Satellite broadband has a chequered history but in the last year speeds have improved, though feedback suggests that issues like congestion and latency are still major issues. Thus it is with some concern that we see Northumberland considering satellite broadband as key to getting faster broadband to rural areas.
The Morpeth Herald has a feature covering the topic, and this suggests that the bulk of the BDUK and council money will be spent on hitting the superfast broadband target leaving rural areas fighting over what may be a very small pot of money.
We do not doubt the ability of satellite broadband to deliver a service that would allow the use of the Internet, and for businesses that need to collect and send email and just submit official forms it is perfectly fine. Even video conferencing and VoIP will work, but with extra delay compared to terrestrial services, the issues are generally around how much of this people can do for a reasonable price.
Any residential user who makes use of catch-up TV services will find their usage allowance vanish quickly, and when a 2 Mbps service with 2GB allowance costs £19.99 a month, or 16GB running at 12 Mbps is £39.99 then while you can meet the USC any household where people do more than just check email, update facebook status may be facing large bills. Did we mention that on some services once you have used up half your allowance you shift to a lower priority queue at peak times, potentially slowing your connection down. 16GB may see a high level of usage, but when a year old figure for the average broadband usage per month is 17GB and rising it looks inadequate.
We would urge that local authorities try to keep the use of satellite broadband as a last resort, and explore options such as fixed wireless or 4G for areas where the cost of any cable improvements would be too large. Additionally projects should be managed so that the 2 Mbps USC is not seen as a sticking plaster operation that will survive on loose change.
While it seemed unlikely that the original 2012 deadline for the USC would have even been met from the previous Labour government, by having a deadline five years in advance of their superfast target of 2017 it would have allowed projects to maintain a clearer focus.