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.

Sebastien Lahtinen

7 Responses

  1. Chris Conder on 02 Jun 2011

    agree totally! just to update the OS on an iPhone is nearly a gig, and many of the current satellites only have a gig a month data transfer. The installs are often up to £1k, and even the next gen of satellites isn’t fast enough to be classed as NGa.
    It isn’t about speed though, as you say, its about building something fit for purpose, and not having to keep doing it.
    Lots of people round here have put satellites in already. They are grateful for the chance to get on the internet, but are rationing their usage to avoid the penalty charges. No iPlayer for them. Devices are updated at work. No innovative uses. Its the wrong way to be going about it all. Satellites are great for third world countries, lets export them, but lets concentrate on building a decent infrastructure here for real next generation access so that it just works. Whether folk want two meg or two gig, fibre will deliver. Now and in the future.

  2. PhilT on 02 Jun 2011

    The basic idea of a universal coverage commitment is to allow connection with government and commerce, not streaming TV.

    Large usage is virtually always TV or video related and perhaps as a society we need to remember that other options are widely available for this – Freeview with PVR, Sky+, DVD rental via the universal postal service etc etc.

    I’m not up for being taxed to provide another delivery mechanism for the idiot’s lantern, to be honest.

    • ColinB on 02 Nov 2011

      “The basic idea of a universal coverage commitment is to allow connection with government and commerce, not streaming TV”?

      I don’t agree.

      For me, the use of broadband internet for video content stretches way beyond the mere requirement to view those delivery channels that are currently available on terrestrial digital TV/radio and satellite. My use of broadband is largely for the purpose of accessing the massive amount of useful material that’s up there in “the cloud” on YouTube, Vimeo etc as well as a myriad specialist-interest video podcasts and screencasts available from streaming and download feeds everywhere.

      I use an Apple TV box to interface between my iTunes media storage and my HDTV, and this is capable of delivering to me much higher quality content (in technical if not creative terms) than is currently available on Freeview or FreeSat, where MPEG-4/H.264 compression is far from perfect.

      However, until my connection speeds rise above 2.4Mbps down and 0.98Mbps up I can’t hope to effectively stream HD content at any time, let alone busy network times. Podcast-style downloading is my only viable option.

      Fibre optic is the way to go and the best chance we have of getting the infrastructure we need to do the job in hand, so let’s push hard to get it.

  3. seb on 02 Jun 2011

    @PhilT: What about online educational video content? This isn’t always available over Freeview etc.

  4. Andrew Ferguson on 02 Jun 2011

    PhilT has it pretty spot on, the driver for local and central gov is leveraging cost savings from moving to online interfaces for billing etc

    If the other aspects of telemedicine and online education are possible then I think its viewed as a nice have.

    A little like current view of 28Kbps being functional internet access by Ofcom.

  5. Andrue Cope on 03 Jun 2011

    If you want to watch TV then get a PVR. They all have series link now so it’s not like you need to set aside an hour trawling through the listings to see what’s on. I bet I spend far less time doing that than an iPlayer junky does. Even better thanks to series link I don’t have to try and remember what is on. I also don’t have to make time during the week – I can just let recordings pile up and watch them at my leisure. In proper high definition as well.

    iPlayer is handy for when you’re not at home or in the (rare in my experience) situation where my PVR lets me down. It is absolutely not a justification for broadband.

    Online educational videos sounds like a more reasonable justification. They aren’t very popular at the moment but that could grow if access becomes cheaper. Then again an educational video doesn’t have to be high def so could easily be made available in a sub-2Mb/s stream. No need for NGA there, just a half-way decent ADSL connection.

  6. Lynn on 19 Nov 2011

    Have we missed something here? the latest Satellite broadband as per the first report is £40. The KA Sat service at £40 is for 8Gb of data at a speed of 8Mbps down and 2Mbps up. I think this is now well worth it. We never got more than 500K ADSL. Talk to notspot broadband found on dot com they’re straight talking.

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