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Britain's broadband questions

Rory Cellan-Jones | 15:08 UK time, Monday, 6 December 2010

So now we all know about the UK's broadband strategy, don't we? Every community will get a digital hub so that by 2015 the UK has the best fast broadband network in Europe. Is that clear? Well, not exactly - it raises all sorts of questions so let's try to answer a few of them.

What is a digital hub?

As far as I can understand, this is going to be one of those green cabinets you see on the pavement with cables hanging out of them. The idea is that every community will get one of these cabinets, packed with fibre-optic connections to the net, even in places where the likes of BT and Virgin Media don't see a commercial case.

What is meant by every community?

When I spoke to a government PR man he used the term "virtually every community" - and made it clear that if you lived up a mountain you were unlikely to have one of these digital hubs outside your front door. But thousands of communities across Britain will now be able to bid for the cash to build their own fast network.

Where is the money coming from?

All of the £830m of public money that will be spent on this project over the next seven or eight years will come from the BBC licence fee. Some of it is the surplus from the Digital Switchover Fund, the rest from the licence fee settlement negotiated between the government and the BBC last month.

Who decides how the money is allocated?

The starting gun has been fired for local authorities, community groups, and companies big and small to start bidding for this pot of money. So there will now be a bit of a bunfight, and it will be the job of Broadband Delivery UK, a new quango, to decide between the competing claims. As the 2015 deadline for building Europe's best broadband network approaches, BDUK officials will find themselves under ever closer scrutiny from their political masters.

What's BT's role?

Before the election, the Conservatives were pretty sniffy about the company which still dominates the UK's broadband infrastructure, promising to bear down upon BT and force it to allow rivals access to its network. But today's announcement was full of praise for "BT's fantastic range of measures" which were going to do much of the job of rolling out superfast broadband. Smaller ISPs are now wondering whether they will really get a look-in, and are urging the government to do more to force BT to "unbundle" its fibre network.

What kind of technology will be used?

That will be decided by whoever builds out the local networks from those digital hubs. It could be fibre to the home, it could take advantage of new mobile spectrum which will now be made available, and in remote places it could be satellite broadband which fills in the gaps. The result is that there will not be a uniform service - some places will still get a slower connection than others.

What happened to that 2Mbps by 2012 target?

That Universal Service Commitment has been put back to 2015 - but with the promise that communities which have struggled to get anything more than dial-up speeds will then leapfrog straight into the fast broadband era. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt says there was not enough money set aside by the last government to make it happen - Labour says it means some places will wait another five years for broadband of any kind.

How likely is it that we will build Europe's best broadband by 2015?

Ah, well it depends what you mean by "best". Right now, according to the Global Broadband study by Cisco and the Oxford Internet Institute, the UK is in 13th place in Europe, a long way behind the likes of Sweden and the Netherlands. And some figures released today by the OECD show the UK isn't even in the game when it comes to delivering fast fibre networks. But the governement says that it will use four criteria - speed, coverage, price and choice - to decide whether the UK has met its goal. It's unlikely that we will accelerate past the speedy Scandinavians, but the more competitive UK market, where prices are already low and choice is wider than in many places, may allow the government to declare that Britain is best by 2015.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    £830m doesn't sound like enough to make it happen, but it does sound like enough to stop companies and groups making an investment because it would be better to hang on and wait for a handout.

    How many "communities" are capable and motivated enough to install and maintain this type of infrastructure in a reliable and cost-effective way ? We don't have many examples to inspire confidence either in broadband or any other field of human endeavour.

  • Comment number 2.

    how about this question?

    How fast is 'Super Fast'?

  • Comment number 3.

    TimmyNorfolk @ 2: Unless my ears deceived me earlier in the day speeds of 50Mb were being touted.

    Which brings me to "why". Can someone please come up with an argument that can convince me (a self - avowed sceptic) that speeds like 50Mb make a meaningful difference in a user's life over a mere (say) 10Mb? Please don't try "television"; if I want to watch that I do so in a more comfortable chair in front of a better sized screen. Please don't try "games"; I don't want to play them. Please don't tell me "multiple users"; there are two of us in the household and we are able to organise things between us to avoid unpleasant conflicts. (Other households may differ, of course.)

    Once again the UK's indifferent position in the league table of available speeds was mentioned in the original article. I have never seen an equivalent table for costs to the user in the same "reference" countries; perhaps someone can provide one. While the 2Mb that I generally get is hardly startling it comes at a price I am prepared to pay. Am I faced with being presented with an upgrade to some much higher speed (which as far as I can see will make no corresponding improvement to any aspect of my life) but at a correspondingly increased monthly cost? Will I be able to opt for a less than superfast speed at more or less the same price as I am paying now, or am I going to be stuck with paying a vastly inflated sum for a capability for which I have no requirement?

    Sadly this sounds like another occasion where a politician wants to grab a headline or two and comes up with a daft proposal in order to get one.

  • Comment number 4.

    @2/ TimmyNorfolk
    OpenReach's "Super Fast" portfolio currently has five speed ranges in their price list. Downstream/upstream, in Mbit/s (as usual, these are "up to" speeds)
    40/2
    40/10
    40/15
    100/15
    100/30

    @/PhilT - in terms of how many 'communities', it depends on how the capacity is released. If as part of the programme Openreach is ordered to release network capacity on a fair and level playing field - and not doing it's old trick of levying massive deposits on anyone who is not a BT subsidiary or who does not already have a nationwide presence - then it's not that difficult: I'm working in a small village in W Yorks this week, and in the local phone book there are four IT support companies, two of whom would probably be able to do their own offering if they wished (the other two are desktop support companies rather than supporting IT as an overall offering including connectivity).

    Alternatively, Jeremy Hunt (typing slowly and carefully there, thanks to Mr Naughtie) could leverage his £830m hugely by allowing a percentage of it to be used by small ISPs and IT specialists in communities as their Openreach guarantee and as small-scale seed capital. If, say, you have a target of "up to 1000 subscribers in year one", no bank is going to help you with Openreach: if Mr Hunt does want to help communities, and Mr Cable wants to help small businesses and promote competition, then this is a perfect way in which to demonstrate their commitment. Pass rules saying no one company or group will be allowed more than 25% of the funds, and that 10% is to be kept for the sub-5000 subscriber end of the market: that would allow Joe Bloggs IT Services Ltd to offer super fast broadband with local support, not anonymous call centres located wherever happens to be cheap. Maybe that will also help Mr Hunt towards the "up to 600,000 jobs" he alluded to ...

    Practically, most people would end up reselling Openreach services, so they would have to be exempted from the %age cap; care would be needed to make sure Openreach didn't end up cross-subsidising the rest of BT and to ensure zero sharing of information between Openreach and any other BT company. Other than that, the model seems to work....

  • Comment number 5.

    @3

    There can be a huge difference in terms of online experience for a user using a faster broadband connection. You say that gaming, multiple users etc. does not apply to you. Well what of the hundreds of users to whom it does apply? That's a bit like saying we should cut funding to schools because I don't have any kids.

    As a keen online gamer I understand that there is more to speed than pure bandwidth (good ping etc.) but when it comes to downloading a new game or update via Steam, speed is vital. Dragon Age Origins is nearly 16GB in size, so downloading over a 2Mb connection takes far too long. As for your argument about television, you know you can connect a PC or laptop to you big TV no problem right? Standard outputs like HDMI make this an absolute doddle. The other point is that whilst you may get a 2Mb download speed, your upload speed is tiny, which makes uploading videos (or any other file) a pain.

  • Comment number 6.

    The report says "satellite is a viable option for the most remote users" so the message is slowly getting through even to the policy makers. It's a little distorted but it's a start. Our challenge is very simple: where it costs more than £300 per installed site including backhaul, satellite is cheaper. We cover the entire country today with up to 4Mbps and higher speeds to come.
    @ Radiowonk - you have a point, sir. The use of broadband to do what multicast TV is far better at doing is one of those things that doesn't often get looked at. Current info on iPlayer is that 50% of usage is for programmes in that week's Top 10. Downloading these via digital TV to a hard drive in your Freesat or Freeview or Sky box is far more efficient than loads of individual downloads.

  • Comment number 7.

    Is it just me or is everyone else fed up of the goalposts shifting here? 2012 to 2015 and when that’s missed, 2020? Why the focus on superfast broadband when huge areas of the country can’t get ordinary broadband and the current system for delivering it isn’t working. We should stop chasing for speeds we don’t need in favour of more access to speeds we can use.
    BT has a virtual monopoly on UK telecommunications infrastructure and it’s the lack of competitor pressure that’s holding up the faster rollout of services. These gimmicks about bidding for local funding are a distraction from the real issue that the lack of competition is stifling the market. It’s all a big con to allow the 2012 commitments to be quietly kicked into touch and get communities and agencies bidding against each other for the scraps.
    It’s all well and good for the regulators and companies to put in a lot of time and money to upgrade rural communities but is this really where its money best spent? The assumption that its only rural communities that live in so called not-spots seem to go unchallenged while significant sections of urban areas aren’t considered as their lack of speed is hidden by average speed figures for the area. My neighbourhood is a densely populated suburb of a major town in the SE and it seems absurd to be prioritising low density rural areas instead. I get a maximum quoted line speed of 1.5Mbps but in practice the range is 0.7 to 1.1.
    What does seem to be true is that rural villages with poor connection speeds are more easily identifiable as a homogenous group than suburban enclaves with much higher relative populations. With their ability to both identify themselves and be identified by service providers and regulators I’d argue that the rural areas are actually getting a disproportionately good service compared to many in towns and cities. What my and similar areas don’t have, however, is anyone representing us. The urban not-spots don’t respect parish or borough boundaries and speeds vary from one street to the next. On this basis how can those getting a poor service now be expected to identify themselves, organise and then campaign to be prioritised? Another extension of the deadline and a quango aren’t going to fix the problems.
    There’s a huge difference between the rhetoric about being a high tech economy and the actual delivery of infrastructure. The big message to take away from all this is that the UK doesn’t have a realistic ambition to be a high tech player. By moving the date to 2015 the Government is shifting responsibility into another Parliament and so allowing the current lot to grab some headlines without being held to account on the delivery. It would be funny if it wasn’t real. As long as we continue to accept bluster and spin in place of effective policy we’ll continue to decline relative to the rest of the world.

  • Comment number 8.

    @3/Radiowork
    100Mbit/s download in Japan is USD50-60 / month from KDD, so that's around £38 a month. It'll work out more than that here: Internet backbone bandwidth isn't free in the way it effectively is to KDD, our ISPs are not getting hefty tax advantages for rolling out faster speeds rather than "ordinary" speeds, and so on. Pricing in South Korea not that different from Japan, with similar caveats for comparisons.

    In terms of "why", that's a different question. I'd suggest it's not a daft proposal: it is, however, a proposal that's not right for everyone :)

  • Comment number 9.

    The debate on broadband is in danger of dealing with symptoms and ignoring causes and then going off in the wrong direction.
    The reality for the UK is that rightly or wrongly the infrastructure is owned by BT, therefore the answer can only come from upgrading their infrastructure.
    A debate of whether the speed should be 2mb or 10mb or 100mb is futile, we need to think in terms of the pipe that brings water in to your house or business premises, we do not debate its size because it has the capacity to bring more than we need, that is the approach needed for broadband.
    The answer therefore is universal fibre optic to every landline telephone user,every home, every business, anything else is short term nonsense and will be inadequate before its implemented.
    The last adminstration under Blair and Brown could easily have done this with the proceeds of the 3G mobile licences but they chose to waste that money instead.
    The cost of a universal fibre connection to everyone in the UK, no exceptions, is about £9 billion and creates many jobs in the roll out. Once done the benefits to the UK economy and employment are so vast I am amazed the current Government is not grabbing the opportunity with both hands as it could, on its own, save them from wipeout at the next election when their tinkering with the economy proves to have been totally inadequate and millions are still unemployed.

    Put it another way, its less than a third of the cost of the latest political white elephant, the High Speed Railway HS2, and with proper broadband things like high definition video conferencing become commonplace so you don't actually need HS2, thus saving the proposed £30 billion expenditure

    In case you think this is pie in the sky nonsense, please bear in mind that I have been in the centre of the IT & Telecomms industry since 1970, the technology and skills exist, NOW, to do this, its just the political will thats missing

    Clive

  • Comment number 10.

    Today's Britain's Digital Future announcement from the UK government echoes several recommendations of the recent Digital Scotland report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The key recommendation is that, every community should get a digital hub by 2015.

    We give detailed answers to Rory's first two questions:

    A digital hub should bring a fibre connection to each community, so that community networks and service providers can access a trunk connection to the global internet; social hubs should also be provided where internet access and support are available to residents and visitors.

    To enable universal access to next-generation speeds, the core backhaul infrastructure, must bring fibre within reach of every community of 2,000 people. Wherever a circle drawn on the map encompasses a population of at least 2,000 people, that circle should include a hub.

    See http://bit.ly/d62ZmZ for more detail and link to our report.

  • Comment number 11.

    @veop - but why impose these local companies ? they can offer added value or they can be useless. I don't think they are what is meant by "community" anyway, but we don't have to have highly localised electricity or water companies with inevitably higher unit costs so why have them for internet access.

  • Comment number 12.

    @ Radiowonk

    Just because you have no need for a faster connection doesn't mean that millions of other people don't.

  • Comment number 13.

    Measuring BB "speed" only in terms of bandwidth is not giving the full picture.

    For example, to a gamer a satellite BB connection is useless. It can be as fast as it likes in bandwidth terms but it has a built-in ping problem due to the multiple download/upload at sub-light speeds. That means you get a response time of 1-2 seconds at best - totally useless for an online game.

  • Comment number 14.

    @PhilT No one is imposing local companies – just asking that they should be enabled to compete on a level playing field: open access to backhaul at equitable prices, and a rating regime that doesn't penalise small networks nor advantage the incumbent.

  • Comment number 15.

    1.

    50Mb/s is far too slow. If you want to really revolutionise broadband then we should be aiming for 1Gb/s.

    2.

    Which UK electronics manufacturing companies will benefit from this?

  • Comment number 16.

    @PhilT, sorry - I wasn't clear. I didn't mean /impose/ local companies, I meant create an opportunity for them - and for communities themselves, with or without local company help: just don't hand over the money blithely to BT / Virgin / TalkTalk etc. Ringfence part of it to ensure that if communities _do_ want to go their own way, they can. If the communities can do it without commercial enterprises being involved, better still - but also, put in place safeguards to stop monopoly strangleholds getting even stronger on the back of public funds.

    To get to the point where there is proper unbundling of last mile services probably means breaking up BT to the extent that OpenReach has to stop being part of BT: in the middle of last month I was working on a project for a wholesale provider that had purchased from OpenReach, only to discover the end-customer's BT account manager knew about the deal, including price. That is not on ...
    The economies of scale argument certainly applies to OpenReach - but it does not necessarily apply to BT's fifty other divisions (or however many it is this month). The policy goals can be achieved without handing the incumbent a rather large cheque - or give them the cheque, but with a universal service obligation for super-fast wired broadband (no satellites, if they want the £, they lay the fibre).

  • Comment number 17.

    Don`t know about Superfast Broadband, normal speed broadband would be nice, living here in Manchester & if lucky get just over 1meg, looks like this estate has been forgotten.

  • Comment number 18.

    The answer to 'What is meant by every community?' is the one that I'd like to have clarified. In my very rural area of Scotland is it the dozen or so houses in my immediate area (good answer) or the 50 odd spread out over the 6 miles from the exchange (bad answer, because where would the green cabinet go in that case?) or no change at all as the population is too small (worst answer). As always with these so-called 'promises' on broadband provision I'm not holding my breath for getting anything better than the under 0.5 Meg that I currently get.

  • Comment number 19.

    mp4man @ 10: "Wherever a circle drawn on the map encompasses a population of at least 2,000 people, that circle should include a hub."

    I see the same statement in one of the points in the link you provided. Your argument is weakened by not specifying the radius of the cricle. :)

  • Comment number 20.

    What does the nation need 50Mbps *for*? HD MPEG 4 streams fine at 10Mbps. Why is it a national priority that every household can stream 5 HD movies at the same time?

  • Comment number 21.

    If you want to get ahead of the game don't play catch up.

    Put the money into a 4g network and metropolitan wireless networks. My gadgets are wireless so should be my broadband.

  • Comment number 22.

    veop @ 8: Thanks for the snippet about broadband costs in Japan & Korea. At that sort of price I wouldn't rush out to sign up, and I rather suspect I wouldn't be alone.

    Clive @ 9: "The debate on broadband is in danger of dealing with symptoms and ignoring causes and then going off in the wrong direction." To me the greater danger is not making a proper assessment of need, as opposed to just assuming one.

    Then "...the technology and skills exist, NOW, to do this, its just the political will thats missing." And, I submit, a proper business case. The technology and skills to cover the country with motorways down to population centres of 2000 but that wouldn't necessarily be sensible; in fact it would be madness.

    Now I am not arguing that improvements in broadband coverage and speed are unnecessary, just that wild assertions of the need for the sort of proposal that seem to be floating around don't actually help much. How many people genuinely need and will be prepared to pay for this greatly improved service? How many people work from home in such a way that these enhancements will make that much difference? Would more people work from home if these proposed improvements actually happen? And what, exactly, would they be making?

    Yes I am a self avowed sceptic and cynic, but that does not mean that my concerns are actually wrong. I had hoped meaningless words like "digital economy" and "knowledge economy" might have been laid to rest but it seems that I was wrong. There is a serious risk of the digital divide (sorry; more meaningless words!) becoming greater not smaller, because IMHO the divide is not to be defined the broadband speed any individual can get. Exactly how are the older or less well off sections of the community going to grasp the technology in the first place, let alone pay for the hardware and internet service to use it?

    The "climate change" community got themselves into hot water by perhaps overstating their case, and broadband speed enthusiasts risk doing exactly the same.

  • Comment number 23.

    @18/19 - I suppose it could somehow be linked to population density: if 50 or so spread out over 6 miles counts as a community for this purpose, therefore getting a green cabinent, then arguably a block of 40 flats each occupied by avg 1.5 people also deserves a green cabinet of it's own ... if you just do it on numbers, then that should be what happens (assuming the government believes in fairness - pls insert your own jokes here).

    Average UK population density is something like 250 per square kilometre, which is about 650 / sq mile. If you mean 6 miles across, so say 3 mile radius, that's 28.3 sq miles, or a population density of 1.77 per square mile, or just over one quarter of one percent of the UK average. Works out that 0.27% of £830m is £2.2m, so based on population density that's going to work out pretty well. Based on actual population though, which is far fairer for the country as a whole, it works out at 50 people out of 62 million, or £669. That's not going to go awfully far to provide services for fifty dwellings.

  • Comment number 24.

    @chris911t (13) Exactly: speed, latency and symmetry are all important, and essential for many applications.
    @radiowonk (19) The radius of the circle varies with population density. You draw your circle as small as you can to include 2,000 people. We call this your "Buneman circle" (Peter Buneman, leader of the Tegola project, first suggested this definition).
    @Andy in Highland Perthshire (18) Send me your postcode and I'll tell you the size of your Bunaeman circle.

    We calculate from postcode data that 70% of homes in Scotland have population of 2,000 within 500m; 86% have this population within 1 km; 98% have 2,000 within 10km – and all have it within 30km.

    So, for 86% of Scotland existing copper to the home can deliver 16Mb/s from a fibre hub within 1km. Of course much higher speeds will be possible with FTTH.

    For the rest, successful wireless access networks have been demonstrated in some of the most remote areas of Scotland (www.tireebroadband.com, www.tegola.org.uk). The relatively dense suburban populations (1km - 5km Buneman circles – approx. 10% of population) will probably be the hardest to serve.

    The key Digital Scotland recommendation is that any public money should be directed at establishing the backhaul network to deliver a fibre hub within each Buneman circle. This should provide open access to enable local provision of domestic, business, public service, and mobile wireless connectivity. Communities and local SMEs should be able to compete with existing operators to provide such services, on a level playing field. The DVP should have the flexibility to allow future innovation and upgrades in the access networks. The core network should have ample spare fibre to allow competing services, enable innovations in the ways fibre is driven, and accommodate future increases in traffic.

    For Scotland, we estimate that around 2,500 km of additional core fibre is needed, together with regulation to ensure open access to existing fibre assets. The capital cost of this fibre would be around £100M.

    @veop (23) Average population densities are misleading. If you are thinking about access networks, you need to consider local population densities. At the level of census output areas, the first 90% of Scotland's population lives at population densities *higher* than the first 90% of England's population, comparing centile by centile. Scotland's communities are slightly tighter-knit, but much more widely separated.

    See http://bit.ly/digiscot for details.

  • Comment number 25.

    @mp4man (24) - average population densities are misleading yes, but the government must, in fairness, use a formula that works for the entire country, not just rural parts of it. Local population densitiee - say, to the nearest 100km2 - are one way, although an area smaller than that is inequitable for the majority of the country as a whole. Maybe a better way then, if it's appropriate to use local areas smaller than that across the country, is that if a "locale" is more than 50km from an existing fibre route, they get satellite and forget about latency?

    The point I was trying to make in (23), which obviously I made badly (it was late!), is that there is no easy way to do this in a way that is fair for the country as a whole: what is right for Perth is not right for, say, Pyecombe. What is right for Cardiff certainly isn't right for Kirkby-in-Ashfield. However, in using central government funds - whether originally taken via digital switchover or not - for a -national- project, it must be fair for everyone in the country, not spending disproportionate amounts (whether per capita or per % of UK population) here and there at the expense of services to others. An interesting political issue, with as far as I can see, no right answer ...

  • Comment number 26.

    One thing to note. Satellite broadband is NOT good enough. The latency on such connections is too high for any time critical use (such as Voice Over IP or gaming).

  • Comment number 27.

    I would be happy if i got a consistent 2Mb/s (which is what i pay for) - as mentioned above, i doubt that many people will be willing to pay upwards of £50 p/m for 'super fast' BB. One thing is for sure - i don't think my Grannie living in rural Norfolk would want to pay more than £10 if that... (although i have little faith this project will ever reach Norfolk, as i still cant get C5 (if using analogue) or more than a handful of DAB channels and i live less than 5m outside Norwich!)

    Back to BB, does anyone know what percentage of Virgin's customers (who are eligible) pay for their top notch service? i doubt its that much otherwise why wouldn't they roll out their service without gov / BT intervention?

  • Comment number 28.

    Replace the copper with fibre, everywhere...put fibre down in all new build properties.

    As others have said, the benefits will outweigh the cost in the long run.

    Most of us are paying monthly for broadband and not getting anywhere near the potential speeds, unless you live next door to an exchange.

    BT must be forced to upgrade the backbone, or let others do it.

    Do this now, don't dither for more years.

    We need the upgrade now, like when the motorways were built in the 60s onwards.

  • Comment number 29.

    Supervisor Number 5 @ 28: "Replace the copper with fibre, everywhere...put fibre down in all new build properties." Superficially a good idea, but... the existing telephone system does not require continuity of electrical power at subscribers' premises, or even the exchange for that matter. If premises require an additional box to interface between telephone and fibre then power is always required, and this may not be an entirely wise idea; think of an entire estate's fixed line services failing because of an electricity power disruption. Clearly FTTH has its benefits, but there is that downside that has to be factored into the calculation.

    "As others have said, the benefits will outweigh the cost in the long run." Only true if the uptake of the faster services is widespread, with people paying accordingly. Has any research been done to establish how much how many people would be filling to pay?

    "Most of us are paying monthly for broadband and not getting anywhere near the potential speeds, unless you live next door to an exchange. BT must be forced to upgrade the backbone, or let others do it." The first sentence is perfectly true, but the second does not follow from it. That said, the service we get at Radiowonk Towers is in part limited by "backbone congestion" so upgrading it would provide an improvement of somewhere around 15% at a rough calculation, but a backbone upgrade is not going to mitigate the effects of a 4km cable route into the exchange.

    I have no objections whatsoever to (greatly) increased broadband speeds, but I do think that those who really see it as essential to their working lives, or just their lifestyles, should be prepared to fund it and not expect those of us with less exacting requirements to subsidise it. I wonder what research has been carried out to determine the detail of "broadband economics". Anyone know?

  • Comment number 30.

    mp4man - these circles of 2000 people? is that a suggestion, or is that a proposal? also, is that just Scotland?

  • Comment number 31.

    @veop (25) The whole idea of the Buneman circles is that it is applicable as a universal entitlement for communities living at all population densities.
    @TimmyNorfolk (30) The RSE Digital Britain report made this recommendation for Scotland. However, we believe that it would make sense for the rest of the UK also.
    http://bit.ly/digiscot

  • Comment number 32.

    (29) Radiowonk - appreciate your comments, I admit I was not aware of the power issue, I guess this is why those in MK on the FTTP trail are keeping their normal phone line.

    I think though that you can continuously research and survey and ask people what they think would be reasonable, but technology moves all of the time and perhaps I'm thinking simplistically, there has to be a moment where someone says "right, we're going to do this...", bit like wanting to buy a new computer but thinking "no, I'll wait for the next version" and so on.

    I'm paying 14.99 p/m for up to 20 and getting 1.9mbps (I did want to leave but the ISP then offered 12 months @ 7.49 p/m)...build the infrastructure and then have different products at different prices and let people decide what package they'd like.

  • Comment number 33.

    @mp4man/31 I'd love to know how it applies to a colleague I just spoke to: he lives in south London, where 2000 people at say 2 people per residence (it's more than that, closer to 3.2 I understamd) equates to a radius of way less than 1km. As long as they are getting the same "entitlement" as areas with larger circles I don't see anyone objecting (provided of course the overall central government spending is equitable).

    Here, in a village in W Yorkshire, there is a reasonable service at 8Mbit/s: four miles away, the other side of the hill/moor, there is smaller village with a maximum 1Mbit/s. I spoke the other day with a guy who lives in the village in question: he pays for his 1Mbit/s and he is happy with this service, viewing it as a reasonable trade-off for living in a relatively isolated area. Clearly that won't be the case for everyone, but it certainly is the case for him. Having said that, some weeks ago I was working with a customer in the Brighton area who were being charged for an "up to 24Mbit/s" service and were getting between 1 and 2Mbit/s. I know which of those two examples is being treated fairly ;)

    One thing we do need to be wary of is the absolute: "satellite isn't good enough". Well, yes it is - for most people, most of the time. Ignore gaming, that's not a reason for public funds to be spent. VoIP provision if no PSTN available, that's different: to the "satellite isn't good enough for VoIP" objection? There's an IP router on Intelsat 14, and IP calling has been demonstrated fairly recently, using no "traditional" ground segment. If people live too far away from fibre points for an efficient hook-up, satellite is a very cost-effective option. Wireless coverage is probably the next preferable alternative in rural areas; suburban wireless is horrible to plan, so don't expect things overnight ..

    Regulation is going to be key, as several people have said: so is the equitable distribution of any central government funding. Govt could either carve up the £830m according to population and let devolved governments spend as they wish, or create a single, national infraco for the backbone that responds to the needs of the whole country according to where people live. What it must not do is spend disproportionate amounts in some areas of the country compared with other areas - ie my customer in Brighton is just as deserving of a proportion of any funds as the chap in the next village from here, but there's one of him and ten of them. so it can't be a straightforward "one for him, one for them" when it comes to sharing out the matchsticks :) Maybe circular population centres addresses that, as long as it is adhered to rigidly?

  • Comment number 34.

    I live in a 50Mb enabled Virgin area and have used Virgin Media for many years. So what has just happened? - BT has put one of its huge ugly new Openreach boxes in the entrance to my estate (having spent several weeks digging trenches and moving it from its smaller predecessor's hidden location in some scrub bushes - presumably to avoid engineers getting a thorn or two in their back!). Now BT are ringing me once a week trying to get me to switch. Surely all that money would have been better spent bringing decent broadband to communities that don't have it.....

  • Comment number 35.

    dukeofearl @ 34: Have you any idea what speed BT were able to offer in your locale prior to their upgrade? From a purely commercial standpoint what BT are doing makes sense; up against Virgin they are at a competitive disadvantage and thus are losing / have lost market share that they hope to recoup by increasing speeds to end users.

    I assume (in the absence of anything to the contrary) that BT are providing FTTC, which ought to enable a significant improvement depending on how far away from the serving exchange the cabinet is. I was astonished to learn (if my informant was correct, which as he worked for BT seems likely) that notwithstanding a major (and I really do mean major) local housing development at some distance from two serving exchanges BT had not bothered to provide FTTC, when to have done so from the outset would have seemed to have been the sensible thing to do, not least because they could have ensured that they had the space to do it without complications; many cabinets will be in locations where there is insufficient space to install the larger enclosure required.

    We have to accept that BT is no more a charity than any other service provider, so to expect them to behave like one is perhaps being over optimistic. For the record I do not work, and have never worked, for BT although I will admit to having worked "with" them in a previous life.

  • Comment number 36.

    Still way behind: South Korea, Japan, USA, France, Holland, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark and most of western europe. Better late than bever i suppose

  • Comment number 37.

    @sagat4 - but you forget, we're ahead of Tristan du Cuhna! Yay!

    @Radiowonk: "We have to accept that BT is no more a charity than any other service provider". Correct, it is certainly not a charity: a pox, or a leach, or a plague on all our houses maybe, but not a charity. The problem is that other SPs don't get much of a chance to compete, BT is so dominant. The idea that govt funds can be used to effect community-level services gives the Government a chance to address that ... the probability of whether they will or not is a depressing thought ...

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm an old dear who's been online with dial-up since 1997. It has suited me fine until about a year ago, when the simplest document announces it's going to take hours to download. Now, the world and his dog are online and tweeting about their latest hair colour, the internet has become chokkers.
    So I very reluctantly accept I'm going to need supadupafatboyband. But the chances of BT laying a fibrop to my old cottage door are remote in the extreme. I will eat my old witchy hat if they do. Now for my hobbies, it makes no difference, but if increasingly social services and govt support for my age group is forcing me to go online for services, then I'm going to be in serious trouble. I resent being forced into broadband for my own good.

  • Comment number 39.

    Korrigan @ 38; "I resent being forced into broadband for my own good." And so you should, along with everyone else who feels that they are being railroaded into buying a service for which they feel they have no need. If those over 60 are seen as requiring a Winter Fuel Payment of £250 to help with heating bills (of which I am one) how are they supposed to pay for a computer and the broadband service to go with it?

    As was to be expected this thread - a worthwhile one in my view - has been superseded by another on the more common "shiney toys and trinkets" side of technology. A great pity.

    Anyway, what should turn up this morning but an email from BT advertising their "Infinity" packages. Aside from the fact that this service is not scheduled to roll out at this location (unless I "Vote Now" in an attempt to get it) as far as I can see the cheapest package would involve me in an additional monthly payment of about £8. Of course I get a Home Hub with that, notwithstanding the fact that as far as I can see I don't want one. I don't think I would want to pay the connection fee of £50 either. Another snippet to emerge appears to be that for some unexplained reason the expected speed of my existing service will go up from 2 to 2.5Mb/s mext May; nice if it happens.

    So I have no intention of signing up for an "up to 40Mb/s" service (curiously there was no quoted _guaranteed_ speed) for either my own use or for the benefit of others who would like me to fund economies of scale for a service provider so that they can indulge themselves with speeds that they don't really need either.

    A Universal Service Obligation of 2Mb/s remains a more defensible target.

 

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