Ultra, super or sloooow?

I try to keep and eye on the broadband scene and subscribe to regular email newsletters from Thinkbroadband. Their April blog looks at how Superfast and Ultrafast broadband is rolling out across urban and rural Britain.  http://blog.thinkbroadband.com/2016/04/uk-hits-90-superfast-coverage-but-what-about-rural-uk/

It shows Superfast and Ultrafast broadband moving ahead, but still a lot of pockets where much slower speeds are achievable. In Peggs Green, Leicestershire, we are able to get fibre courtesy of Superfast Leicestershire BDUK. However we’re so far from the fibre-enabled cabinet we are quoted a top speed of 12Mbps so hardly superfast, and not worth going to the hassle to upgrade from 5Mbps we get on ADSL. I guess we will go to fibre eventually as the ADSL performance is actually getting worse – more people using it for streaming TV and music – or a policy for downgrading ADSL – who knows?

It’s fairly easy for the bean-counters to cross off the exchanges and cabinets that are upgraded, but ignore the fact that even semi-rural businesses and residents are a long way from the cabinets and the distance issue over copper (or aluminium) still applies.  Despite receiving frequent mailers from Virgin offering amazing speeds, they won’t drop a cable down our lane.

It’s definitely looking like a 2-speed society, not just for businesses – and there are a lot of small and micro-businesses in rural areas – but also for ordinary people. Website developers are increasingly assuming availability of bandwidth in their design with moving “slider” banners, full-page photos in the background and pop-ups. When I started web design in 1999 we considered background images out of the question with most people on dial-up connections. (Under 30-year-olds email me for an explanation of dial-up!)

There also seems to be a move to TV delivery via the internet. Look at  BBC3. It certainly suits many people who don’t have a permanent or long-term residence and therefore have no TV-license, for commuters on public transport etc. and it’s great to be able to catch up on programmes you’ve missed, or to take control of your TV programme consumption via on-demand services like i-Player. However, people in rural areas with no or slow broadband and probably patchy mobile coverage too are going to be disadvantaged. Broadcast seems the logical delivery for a central service to many, distributed consumers rather than piping the same stuff, once for each active consumer, over a limited network. Despite the exponential increase in broadband speeds, this does come at a cost which the public / private arrangements used so far may not be able to sustain long-term.

Public policy-makers should not assume everyone has access to high-speed broadband however much it may suit their budgetary projections.




“Broadband for all – an alternative vision” House of Lords report

House of Lords Communications Committee has published its First Report on the Government’s broadband policy & strategy entitled “Broadband for all – an alternative vision” .

This report is one of the reasons we should keep the House of Lords! A bit of vision, common sense and real-world experience to counter the Government’s ideological and tick-box policies. Read the report at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldcomuni/41/4102.htm  and the BBC’s take on it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19057875

We live and work in semi-rural Leicestershire, only a couple of miles from the M1 and the East Midlands Airport so not in the sticks, and we don’t have the high-speed internet connections we need. Actually with a speed varying between 4 and 6Mbps we aren’t as bad as other village residents, many of whom have businesses or work from home at least some of the week. We have a 21CN-enabled exchange in the next village Osgathorpe, at the other end of the village they get services from Coalville which is a couple of miles away (= slow internet). Coalville exchange offers services from TalkTalk/Tiscali etc but they still can’t improve the speed. Only a few have Virgin TV cable passing their doors.

The continued interest in high-speed is great and is needed for the increase in on-line applications, including TV and radio broadcast and phone. But the rush for speed is potentially leaving the people already on average / poor / non-existent connections ever more disadvantaged. With ADSL technology speed is still related to the distance from the exchange. Increasing the top speed just benefits those who live next to exchanges and makes the performance and reliability at the outer edges worse.

There’s a lot of commercial issues which the House of Lords raise. 28-years ago when BT was privatised and later when the television cable networks were carved up it was all in the name of competition. Competition would give us lower prices and better services. Well arguably it has provided cheaper phone calls. Now we have one cable TV operator with a monopoly and a privatised BT which, although now released from the shackles which prevented it from offering entertainment services, is tied about with requirements to offer capacity and services to its competitors. It’s probably not keen to invest in fibre networks throughout the rural and semi-rural parts of GB only for its competitors to benefit.   This is a national infrastructure issue – as seen by the fact that the Government feels the need to have a broadband policy. It kind of makes you wonder about the wisdom of selling off BT in the first place if we’re now subsidising BT and other companies to the ultimate benefit of their shareholders.