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The great rural Broadband divide
Wednesday 07 May 2003 17:35:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Rural areas of the UK are still woefully served as far as affordable Broadband Internet services are concerned. The Register has some statistics illustrating the size of the divide from an annual Countryside Agency report. 25% coverage in market towns and a minute 1% in remote rural areas.

BT Wholesale now has 1,253 exchanges supplying ADSL, covering 68% of the UK homes and businesses. At least the demand led scheme is improving things in some areas. The question is should BT Wholesale be viewed as the sole provider for the majority of the country? Or given the complaints of BTs domination of the market, should another set of providers be encouraged to serve the rural areas.

The problem is the infrastructure costs involved in wiring up the less densely populated parts of the UK, the investment per home will be higher than that of an urban area. This will preclude things such as LLU playing a large part. Wireless is currently the best non-BT hope for rural broadband. Alas schemes are starting to happen, but these are often patchy and there is very little visible in the way of a coherent strategy that will result in a nationwide rollout.

The government is hoping that public sector demand will drive local infrastructure, and thus lead to rural Broadband access for all. The problem with this approach is that local councils have in the past just considered their own needs and not the overall need of the community. One interesting point is that it appears only approved companies will be able to provide broadband services to the public sector (The Register). This suggests a total of six companies will have approval, Easynet is one confirmed supplier, also BT and Telewest are expected to be on the list. This approval process may actually move to stifle innovation, e.g. if a local council gets Easynet to unbundle the exchange, then the problem arises that Easynet have no residential product range. The fact that then business customers may take an Easynet service, will then make other competitors less likely to come to the area.


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