Governments have talked for some years about a ‘universal service commitment’ to ensure virtually everyone in the country has access to a broadband service. Discussion has shifted from the previous 2Mbps figure to ‘super-fast’ broadband, but many rural communities remain concerned about the lack of coverage in the ‘final third’.
With the recent announcement of the Eutelsat satellite broadband service, it is becoming possible for rural areas to get connected to better broadband services with speeds of up to 8Mbps (downstream) and 2Mbps (upstream) available for under £40 a month. Although this is expensive by comparison to the cheapest broadband deals that are available to many of us, the costs of satellite broadband services are coming down, however even as these headline speeds improve, there is one significant downside of the current generation of satellite broadband services which is likely to present difficulties in the medium term–usage allowances.
The focus of discussions on universal coverage have always been about headline speeds and costs, but it’s not enough merely to provide a fast headline speed if the costs of actually using the service are substantially higher. My current broadband usage is around 60GB per month which includes catching up on TV programmes using iPlayer, updates to various devices I have and general browsing. I am of course a more active user of the Internet than many, but as time goes by more and more users are going to consume more media like myself. The cost of this level of usage on a satellite service would run into hundreds of pounds, which would be beyond the means of most broadband users. If I had to pay £150 or more for it, I would certainly consider changing my usage habits.
We should welcome any improvement in rural broadband, but we should not forget that merely being connected to the Internet at faster speeds is not enough–to be able to take advantage of its transformational benefits, it is necessary to ensure new features such as streaming media, etc. are accessible to everyone, and that rural communities are not excluded due to cost.