Broadband must be recognised as an essential service

Tweet from rural userMy sister-in-law lives in what must be one of the remotest spots in England. When we visit we leave our car on a grassy knoll and switch to a very old 4×4 for the last couple of miles of the journey which takes about 20 minutes.

Life for her is hard. She has a telephone thanks to the 'Universal Service Obligation' but when this goes wrong it's often out of order for several weeks. There is no mobile phone signal. TV comes in by satellite.

Internet access is over the dodgy telephone line. She can only get dial-up access so it's slow and the telephone line is (obviously) engaged when she is online.

My sister-in-law visited us last week and I helped her setup a new laptop. The one she has is more that 6 years old and was beginning to struggle a bit. We got the laptop home and started to set it up. It came with Windows Vista. The first thing you realise is that, to set up a laptop these days, you need an internet connection. We have broadband. The first thing to do was to install virus protection. This involved dowloading an update to the program supplied and the latest data files. Once this was done, Vista needed updating too: 37 updates were required – nearly 100 Mbytes.

This whole process would have been practically impossible over a dial-up connection.

When you add to this the fact that more and more essential public services are only available online you start to feel very uncomfortable (or at least you should) that a significant cohort of the UK's population, mostly rural, do not yet have broadband access.

While she was with us, I also set my sister-in-law up with an account on Twitter. Which she seems to appreciate (see image). At least there are still some services that work over a dodgy dial-up connection.

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3 Responses to Broadband must be recognised as an essential service

  1. Simon says:

    And what will happen when her kids grow up and go to school and the presumption will be made that they have broadband at home?

  2. Interesting point – but I am not sure that really explains the situation. With gas over $4 a gallon that changes everything.

  3. GuyJ says:

    Hi Simon,
    certainly the fibre to the home (FtttH) endgame needs engineering, both technically and politically, to ensure that USO is guaranteed – the alternative is a deeper digital divide than currently exists with 1st generation broadband, as evidenced by your sister’s predicament.
    I founded http://www.neoeon.com back in 2003 to address rural digital exclusion in East Yorkshire
    - it is a testament to the failure of ADSL to deliver any semblance of broadband USO that today, some 3 years since BT announced that service was available at every exchange in the country, Neoeon continues to provide broadband service for hundreds of rural residents and businesses who otherwise have no reasonably priced alternative available, not even via the much hyped 3G mobile broadband dongle.
    (of course, broadband has in a sense been universally available for years already, if you have deep enough pockets to install and lease a dedicated fibre feed, however the whole point of any USO is accessibility which means affordability surely)
    The first wave of community broadband networks discovered that they could create their own independent local broadband infrastructures using wireless innovation;
    I’m convinced there is a fantastic opportunity today for those same communities, and any other that so desires, to choose the path of local FttH infrastructure, ideally mutually owned and perhaps guided by a commercial partner for an initial term that encompasses the design, build and operation of the resultant local access network.
    When you think about it – who needs BT when you can DIY?

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