I'm five months into my seventh year of presenting the current manifestation of the Tom Morton radio Show, and the majority of my daily broadcasts have come from The Radiocroft, a small cottage in the north mainland of Shetland.
This has been possible due to a technology called ISDN - Integrated Systems Digital Network - which provides a one-to-one connection between the small studio in The Radiocroft and virtually any BBC broadcasting studio. the speed and quality of the connection is ideal for radio broadcasting. Unlike 'modern' ADSL broadband, you do not compete with other internet users, and the speed of data transfer is the same in both directions.
ISDN was the first of the digital telephony systems which, it was promised, would revolutionise remote working. When I was a Scotsman reporter in the late 80s, BT was forever demonstrating its capabilities, with computer programmers in Orkney magically working from their attics for companies in Abu Dhabi. Now, of course, ADSL broadband means we take such things for granted. And BT are keen to jettison ISDN just as soon as they can.
However, live broadcasting over ADSL is not supported by the BBC. There are issues of quality and especially, of delay, because you're competing at the moment with other internet users. In addition, the really serious dealers in data tend to maintain an ISDN line as a failsafe, should broadband go down.
I was using a BT product called BT Business Highway, which was withdrawn two months ago. I had arranged with BT what had been promised would be a 'seamless' transfer to ISDN2E, their professional version. Instead, they pulled the plug on Business Highway an hour befor a programme was due to go on air. No letters, no email, no call. Nothing. In point of fact, Business Highway had crashed more often in the last six months of usage than in the previous five years.
It took ages to discover what had happened (I initially thought the final disconnection was just another fault), but eventually, thanks to the folks at BT Local Business in Aberdeen, BT agreed to instal ISDN2E. That took weeks. Once installed, and that was just a few weeks ago, it has broken down again and again and again.
It crashed on Wednesday after a lightning storm - the Marconi ISDN cards used in the local exchange are ultra-sensitive to this - and then, during yesterday's show, there was a sudden seven-minute crash. All ISDN connections in the area were off ( I tried the three still used for video conferencing in the local health centre). No explanation, though ordinary telephone calls south didn't work either. Which raises another issue.
BT currently connect Shetland to the rest of the Uk using old fashioned line-of-sight radio. It's slow and unreliable. A state of the art fibre optic cable exists - laid by the Faroese Telecom company between Faroe, Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland - but BT have so far refused to buy space on it. This would provide a secure, fast connection and enable a host of advanced services.
But that's not what's bothering me. It's clear that BT management want shot of ISDN. I hear from within the BBC that maintenance of the corporation's ISDN network (there are small BBC ISDN studios in all kinds of unlikely places) is becoming increasingly difficult. The lightning-prone Marconi exchange card was once replaceable by a more robust Motorola version. No longer.
It's pretty boring, technical stuff, but what it comes down to is that neither myself nor my producers can have confidence in the ISDN services provided to the Radiocroft. The Lerwick studios of BBC Radio Shetland have access to (very) old-fashioned leased lines for broadcasting, and these are (a bit) more reliable. So it seems that instead of a carbon-neutral cycle to the Radiocroft, I'm facing a 75-miles round trip commute by car each day.
After all the work done and money spent to make remote broadcasting happen in Northmavine, it's sickening. It's bad publicity for BT, but they really don't seem to care one iota. I have had not one word of concern or apology from BT management. This despite a national network radio programme being put at risk. It's as if they neither understand nor care about the idea of public relations.
All the engineers I've dealt with have been exemplary in their willingness to sort the problems as they occur. But no van is fast enough to save a show that goes off-air half way through.
Remote broadcasting: it appears the dream may be over.