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Is it really broadband or bankruptcy for rural businesses?
Friday 22 February 2008 15:27:01 by Andrew Ferguson

Searching back from an article in the farming section of the Hexham Courant you arrive at the Country Land & Business Association website (CLA).

The findings of the CLA make five main points:

  • Businesses are having to pay for the full cost of broadband when sometimes only half - or less - of the advertised connection speed is available;
  • Respondents felt that customer service is poor, particularly when the call centre fails to understand the problems involved;
  • Communication between Internet Service Providers and their customers remains poor and in some cases, non-existent
  • There remains, in practical terms, little genuine competition in the rural market.
  • Rural businesses have not been able to piggy-back onto public sector broadband availability despite assurances that this would be the case.

The first point reflects a lot of media coverage that has been given to broadband speeds and pricing and is actually the result of changes to broadband pricing that occurred in 2004 with the move away from speed based pricing to Capacity Based Pricing (CBC), (2007 prices are shown here). The price for products under CBC is a flat rate, with the amount of backhaul capacity a provider buys being the variable component. This has been reflected in the wide range of products now sold based on how much of the capacity a customer wants to use, i.e. are sold with inclusive usage allowances. Roughly speaking a customer with an 8Mbps sync package will cost the same as a 1Mbps customer when they download an average amount of material in a day. Some broadband providers have retained a degree of speed based pricing, by mixing usage allowances and speeds but this is becoming less common.

Customer service has been a perennial problem in the broadband industry; the technical nature of broadband services can lead to confusion when trying to explain a problem. This is even more so for businesses where IT is just another tool rather than a core expertise. This can result in small businesses having intermittent broadband connections which can easily be resolved. One example of this could be company that had a slow but stable 0.5Mbps broadband connection, and then had an upgrade to a rate adaptive product which connects at 1.3Mbps now but can be unstable. Solutions do exist by forcing the connection back to a fixed speed profile, or considering items like an ADSL faceplate on the master socket, but how many providers actually provide help to this degree?

From the problems that show up on our forums things can often be improved with perhaps 30 minutes help from someone who understands the technology. The biggest problem is getting in touch with those that need the help and many may not even realise that their broadband could be more stable.


Posted by hellsbells over 9 years ago
South Witham Broadband were members of the CLA, so when I heard of this survey I contacted the CLA and told them that we were a rural provider and that we could provide home wiring checks, technician installs, and had much success on long lines..I asked that our contact details be passed to members having difficulty in our area, I was brushed off with "Oh well, we are only interested in doing the survey"
Posted by hellsbells over 9 years ago
continued ...In fact 10 months ago the head of one of the branches told me she couldn't get broadband... so I checked out the number and told her there shouldn't be a problem, only for her to reply she hadn't actually tried.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
I'm not sure it is helpful to talk of this as a rural issue when you can be in a small village with its own exchange and get the full 8M or you can be in a city centre fed sub-optimally and only get 1M.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 9 years ago
Only a few people near any exchange rural or urban get 'the full 8meg' the rest of the people take what is possible. Many have extremely poor connections due to faulty lines or simple distance issues. The state of broadband in general in this country is bad. When u talk to people they all complain about it. They complain because it is 'bulled up' by the ISPs to be something it isn't. It is an always on connection (hopefully) which can run at half a meg or over.
What it isn't is a high speed super highway. For that we need fibre.
Not an obsolete copper network.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 9 years ago
Or we need more community networks where the people running them sort out the last mile!
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
A few ? more than 20% of Entanet customers connect at the full 8M speed.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 9 years ago
lucky 20%
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
a 8meg customer will cost more than 1 meg customer if downloading equal amounts, just the extra cost is a indirect cost. For example it costs isps more when customers use more traffic during busy periods, a 8meg customer is much more likely to do this than a 512kbit customer.
The article is wtong imo I agree with herdwick for once, long lines slow speeds etc. affect city areas as well.
Posted by rickw over 9 years ago
Whilst the article was primarily about the CLA it also commented on lack of support to improve speeds and reliability of connection for users.

This is an area of mystery for me since everyone complains that the ISPs lie about rates when much of the problems on data rates are outside of the control of the ISP, namely distance from the exchange AND condition of last mile including critically, as you point out, the state of the house wiring (simply changing the BT boundary faceplace will often give good increases). Posting reduced in length...

Posted by rickw over 9 years ago
On the face of it the technical basis of broadband delivery from landlines is well outmoded and not able to support the upcoming speed requirements of IPTV and so on, at least not for all.

Virgin seem to understand this as far as the last mile is concerned.

Now whether their service is any good behind the last mile I have no idea but in truth unless BT of whoever fix that last mile and actually do it and not faff around with trials which they know will work we will not get a workable broadband solution for the majority who use landlines of one sort or another.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
I know editorially the long lines affect all population densities, the rural part was taken from the CLA.

As for the 8Mbps and 1Mbps - I was careful to suggest average usage e.g. a bit of web browsing, a little online radio, maybe 10 to 15 minutes of video. If we are talking lines that max out at 7Mbps download for 3 hours versus 1Mbps for 21 hours (same amount of data), yes the 7Mbps line if at peak will have more impact on the Central.

Article was an attempt to explain why ISP's generally don't offer reductions for those on lower speeds.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
IPTV if in terms of streaming requires a low latency, low packet loss, fairly high bandwidth path. With the contention at local UBRs on cable this is not possible.

The current 20Mbps cable should be able to produce pretty good HD streams already in theory.
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
50mbit cable will utilise docsis3 so will be penned of from the rest of the customer base, most likely the heaviest customers only will move to 50mbit initially likely also freeing up capacity on the current ubrs so when VM get this off the ground there should be relief on their network.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
"a 8meg customer will cost more than 1 meg customer if downloading equal amounts"

Utter tripe. GB/hour at peak times defines network costs, same usage = same cost irrespective of burst speed.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
chrysalis - that's been claimed by certain people yes. Asking someone who actually works in the field? Oh dear. Also, DOCIS3 isn't magic and won't un-overload the vastly overloaded UBR's.
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
herdwick yes but you seem to think a 8meg user wont do more of their downloading during peak.
The arguments claiming speed doesnt cost money are weak if burst speed is free explain:-
(1)95th percentile billing used by the industry
(2)entanet able to provide 2mbit but not 8mbit during peaks, isnt speed free so why lower to 2mbit?
(3)isps needing to traffic shape.
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
Herdwick read the tiscali post and you can see there is no perceieved cost in providing the speed, we have gone from 50:1 contention pre adsl max to 133:1 contention and more. So the costs have been smothered by raising contention ratios.
Posted by Somerset over 9 years ago
As this is about businesses they won't want to view HD video but will want to send/receive emails and web browsing at a sensible response time. If they are transferring data there is the option of a dedicated, and relatively expensive, dedicated ISP connection.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
Surely peak time GB/hour and peak time 2Mb/punter limits on "up to 8Mb" lines (Entanet style) are somewhat related?

BTw's MaxDSL product is of course an over-hyped dogs dinner, but it (or its 21CN successors) is pretty much all a non-LLU ISP (ie almost all of them) can offer, since the concept of competition in the wholesale market seems to have vanished again.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
Somerset - Trust me when I say that you need backup ADSL lines as well. Preferably several from different providers. Leased line uptime can be very shaky in some areas.
Posted by TechnoTim over 9 years ago
It is ironic that BT centralised many rural exchanges in the the 1980s to enable System X and System Y. We now pay the price. I am in a large Suffolk Village pop 4500 with 512kbps ADSL. This will not change until 2011 When BT rolls out 21CN.
Next village Population 300 8Mbps ADSL but then it still has it's exchange.
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