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Digital Divide is not just a rural/urban battle
Wednesday 22 April 2009 12:05:02 by Andrew Ferguson

ISPreview have covered a press release by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) titled 'Minister confirms rural broadband fears'. Mark Jackson, editor of ISPreview, summarised what a lot of people have been saying about the Universal Service Obligation (USO) proposals, which so far the report has done little to address.

There is a danger with the pictures of green wooded land, or cuddly lambs often used when talking about rural areas, since it gives the impression that we are talking of areas many miles from the nearest town. The UK outside the cities is also not just populated by farms--drive around most areas and you will come across clusters of offices housing a myriad of small businesses.

The Digital Divide exists at many levels, and if comments made at the Digital Britain Summit are correct, it is the middle class who have embraced broadband as a utility, mainly due having the income to afford a computer, telephone, broadband and things like the on-going costs of anti-virus software. There are also many people living on the edge of towns surrounded by retail parks who are on the edge of broadband coverage due to the town having only one telephone exchange located at what was the centre of the town some 70 years ago. Conversely there are some people 15 miles or more from a large town, but live in a small village with its own telephone exchange and can get a full 8Mbps connection.

This may surprise some readers, but there are people in London who are currently unable to get broadband, nor Virgin Media's cable service and DSL providers are simply telling people their telephone exchange is full. Mobile broadband seems the obvious option, but at the busy times of day, very poor throughput seems to becoming more common in central London based on our experience.

The press release from the CLA would not have been out of place in 2003 when a demand led broadband roll-out was underway, but since then a lot more government paperwork has moved to the online domain, and the those trying to sell their home to move to an area with better broadband coverage may be struggling to sell it, or are caught out by negative equity.

It is not known whether the Digital Britain report will lay out an explicit framework for the USO, i.e. who will qualify and how will the assessment be made of what is a fit for purpose 2Mbps connection. The interim report did little to explore this area, other than suggesting that 2Mbps would be good enough for services like BBC iPlayer, which has now surpassed 2Mbps, by offering 3Mbps high quality streams.

Comments

Posted by paulmsmith over 8 years ago
This is sooo true. I live in almost central Manchester yet still can't get faster than 512k. iPlayer and Youtube are unusable, I can do little more than browse the web which is increasingly not sticking to the practicises of optimisation from the past.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
Now /this/ is where I'd support government money being spent. Not on my account (I have a 13Mb sync in my small rural town) but I think it's shameful that so many people can't even get a reliable 2Mb.
Posted by timmay over 8 years ago
If the money is not spent in the right places we could see large new out of town developments being full of worthless houses due to the lack of broadband. We could also see well off people moving from their country estates abroad where their money goes further, the weather is better and so is the broadband.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Ive said for some time to all those that live in the country/rural areas that complain about speed its nothing to do with area but to do with how far from the exchange you are and if they dont like it move. My sister lives in kent and regularly in terms of local government broadband speeds in certain areas has raised its head.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
The isle of sheppey as an example is far from being a rural area, infact there is a resonable amount of industry there considering how small the island is... Most residents though are a distance from the exchage and only get 2-5(ish)Mb at most, those that get anywhere nearer to 8Mb are in a minority. Broadband speed has always been dependant on how close to an exchange you are, may some will comprehend that now.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
'Broadband speed has always been dependant on how close to an exchange you are,'

Precisely! This is what all ADSL problems are all about.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
I dont think its only that though somerset, i have in the past seen areas which had good speed which suddenly plummets after a cable or similar has had to have repairs (I know one person that had a near full sync on a MAX 8Mb package but after a cable got chopped somewhere and the repairs were done ever since they only sync around 5-6Mb {will have to check with them the exact rate} same happened to most in the area affected.... Maybe with the new USO the government could also offer free gaffer tape for line repairs to those already only just about getting 2Mb ;)
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
On the 8 down to 5.6, this may simply be that the target margin has been raised, and it needs a report to ISP to look at old data for connection, and request a lowering of the margin, or if it is stable then wait for the automatic systems to reduce it.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
The UK has an exceptionally broad base of broadband avaliability, which people seem to miss when comparing figures with other countries.

Also, that "cluster of offices" should have a leased line to offer to its customers...
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"On the 8 down to 5.6, this may simply be that the target margin has been raised, and it needs a report to ISP to look at old data for connection, and request a lowering of the margin, or if it is stable then wait for the automatic systems to reduce it."
Id normal agree but in this case AFAIK the sync rate never recovered.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
Exceptionally broad base of obsolete broadband services with no plans for upgrade to modern alternatives perhaps. Given the targets that other countries are setting 2Mbps+ by 2012 is pathetic, and the minimal investment in urban areas likewise disinteresting.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Funny, I see BT are planning FTTC.

Given the "targets" other countries are setting affect a far smaller proportion of their population...
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Funny, I see BT are planning FTTC."
Lets not get carried away with BT and their so called plans. This story is about the digital divide, if we look back at BT and the have and have nots it doesnt read too good. We dont even know for certain what the top speeds will be on their already as good as stated THROTTLED FTTC service for someone living inside or next to the exchange (or perhaps in this case roadside cabinet). Thinking the have nots will suddenly have a good and FAST service from BT FTTC is counting chickens waaaay before they have even been laid let alone hatched.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
In fact if we pause and think there will still be a digital divide with BT FTTC as someone next to the cabinet may as an example get lets say 80Mb... While the country yocal in a village population of 50 people and 200 cows may only get 20Mb...... Technically speaking thats an even bigger divide in speed terms than we have now or will have with this promised 2Mb for all on UPTO 8Mb services.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
I was referring to USOs actually Dawn, though if you want to talk about high speed we could do that too but there's really little point. BT are planning FTTC in 2010, most of our competitors have it or better already, I also question the population proportions, all countries have to do is build slowly and they're still miles ahead.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Where do you get "throttled" from, Carpet? Which press release? And true, a lot of "have nots" need to fix their home wiring because that's a pretty common issue these days, I'm told. Also, 20Mbit is still 20Mbit, not 2.

I don't get your argument, Dixi. In other countries, there's even less government involvement and the companies roll it out themselves. So I'd be talking to the companies, not the government. (Or well, do talk to the government since they limit BT's expansion)

And yes, other countries have faster for a small fraction of the population, woo!
Posted by jamesvincent over 8 years ago
This is shocking. I never realised that there were places in London or Manchester that suffered from Full Exchanges. I live just outside cardiff in a little town which suffers from very low speeds but is only now being updated. BT really need to sort out their lines anyway. and more should be done by the government about this.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Where do you get "throttled" from, Carpet? Which press release?"
BT thereself have quoted figures such as 5Mb on the upstream and on the downstream it so far looks like the maximum you will be able to get will be around 50Mb...... Both of those figures when it comes to a FTTC service indicate the service is throttled, a FTTC and FTTH service can manage VASTLY higher speeds, especially with regards to UP stream.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Also, 20Mbit is still 20Mbit, not 2."

True but one of the most common complaints from the have nots goes something along the lines of.....
"I can only get 2Mb while xxx person/area gets 8Mb"

If they are complaining now of only a 6Mb difference i hate to think what the whingers will be like when their service runs into the TENS of Mbs slower than other people.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
CB - obviously fibre is capable of vastly higher speeds but it's a marketing decision what to actually offer. Throttling is not really the same.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
well we will have to wait for FTTH to see what happens..

Of course speeds to the cabinet are faster, they have to feed a whole street with that, and it is 'managed down' to what the individual customer pays... I s'pose you wont mind paying £1000's to have a cabinet all to yourself ????
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"CB - obviously fibre is capable of vastly higher speeds but it's a marketing decision what to actually offer. Throttling is not really the same."
The BT services will be throttled, i believe they have already quoted figures of something like 5Mb for the upstream sorry to dampen the parade but that is pathetic for a FTTC service no matter how you look at it.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
With regards to the complainers, i still stand by what i state... Some areas even with FTTC are going to see slower speeds than other areas, If people complain now of only a few Mb difference surely they will moan person XXX gets 50Mb but their line will only manage say 20Mb will they not? Doesnt make sense to moan about say a current 6Mb difference but not moan about a perhaps 30Mb or more difference.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"I s'pose you wont mind paying £1000's to have a cabinet all to yourself ????"

I will pay for the service i want and have always done so. The trouble is even if i wanted a cabinet to myself i doubt BT would provide it.
What some dont seem to realise is even with BTs new FTTC services there will still be a digital divide with some areas capable of faster speeds than others. The way things are now and the way they will be is no different really except everyones speed should increase... Will everyone get equal (NON divide) speeds though?... Thats a big NOPE
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