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Digital divide

Oh dear:

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is concerned that the Government has yet to make it clear how it will ensure that the UK has a seamless broadband infrastructure to avoid a divide between rural and urban areas, as figures show that for many small businesses broadband speeds aren’t adequate.

This is the latest incarnation of a story that has been running for years.

There are advantages to high population density. That is the reason cities exist. For telecommunications, the advantages are shorter wires and more customers per cell, so the per-user costs of broadband are lower. People in rural areas will have to pay more for such things. But why put up with such mathematical truths when there is subsidy to be shared around?

14 comments to Digital divide

  • Gareth

    The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is concerned that the Government has yet to make it clear how it will ensure that the UK has a seamless broadband infrastructure to avoid a divide between rural and urban areas

    This small businessman is concerned that the FSB has yet to make it clear why the state should ensure the divide between rural and urban areas should be bridged with taxpayers money.

    Is this another one of those OECD league table things our representatives crave moving up?

  • Agammamon

    “as figures show that for many small businesses broadband speeds aren’t adequate.”

    What the hell are these businesses? Streaming porn servers?

    Even here in America where we suffer under the burden of (relatively) slow broadband, its more than fast enough for pretty much all of our businesses.

  • Another report from the lobbyists for looters who believe they have more right to my hard earned money than I do.

    Sure, there are people who need to work in the country to run rural businesses and farms. I completely accept that, but I would give my right bollock to be able to live in a nice rural location without the problems of commuting, congestion, overcrowding, poor services, etc.

    I don’t hear anyone saying that the rural community should subsidize that – of course not, because there is no money in it.

    I think the best way of doing this is to provide as liberal a marketplace as possible with as little market regulation as possible, this is the way to stimulate solutions to rural homes and businesses. Untie the shackles of regulation and taxes from businesses and you’ll be surprise how soon rural broadband solutions start popping up.

    The best solution for us all is to not have anyone having to subsidize anyone else. Then they would have the money in their pockets, bank balances and businesses to afford the broadband solution that most fits their requirement.

    I used to live in rural Hertfordshire and back in 2003, my solution to having no broadband ADSL was to buy a combined dial-up & satellite solution which gave me the same download speed as ADSL for about 300 pounds per year (from Netsystem in Italy).

    So don’t tell me it can’t be done, we just need to take the shackles of regulation and excessive taxation off this country and the solutions will sprout like summer weeds.

    Gave my bitch broadband – bitches love broadband.

  • Stonyground

    I live in a rural area and also work on an industrial estate that is sited in a village half way between two towns. The broadband at home works fine. The computer system at work is sometimes slow and jerky but I think that may be more to do with our system than the local infrasructure.

  • Andy Strang

    People in rural areas are online customers for all you ‘big city folk’. Thus the subsidy helps us all.

  • Eric

    What the hell are these businesses? Streaming porn servers?

    Even if you were running a porn business you don’t need high speed broadband. Your product would be hosted somewhere else.

    John Galt is right. This is a power grab by people who want contracts to build out infrastructure that doesn’t make sense.

  • As an Australian I’ve always thought it was kind of funny hearing British groups complaining about Internet access to “isolated rural” areas. Here in Australia a private company manages to provide ADSL-ADSL2 speed wireless Internet over an area of 2.1 million square kilometers apparently despite the fact that the government constantly punishes them any time the build any new infrastructure*. http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/networks/coverage/broadband.html

    This is an area nine times the size of Great Britain with a third of the population. Of course NextG is about twice as expensive as ADSL over a phone line, but that’s available nearly everywhere in Australia now days as well. It’s certainly available over a much larger area than Great Britain.

    * The government feels since it used to own Telstra, it can now demand that it sells access to it’s infrastructure it’s competitors for cheap prices; which sort of makes sense for the infrastructure it actually built while it was part of the government, but is nuts for new infrastructure.

  • Aetius

    John Galt, I like your phrase: “the lobbyists for the looters.” I will look for an opportunity to use it when I am writing to the dead tree press. In fact, the whole sentence would make a good quote of the day.

  • @Aetius:

    If you’re looking for punchlines for a libertarian book, try this one – I think I made QotD both here in Samizdata and over at Counting Cats for it a few months back.

    The Government must learn to spend LESS than it steals.

    If you attribute it to John Galt everyone will believe you. I’ve yet to find anyone whose managed to get through the entire text of my radio broadcast that was published in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

  • ThePresentOccupier

    As someone who lives in a nice rural location, I can assure you it costs a lot more than just your right bollock. Rob & I have argued many times about this – the costs are high for the one primary benefit it brings, namely fewer people.

    You still get the problems of commuting, congestion – and with the bloody-minded determination of planners to concrete the area, overcrowding. Can’t honestly comment about “poor services” – try none at all (although that’s not always a bad thing). There’s no bus service other than the school bus. There’s no streetlights. There’s damn little in the way of amenities. For some people, these are a big deal.

    Would I like acceptable DSL speeds? Damn right. Am I bothered by the fact that Sky/Virgin/Whoever only cover the towns because that’s the best population density for their profits? Not really. Am I prepared to pay over the odds because the monopoly that is BT has consistently under-invested in the infrastructure? Not a chance. If it rains I usually lose connectivity (because their cabinet leaks), and this is in a supposedly affluent area about 7 miles to the nearest town – we aren’t talking about the wilds of the Highlands or anything, where satellite comms is the only sane solution.

    I like my space. It costs me a bloody fortune, but there’s no way I’d move to a city (or could stomach it).

  • I dream of planners with the bloody-minded determination to concrete the area.

  • TPO: I don’t think we’re in that much disagreement. You understand the costs and the benefits of living in the sticks. You can’t really have all the benefits of city life *and* the space of living in the country.

    It’s probably not just that BT are rubbish; if there aren’t any competitors one has to ask why. Almost certainly there are regulatory barriers to new entrants.

  • Arguably the biggest mistake Thatcher made was to privatise BT en-bloc. It should have been broken up and it should never have had a monopoly on the local loop. They are absolute bastards*. The second mistake Thatcher made was the deal that allowed CATV. All cables to be buried was the deal. Now that costs and it also involves planning issues and that really costs. Now the interesting thing is CATV was invented in the USA primarily for rural areas. Mountains and such get in the way of signals. I think it dates from the late ’40s! Anyway this could be done commercially because they strung cables on poles.

    Anyway. The last thing folks in the sticks need is gubbermunt calling the shots on broadband. I’ve heard they’re talking a guarantee of about 2Mb/s which is frankly Chronic the Hedgehog. A proper telco market (which we don’t have) wouldn’t do that. Of course not! They might as well roll-out talking drums or frigging smoke-signals. Because if government guarantees a minimum sure as eggs is eggs that is what you’ll get if your lucky.

    And yeah, what folk have said about Town vs Country. Complaining that out in the sticks there are fewer services is pretty much like moving to central Tokyo and complaining it’s “a bit busy”.

    *I know. I once worked in one of their call-centres. Training was an hilarity. They were still rolling out ISDN (late) and we were subjected to a lecture on what digital meant which was stunning. One of the other inductees (also a geek) and I exchanged stunned looks. And The “trainer” basically said people like dealing with BT because it’s British. The corporate culture still had Busby on his perch. And this was many years after privatisation. Another of the sharper inductees at this point said, “yeah, it’s called market inertia”.

  • Paul Marks

    This is how “practical” businessmen destroy free enterprise.

    They demand subsidies for themselves (or for members of their association, or for….) and, by doing so, cut the ground from under themselves – when trying to resist any other government spending, or the taxes to pay for such government spending.

    When they try and complain about high taxes – they can, quite rightly, be met with the response….. “but you asked for….”

    Ayn Rand was correct about this – the “practical” person in politics is not practical at all. The demand for subsdies (or regulations) for one’s self and one’s friends is, in the end, an act of suicide.