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Say rural broadband to a group of people and it is likely to elicit all manner of responses. It is a subject that has been the topic of heated discussion for a while, but it is only recently that the Government has finally announced it will provide the £10 million funding needed to get the remaining five per cent of Britons in remote locations connected to the Internet.
The announcement came around the same time as the new Broadband Chief of BDUK was revealed as Chris Townsend, who, as commercial director, played a crucial part in the successful delivery of the London 2012 Olympics. He will be driving this new broadband delivery programme, including the ambitious project of delivering superfast speeds to the already-connected 95% of the UK by 2017.
When looking at installing fibre in rural areas, the expense has previously been the biggest deterrent for broadband operators. However, the £10m grant will enable alternative technology providers to demonstrate, through testing and trials, how their methods could be a cost-effective and reliable solution. Possible candidate technologies that could be piloted include 4G, satellite technology, and extending fibre direct to premises, or to a distribution point further down the network.
Local authorities will support these pilot projects, which will be undertaken across the country by March 2014, to aid the Government in indentifying solutions for including remote locations in the broadband transformation.
The Role of Satellite
Among the alternative technologies that will be considered, to help connect the remaining five per cent of Britain not included in BDUK’s main superfast infrastructure scheme, is satellite technology.
Satellite Internet is already successfully providing residents and businesses in rural areas across the country with high-speed, reliable broadband. The connection is provided by a specialist satellite Internet Service Provider (ISP) and uses the same satellites used for TV – no phone line or mobile network is needed.
Broadband Everywhere, a satellite ISP based in Birmingham, UK, has already seen success with a similar Government scheme in Wales, Access Broadband Cymru. The initiative offers funding to premises in Wales where the broadband speed is below 2Mbps. Since satellite broadband is a low-cost alternative, Broadband Everywhere has helped many participants using the scheme to connect to the Internet with free-of-charge equipment and installation.
Using SES, Europe’s leading provider of satellite services, to deliver SES Broadband Service via SES’s ASTRA satellites, Broadband Everywhere offers download speeds of up to 20Mbps and upload speeds up to 2Mps.
As a result hundreds of Broadband Everywhere customers are no longer living in the digital dark ages, and instead are driving at full speed in the digital fast lane. Businesses can do their online invoicing, submit orders and manage their website with ease, while families need never miss their favourite television shows again, as websites that require fast download speeds, such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, can be accessed using the UK IP address provided with the service.
More users are embracing satellite broadband each day.
A Digital Savvy Nation
The grant, which will allow alternative technologies providers to step up and show how they can be part of the broadband revolution, will open for applications on 17 March 2014. Successful candidates will help the Government decide how to spend the final £250m slice of funding which has been put aside especially for rural communities. It seems now will be the time the nation says goodbye to its rural broadband affliction, with the new BDUK broadband chief commenting:
The scheme is part of the Government’s long term economic plan, with every £1 invested in broadband seeing a benefit of £20 to the UK economy, making broadband instrumental to innovation and growth of the country.
In the past, broadband rollout schemes have been “mismanaged” and not met their targets. However, now the Government is beginning to think about the alternatives, this may mark the beginning of closing the gap between the digitally-deprived and the digital savvy.
Nick Denker is technical director at Broadband Everywhere.