consumer experience, technologies

Rural realities in broadband Britain

The Digital Britain report aims to address broadband coverage across remote areas of the UK. Visiting home last weekend I was again reminded of that necessity and the ongoing limitations of broadband in rural locations.

My Dad runs a small business from home and sounded resigned to a wireless outage on Saturday afternoon. After all, they also still suffer from not infrequent total power cuts across the village, and more widely. Remember them? And the power supplier still appears to have relative indemnity to seemingly spontaneous breaks in their service.

He said they were “almost at the end of the line;” meaning distance away from their nearest base station – which wasn’t located all that far away. Just a ten minute drive. This isn’t the complete wilderness: reasonable sized towns are fifteen to twenty minutes away.

Yet at certain times of day, and during weekend afternoons, it simply blocks up and bottlenecks with the volume of people (presumably a few scores is enough) trying to get online. Natives are probably more accepting, or have had to grow that way.

This was highlighted in coverage around the time of the Digital Britain report, when Gordon Brown was mocked in some quarters for saying that broadband provision is as important today as the supply of water and gas.

While it may not quite be on those terms, it’s not difficult to appreciate the exasperation felt and the problems posed by suddenly losing connection when on a critical deadline, with no 3G dongle contingency – because you can’t get 3G either. Hence the Fax machine is still not quite dead.

Last month’s Digital Britain report saw the government officially approving a new Universal Service Commitment (USC), aiming to make broadband speeds of 2Mbps available to everybody in the UK by 2012. This will be delivered through “upgrades to the existing copper and wireless networks.”

A good old “Commitment” eh? Apparently there was little substance around precisely how the government plans to do this, though a new tax on telephones lines to help fund next generation broadband for more remote locations promises to play a part.

Until then, we’ll just have to turn it off, wait awhile, then turn it back on again. And hope the fax machine’s still working.


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