LONDON July 13, 2010 – The United Kingdom’s government is under pressure to increase funding for deployment of superfast broadband in rural areas following several public surveys confirming widespread support for positive discrimination in favor of the country’s remote communities.
The “outside-in” approach of starting with rural areas first is supported by 62 percent of the population, according to the latest survey of 453 respondents by ISPreview.co.uk, an independent site dedicated to information about broadband services and providers. Furthermore, 44 percent of all respondents wanted to go straight for fiber optic deployment in rural areas in a single hit, while only 20 percent agreed with the U.K. government’s plan to provide universal access at a basic rate of 2 Mbps first, with the aim of completing this by 2012.
“Most people clearly recognise the importance of using public money to help connect rural areas with the wider revolution in superfast broadband internet services,” commented ISPreview.co.uk’s founder, Mark Jackson. “The benefits of delivering a modern broadband infrastructure to rural areas, many of which struggle with slow speeds (0.5-1Mbps) or have no internet connectivity whatsoever, are often overlooked. Deploying superfast services would help them to keep pace with the modern world, improve communications, bring vital new services and offer local businesses a powerful platform for revolutionising local trade.”
Many people living in remote or hilly parts of the United Kingdom would like to have 2 Mbps access now, which would solve their immediate needs. European Union rules stipulate that cattle farmers for example must set up online passports for their animals, while sheep farmers will soon have to post readings from electronic tags, quite apart from the need to provide online access to customers for trade. Currently many of these people still have to manage with dial up modem connections at speeds around 40 Kbps, which was only state of the art 20 years ago and insufficient even to download PDFs of equipment brochures.
Jackson argued that bringing rural communities up to 2 Mbps will ensure that they continue to lag behind urban areas, putting their businesses at an increasing rather than diminishing competitive disadvantage. Just as dial up communications are inadequate now, so will basic broadband be in a decade or less, said Jones.
Meanwhile the UK’s recently elected coalition government has yet to commit more money to rural communities, with Prime Minister David Cameron recently talking up the idea of encouraging communities to band together through schools and libraries to pull in broadband pipes, perhaps via a single fiber optic connection, and then perhaps fan out over DSL or wireless links. It is true that even in the United Kingdom, where distances are much less than in the United States, it will not be feasible in the immediate future to deliver fiber to every rural doorstep.
A range of other innovative solutions are now being discussed both by the U.K. government and rural communities, one being the recently emerging broadband over power line technology for transmitting radio frequency and microwave signals over the power distribution network as an alternative last mile technology. This would again mean that rural communities could be serviced by a single fiber running in to the area, which in many cases has already been done to hook up the local exchange to the national carrier BT’s core network. Broadband over powerline is more economically feasible in Europe than the United States because of historical differences in the electricity grids, and has potential advantages, notably access from almost every home and the ability to plug equipment such as TVs to broadband services via power sockets.
Among other options being tried by remote communities in the United Kingdom are various wireless technologies making use either of Wi-Fi or 3G networks in area where coverage is available and yet distances from telephone exchanges make it impossible to deliver adequate bandwidth via DSL. With plenty of options becoming available, there is the prospect that rural communities could catch up with urban regions, but only if governments concentrate their broadband budgets on them. As ISPpreview’s Jackson noted, the cities will look themselves and attract private funding for super-fast broadband anyway, because the business case is easy to establish.