services it promises - arrives. So what can the UK learn from the experience in the Netherlands, as the government publishes its Caio review into the prospects for next-generation networks? The kind of speeds I saw in use in the Zeeburg area are around the same as those offered by BT's new souped-up copper network, and the British firm is now planning to build plenty of fibre-to-the-cabinet to supplement that. So why does the UK need to rush into fibre to the home, at a potential cost of £29 billion?
Herman Wagter of Amsterdam Fibre - one of the commercial partners in the Citynet project - is clear: "Five years ago you could have asked whether fibre was necessary - now the debate is over . It's become clear that "fibre-to-the-cabinet" is just a stopgap. Full fibre-to-the-home is the answer". Well, of course, he would say that - his business is fibre.
But this city is betting that it will be cheaper to get into the fast lane now, rather than wait and see the costs of the labour to dig up all those roads - and canals - rise later.
Francesco Caio believes that the recent moves by both BT and Virgin Media to promise parts of the country higher speeds are encouraging signs that Britain is heading along the right path. He's also clear that chucking governement money at the problem isn't the answer. But he's said to be impressed by the kind of public-private partnership that's taking place in Amsterdam. So will British cities now follow the Dutch example?
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites