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The digital divide is growing, and only going to get worse
Wednesday 24 November 2010 17:16:29 by John Hunt

The governments ambitions to have the best broadband in Europe are in danger of slipping through the cracks according to broadband analysis firm, Point Topic. Analysis conducted by the company shows that the digital divide between rural (final third) and urban areas is widening, with rural areas lacking the technology which is generally available in the urban areas which can deliver better and faster broadband.

Point Topic created a broadband infrastructure index based on its broadband geography database to calculate the percentage coverage of six different kinds of broadband infrastructure. The below graph shows the details of these and shows the disparity between rural and urban areas. Most worryingly is the large gap between rural and urban on next-generation access (NGA) at the end of 2015.

Point Topic Broadband Infrastructure Index
Point Topic Broadband Infrastructure Index

Rural communities need to be more inventive in encouraging investment into broadband within their areas, and various projects have already shown this with people willing to dig trenches through their own gardens to help reduce the costs of getting connected to faster broadband. There are of course risks from implementing such solutions.

"There are too many questions left unanswered. How can a small operator deploy a network when there is a real concern they'll be gazumped by a BT or Virgin deployment as yet unannounced? How can small operators afford to pay extortionate rates on any fibre they do install and still make the numbers add up? How can the county councils or the local economic partnerships get any funding or sign any partners without adequate information?

The Coalition has got to address these issues urgently if it wants to get a good broadband infrastructure in Britain. Hopefully the broadband strategy paper to be published in December will make a start. But their retreat from tackling the grossly unfair fibre tax has been bitterly disappointing already. They've got a lot of ground to make up if they really want 'the best broadband in Europe' by the time of the next election."

Tim Johnson, (Chief Analyst) Point Topic


Posted by spetznaz over 6 years ago
All fairly obvious really, the government should not make such bold claims if they are not prepared to invest big money, this is exactly what happens if things are left to 'market forces'. Of course there is not much money around at the moment, but I guess it depends on how important we think broadband will be in the future.

Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
This is the key issue to enable a truly digital britain. If everyone doesn't have access it just won't work. Its time for government intervention, not funding. The market will deliver if there is a level playing field. If the telcos won't do the rurals somebody else will, but they can't compete on tenders without access to the infrastructure already there and the same rules on VOA tax as the incumbent. That is why Cornwall got sold out to the Copper Cabal.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
cd - If copper gives a solution then fine. Non telcos can't and won't dig up roads and pavements. Has anyone done a detailed look into how existing telecom, gas, electric, water infrastructure could be used?
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
This report tells us what we have known for years. Problem areas are those far from exchanges and those where it's expensive to upgrade.
Posted by c_j_ over 6 years ago
"a detailed look into how existing telecom, gas, electric, water infrastructure could be used?"

Broadband over power: tried and failed (e.g. see Keith Maclean interview at ISPreview). Broadband via sewer: transformed itself into broadband via microtrench for the volume market, and mystically transformed again for Anglesey into broadband over WiMax, nothing significant delivered (yet, afaik). Other options even less likely. There is no cheap/simple widely applicable solution.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
What news on H20, it's 4 weeks...
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Talking of things not adding up some of those numbers don't add up either.

CD - A blog post, clearly authoritative information. It's an interesting 'restructuring' when the company entirely stops work and fires a ton of staff. That strikes me as something slightly different from 'restructuring'.

Putting it more bluntly that blog is total crap. H2O are toast.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
Regulation is hampering the free market.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
The quote from Tim Johnson is spot on, with every sentence laden with common sense.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
cd - if it works financially then great. But does it? And how long to roll out to everyone?
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Oh no, not the business rates fig leaf again. Move it to one side and there's no viable business plan behind it.

Any entity can be valued on any of the applicable grounds for valuation, but let's get the facts out - what would be the annual cost of business rates on a 10 km fibre to the most "disadvantaged" operator ?
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
One way of increasing NGA investment in the final third is to improve certainty - one aspect of which is for the government to say they are not going to provide any subsidies and funding at all.

At least one participant at the NGA 2010 conference this week was sat on his hands "waiting to see how subsidies pan out"
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
so, for a standalone network the fibre valuation between 10km and 100km for a 2 fibre link is £500/km. £330,500,600,670/km for 1,2,3,4 fibres.

So rateable value on 10km 2 fibre link = £5000. Business rates payable @ 48.5p = £2425 pa = £202 per month divide 200 customers = £1 per month.

Deal breaker ?

Also note above not applicable if fibre dedicated part of NGA network where it's covered by the £20 per home connected = £9.70 per year per customer = 80p per month.
Posted by simon1883 over 6 years ago
So with the above in mind would it be possible for say a village to install its own fiber link?
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
Yes it is possible if you can get 200 customers. Not really viable with less is it? You have to add in the cost of all the infrastructure. BT already have much of that in place, they only have to upgrade in many areas. BT also don't have to pay extra for lighting fibre. Which all boils down to the fact they can tender cheaper, and get public money to do their upgrades to make them more money. eg cornwall.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
Take away all the funding. Make a level playing field. Sack ofcom and all the other regulators and advisors that cost money. Stop ASA letting misleading adverts exist. Educate councillors and politicians on NGA so they understand the physics. They will then be able to legislate so that others can do the job we need doing for a future digital britain. It will work out far cheaper than trying to fund it. Delivering the funding itself costs more than the projects. Admin is biggest milestone.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
What, precisely, is a 'level playing field'? Free access to C&W ducts running across the country?

Teaching physics to politicians... How many government ministers, or MPs, have an engineering degree?
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
herdwick - depends if the customers are paying £15 or £30/month.
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
It is disappointing that only BT are being forced to open up their ducts when various other operators have these running all over the place. Virgin being the most useful example which could let others deploy fibre cheaply in their areas. I can imagine the whole thing being a logistical nightmare though.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
2 characters/contractors working for VM took a week to lay 100m of duct along pavements near here.

Seen 2 instances of BT installing fibre tube, both encountered blocked ducts.

Anyone who thinks 'ordinary people' will be able to install their cables on others poles/ducts must be wrong surely?
Posted by ssanyal over 6 years ago
Digging fibre through gardens ? Sure. But I have one question. What about the backhaul ? Working on the access layer is one thing. But FTTP with a 20, 30 or 50 Mbps backhaul link will only go so far... of course, this will depend on provisioned links, traffic grooming,etc.etc. I'm just saying.
Posted by camieabz over 6 years ago
If more web designers cut back on, or optimised the objects on many of the websites out there (image-orientated sites excepted), the bandwidth required would drop dramatically.

Less eye candy and more content!

(I do not refer to this site specifically, but all big sites can find room for improvement.)
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
that graph shows the gap closing. NGA 2015 shows a better gap than current LLU/21cn/cable. This is also evident by the fact FTTC is not following original adsl rollout, its been more generous to rural and harder on urban than previous rollouts. Sounds like someone wrote an article in robot mode just to keep getting rural sympathy.
Posted by c_j_ over 6 years ago
"Less eye candy and more content!" "the bandwidth required would drop dramatically."

Well said. One day, web designers (and their supervisors) will realise that not all the audience are on the company's LAN. Some of their potential audience might even be using 3G connections (or worse).

And let's not assume that interposing a compressing proxy, Opera/Onspeed/Metronet style, is always going to fix it. It isn't.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
"If the telcos won't do the rurals somebody else will" - like who? Please don't say VOA is stopping other telco's doing rural. Rural areas don't give the bang for your buck its just that simple really.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
@camieabz - this is very true. However to flip this around the other way - when I worked for what we could do was strangled by the dreadful connectivity in this country. The Korean version of the site was able to use a myriad of Flash and other interactive bits to better the experience, which is something we still wouldn't do in this country years later.
Posted by helenjob over 6 years ago
Actually, I would just be happy to get enough speed to use iplayer...not the 1.6Mbps that I get at the moment and that only on a good day. And I have tried and tried to get it improved guessed, BT aka Openreach, are not keen to spend money even though they take ten pounds a month from me as an access fee on top of the cost of broadband connection. much for the monopolies commission.
Posted by camieabz over 6 years ago
@MarkHampshire - I agree that companies will want to maximise their online presence to sell their produce, but my concern is more relating to public infomational sites.

The days of 'low / medium / high' quality streaming options seem to be coming to an end, but some sites should still offer a low and high quality option.

The homepage would take over minute on 56k, while nhs24 would take two minutes. The BBC's news page would take around two and a half minutes.
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