RURAL BROADBAND - Part Two: alternative routes to increased speeds - while the real solution runs past the front gate
Our last government - that's the one led by Mr Cameron - put forward a scheme to get the last five per cent of homes onto superfast broadband.
It was announced in the Queen's Speech in May as giving 'a legal right to high-speed broadband'. But this 'legal right' included the government's right to ask users for a contribution if costs were too high. And it might rest on vouchers that do not cover ongoing costs that will be higher than those for high-speed broadband by fibre optic cable.
Still, as far the politicians were concerned this solved their problem. Whether it will survive government changes and the introduction of an 'industrial strategy' remains to be seen. Politically May was a long time ago.
There are people who work from home in the Marlborough area whose low broadband speeds via BT lines impact so disastrously on their work that they have already taken the plunge and tried alternative means of broadband delivery.
Here are two examples - we will return later to the fact that a BT fibre optic cable runs right past their front gates.
First stop is a person working for a company relying on international reach who needs to use multi-point Skype-type conference calls via a WebEx on-line meetings system. Via BT's broadband this was "simply hopeless". He also needs to be able to download large spread-sheets and contracts.
His broadband speed prevented him working as his job demanded.
So he is trying 4G. Via a roof aerial, he gets download speeds of between 10 and 15Mbits/s and upload speeds of 10. This is viable - but it does not like rain: "To be accurate the system is reliable for around 95 per cent of the time we need it."
"We suffer reduced speeds down to about 1mb/sec for around 4 per cent of the time and occasional complete loss for very short periods - with heavy rain. Most problems are solved with a reboot of the router. Incidentally, 1mb/sec is about what we were getting from BT 100 per cent of the time!"
Having paid £300 + VAT for gear, the cost of this is £25 + VAT per month for 25 gigabytes of download: "25Gb is plenty of data for our four employee business. It wouldn’t suffice if the family were using the system for movies etc., but for the business use it’s plenty."
Improved internet speed means he can rely on VOIP (Voice over internet protocol): "This operates via our internet and serves as our company telephone system. Using VOIP you can dispense with the BT phone lines - a major cost saving. The telephone number is completely portable - so if you’re in Marlborough, Wiltshire on Monday and Marlborough, Massachusetts on Wednesday, your 01672 number is the same."
He is pleased he turned to 4G: "We’re about six months in and will likely retain the 4G based system until we can get fibre or some other solution presents itself."
Our second example lives not too far away and has chosen to go the broadband-by-satellite route. He sees the problem like this: "We live in a rural place and have all the benefits of the countryside, but we are poor in our mobile 'phone service as well as in broadband."
His solution involves a satellite dish and a contract with a commercial provider. The problem is that the service relies on the amount of space on the satellite transponder that the provider has bought and how many people are using the service at any one time.
This means the system has what is called a problem of 'contention' - a conflict over access to what is in effect a shared resource. In simple terms, when too many people are logged on, you can get a sharp dip in the broadband speed.
Our satellite-broadband user finds that he sometimes gets "...a very poor service": at 3.00am he can get 28Mbits/s. At 6.00pm - when everyone has got home and switched on their computers - it can be back to BT speeds of +/- 2Mbits/s.
He is paying £69 per month - and during the first year of his contract paid an extra £10 per month for equipment and installation costs. He could buy a more expensive 'Business package' which would give him priority when there is a contention issue on the service.
He sums up his experience: "It is not consistent. On bad weather days we get poor service and when lots of people are viewing it gets worse still."
Both these people are working from home. Both live beside a main road and along that road runs a BT fibre optic cable. Breaking into a fibre optic cable of this sort costs is a complicated technical exercise - it is said to cost £17,000.
However, no one from Wiltshire Council has contacted these two people - or others living nearby - to ask whether they might like to pay towards using this cable for a high-speed broadband service for them and for their neighbours.
Both live in the Council's so-called broadband 'intervention zone' and both had asked for high speed broadband when the Council's scheme was launched. Perhaps the new government will pay for accessing that fibre optic cable running so temptingly close to their homes.