BT Infinity Is Launched And The Rural Broadband Divide Widens Once Again

The country is waking up to the news that BT is finally rolling out their fibre-optic broadband product called BT Infinity.

The consumers and businesses located in major towns and cities should be jumping with joy at the prospect of super-fast broadband at their home or business whilst those that live in a rural area sigh once again at the prospect of the digital divide widening even further. Rural areas will be stuck on 2MB max download and the rest of the country currently on 10MB and soon rising to 50MB.

I’m speaking from experience as I live (and built several businesses) within a rural area of Warwickshire, 10 miles from Leicester but within the BT exchange reach of a delightful but very small market town.

The broadband here is woeful and indicative of other rural areas; the best connectivity available at 2MB download but most broadband delivers between 400 and 800kb download (my own ADSL runs at 600kb).

I personally know of a number of businesses that moved from my rural area to Leicester simply because of the connectivity problems associated with a rural area – two of these businesses were my own and there are countless more across the country.

Unfortunately this is an issue that won’t be solved without radical thinking as it’s a question of economics not technology.

For the likes of BT or Virgin to roll-out fibre to small rural areas is prohibitively expensive and actually not viable in some areas as rural properties mostly have the BT lines going straight back to an exchange and not through a street side cabinet. Many of the actual copper wires are too long to support high speed broadband.

The fact is that high speed broadband is becoming more and more vital for consumers and businesses and this doesn’t change whether you live and work in a rural area or city – it’s still critically important.

Therefore the issue must be solved if we are to finally close the digital divide, stop people and businesses migrating needlessly to cities, and finally create equal and fair access to high speed broadband for all.

There are options; the first was mentioned in one of my previous articles that centred on a Broadband Grant System giving subsidies to businesses who order more expensive private circuits. Unfortunately there seems to be little appetite for the government to shell out money for this system given the current austerity measures being rolled-out.

However, there is a second way to deliver fast broadband to rural areas without requiring government subsidies. This plan involves two parts;

Firstly, BT launched a new product available under their LLU (local loop unbundling) program. This new product simply consists of a discounted bundle of 4 or 8 copper LLU lines – something that can be accomplished by them quite easily.

Once these bundled lines are available for a lower cost, an LLU provider (or indeed BT themselves) could combine the bandwidth’s across these lines to present the end user a single broadband connection with 4 or 8 times the bandwidth of a single ADSL which would equate to approx. 10meg connection or on a very long distance a minimum of 4meg download which is significantly better than the 500kbs achieve today on long distance rural connections.

Secondly, BT making available a discounted backhaul link for LLU providers. This fibre link would allow the LLU provider to connect the local rural exchange back to their network (usually in London) for a discounted rate.

Together these two elements would enable every ISP to deliver rural high speed broadband services whilst making money in the process which would encourage ISPs to deliver without having to incur the costly expense of digging up roads and laying fibre.

Mark Seemann is CEO of Synety and brings with him over 14 years experience in implementing disruptive technologies within the Internet and Telecoms sectors. He is responsible for building three successful Internet and Telecoms companies during this time and has been intrumental in driving turnarounds and various company acquisitions. Mark has been directly responsible for various technical innovations including the UK's first telecom web contorl panel and patented VoIP technology now owned by Cable & Wireless.