David Hennell, the Business Development Director at National Broadband argues how county councils can immediately ensure high-quality broadband delivery to all constituents
County councils and other regional authorities are at the sharp end when it comes to overseeing the roll-out of improved broadband delivery to all homes and businesses falling under their areas of responsibility.
However, despite their best efforts, in every part of the UK, there remain numerous properties where it is proving impossible to provide good quality connectivity at an affordable cost and within an acceptable timeframe.
The importance of good quality broadband for all
Access to fast and reliable connectivity has never been more important. Nowadays it is perfectly justifiable to view broadband as the fourth utility alongside gas, water and electricity. Moreover, the disadvantages of digital exclusion caused by the failure to adequately ensure a base level of connectivity across the nation are increasingly significant.
Although the latest figures show that around 70% of UK properties now have access to gigabit-capable broadband, little thought is being given at national government level to how to improve the connectivity of those most digitally deprived.
Ofcom figures reveal there are still well over 500,000 properties unable to access a broadband service running at a minimum of 10Mbps via a fixed line. This highlights how current central government policy is widening the Digital Divide rather than closing it.
Broadband delivery in remote and rural areas – why current policy is failing
According to Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations Report, rural properties are seven times less likely to have access to the national minimum broadband speed of 10Mbps in comparison to their urban counterparts. This divide between rural and urban – or digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ – has a profound impact both on individuals and on whole communities, stifling economic growth, creating barriers to prosperity and damaging societal outcomes.
The 85% target (itself already rowed back from 100%) inevitably means that harder-to-reach areas are simply not being addressed, with investment instead being poured into easy wins to meet this goal. Substantial public funding is being spent on providing gigabit-capable broadband to those in areas of high population density who already have excellent connectivity, while those with the worst current broadband speeds are forgotten.
Full fibre cannot provide a universal solution for all
The UK government’s current approach to improving digital connectivity is solely focused on a full fibre roll-out. However, this blinkered fixation with a single fibre-only solution is in fact responsible for the failure to adequately improve the digital connectivity of more rural parts of the country. Hardly surprising, because full fibre infrastructure is hugely costly and time-consuming to deploy, hence rural properties are all too often being left behind, endlessly waiting on the promise of a better broadband service that never materialises.
It is now beyond clear that such a simplistic ‘one size fits all’ approach is ineffectual if the goal is to truly end digital exclusion and level up the entire country.
Moreover, the Universal Service Obligation for Broadband (USO), under which those suffering from broadband speeds below the national minimum standard of 10Mbps can request an improved service, simply does not provide the digital safety net intended. The scheme limits funding to £3,400 per property, but that comes nowhere near the typical costs of provisioning more remote and scattered residential and business properties with fibre infrastructure. These are therefore entirely precluded from benefitting under the scheme. That is unless they’re prepared to pay exorbitant sums to make up the difference.
The solution: embrace an agile and cost-effective approach to rural broadband delivery
Alternative technology broadband delivery solutions exist today that can quickly and cost-effectively provide the most connectivity-deprived with the digital lifeline so desperately needed. In particular, 4G broadband solutions are perfectly placed to fill the gaps that exist in the nation’s broadband infrastructure. These have several key advantages:
- 4G coverage is extensive, covering 99% of the country, with locations in weaker 4G signal areas also being able to reap the benefits of improved 4G broadband connectivity by use of an outdoor
- 4G broadband is far more cost-effective to deploy than fibre. The ‘per property’ capex cost of providing a single premises with 4G broadband is under £250.
- 4G broadband is deployable anywhere in the country within a matter of no more than a week or two.
Entirely unlike fibre, 4G broadband does not require densely populated catchment areas in order to make deployment commercially viable. It can happily be used to improve connectivity on a ‘single property at a time basis.
Alternative technologies such as 4G broadband are perfectly placed to infill wherever fibre fails to deliver and to provide a genuine digital safety net for those located in more rural and remote parts of the UK. It is vital that we broaden our thinking to deliver improved digital connectivity immediately to those most in need and thus close the ever-widening digital divide.
Encouragingly, a few more forward-thinking regional authorities are already leveraging 4G broadband to provide much improved connectivity in so-called broadband white areas falling under their remit. However, many more could be doing the same, or at the very least making their own broadband-starved constituents aware that cost-effective and immediately deployable alternative connectivity solutions exist today.
There is no reason to wait, because the technology is readily available and more than capable of dramatically improving the lives of the most digitally disadvantaged.
At National Broadband we specialise in providing fast and reliable broadband to homes and businesses that have been left behind. With over 20 years of history in utilising alternative broadband technologies, we also have extensive experience working with local, regional and national governmental bodies.
For more information please visit National Broadband.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Editor's Recommended Articles
Must Read >> Should you change your broadband provider?