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Friday, 1 August 2008

Taylor Review calls for urgent solution to rural broadband speed problem

The Taylor Review of the Rural Economy and Affordable Housing, commissioned by the Prime Minister and published late July 2008, states that while "Growth in the proportion of knowledge intensive business services between 1998 and 2005 – largely reliant on ICT infrastructure – has increased by 46 per cent in rural areas compared to 21 per cent in urban areas" the performance of broadband in rural areas is markedly poorer than that in urban locations: "recent research also suggests connection speeds are slower in rural areas because existing broadband technology is less efficient in sparsely populated areas." This BBC report from June 2008 covers the issue of the rural/urban split well.

Matthew Taylor MP goes on to state that solutions to the problem are "urgently needed".

The reason for the poor performance is simple. ADSL technologies don't like distance: the further one is from the exchange, the slower the connection. Whilst poor ADSL performance is by no means exclusive to rural users, it does seem to be more prevalent, and there are still numerous rural communities that lack any sort of broadband connection.

So it appears that while the Government-commissioned Taylor Review is calling for urgent action to resolve the rural broadband performance issues, and while the clear solution to this problem is for a rural deployment of fibre-to-the-home/premises, BT seems clear in its announcement that the only way this will happen is through public sector financial intervention. At the same time the folks at BERR (DTI as was) seemed to make it pretty clear at the June 2008 BSG conference that they could not see the case for public sector intervention, at least from a central government perspective.

The innovation does seem to be going on at community and local authority level, with some RDA support. For the near term at least it seems clear to those of us looking to avoid the next digital divide (rather than attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted) that working and campaigning at a local level id probably our best option.

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