RURAL BROADBAND - Part One: Why can't BT produce decent broadband speeds to rural homes

Written by Tony Millett.

This past week MPs have told BT (July 19) that it must spend much, much more on the broadband infrastructure - and that this monopoly company risks being broken up if it does not invest enough. 

Reports of the House of Commons committee's decisions mentioned that parts of Britain were 'superfast' while large parts remained 'superslow' - and many of those parts are rural.

BT's week got worse when many of its customers lost internet after a power failure at one of its providers - perhaps another example of lack of appropriate investment.

The failure to keep the country in the EU will eventually - one assumes  - mean that government ministers will not have the excuse of EU competition rules to stop them putting our money into companies' coffers when they are threatened with closure and job losses - or fail to provide a proper service.

Could this, in turn, lead finally to fully funding of British Telecom's infrastructure and provide twenty-first century broadband services across the country and especially to rural areas?  And pigs might....

But, ever hopeful, here is a story told to Marlborough.News by a friendly Wiltshire householder.  It should embarrass the present government, BT and Wiltshire Council.  The latter's use of millions of council tax pounds has failed to improve promised broadband speeds even across its own so-called 'intervention zone':

"I thought my iPad was having a turn.  It was suddenly producing amazing download speeds - I could hardly keep up.  In case I was hallucinating, I checked.  The checker read 15.25Mbit/s. Impossible.  I checked again.  Wow!"

Will BT's Openreach eventually be split offWill BT's Openreach eventually be split off"I was not, of course at home in rural Wiltshire - where the download speed to my iPad sometimes creeps just over the 2Mbit/s mark. I live about 6kms from the nearest telephone exchange."

"I was in very rural France.  In Lower Normandy. I was in a settlement of four homes - hardly even a 'hamlet' - and 100 metres from what my map calls an 'other road'."

"The nearest village is 1.5kms away and has a population of 211.  The nearest town (9 kms away) has a population of 2,532 (about half the size of Pewsey - though boasting a very fine chateau.)  The nearest town even approaching Marlborough's size is 16kms away."

"When the English owner of the house I was staying in bought it as a ruined property in 2010, he asked France Telecom (now Orange SA) for phone services.  The very next day a man arrived offering a survey for 75 euros. 'Yes, please!' "  

"Three days later two young men arrived and strung a line down from the road on new poles - all at no extra cost.  He now pays 36 euros a month for his broadband, all mobile and land-line calls within France and land-line calls to about 100 overseas countries.  And he has a download speed on his laptop that hovers around 20Mbit/s."

"Last winter, the house owner told me, a major storm knocked out his service for 48 hours and he was offered - repeat offered - a month's free service."   

That is some story - all of it true.  Last year a group of Marlborough residents moved into newly built houses in the centre of the town and had to wait thirteen weeks to be connected by BT.

Delivery of fast broadband speeds is - repeat is - possible even in rural areas.  It must be that BT - with the connivance of government and council - cannot be bothered.

What's the difference between Orange SA and BT?  The French government still owns about a quarter of the shares in Orange SA.  The British government sold its last shares in BT in 1993 and BT is now totally beholden to its shareholders.

Or may be it's simply that Britain's much-vaunted engineering and digital skills are not all they are cracked up to be.

See Broadband Part Two - for alternative delivery options.