Digital Divide is not just a rural/urban battle
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.