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Broadband access making rural and poor “second class citizens”

Posted by: Tom Morris


I often travel back to my childhood home in Kent to see my parents. The area is commuter heavy and I wouldn’t really describe it as “rural”.

However, attempting to use broadband or mobile data and you’d think you were in the back of beyond. IF and I mean IF, I manage to get a mobile data signal, the pages crawl as super slow speed and often just time out. Transferring over to broadband and it’s not much better, and as my mobile phone struggles to download a single email I’m tapping my fingers impatiently, rolling my eyes and then eventually giving up.

Living in an area of London with super speed fibre, means that I’m not prepared for the painful experience that is my parent’s broadband. But this is not a problem limited to a commuter area of Kent, nor is it anything new, but it is surprising.

In recent times broadband is has begun to be viewed as an “essential” service in our civilised society; much like clean water, roads, electricity and a postal service. When access to other “essential” services is restricted, such as education or healthcare, efforts are made to overcome the limitations; for example councils pay for taxis to take children from remote areas to school.

Over 3 million people don’t have access to the internet, be it that they are too rural or too poor. But imagine if that was the case with a sewage system or clean water, if those basic needs were cut off, it would be considered damaging.

Infrastructure plans to rollout fibre-optic cable across the UK are currently being undertaken, but the issue more than anything is the actual broadband speed. The government has stated a need for a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second and has gone as far as promising a universal service obligation to serve this. BT has a goal of connecting 95% of households with this speed using fibre-optic cable by the end of 2017 and in exchange they want to scrap the idea of a universal service obligation and connect the final 1% with existing copper wire in the remotest areas.

I’d imagine that the actual speed necessary for smooth operating in a standard household is probably a lot lower than how companies like Virgin and BT pitch it; no home requires the 200Mbps Virgin sells or the 1,000Mbps BT has begun to talk about. But the appeal of these “ultra-fast” packages means that those who can afford them buy them.

Although these speeds aren’t necessary right now, technology is moving at such a pace that providers are only able to “future-proof” if you like, by a few years. Thinking about the technological advancements in the last five years alone, sooner rather than later, the government’s demand for 10Mbps will become woefully inadequate for just the basic needs anyway.

This means that the more advanced, magical and up-to-date life-changing gadgets and services will only be available to those living in the right place with the right bank balance. Those living in rural areas and poorer people will be stuck at the bottom of the speed chain so to speak, and with no scope for an upgrade.

Technology itself stands for progress and advancement, it also the basis of modern existence and anyone must be able to access it if everyone is to be provided with the same opportunities regardless of location or income.

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