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back to article Digital divide looms again over superfast broadband for all

An influential internet industry group said today it would cost almost £29bn to deploy a 1Gbit/s new fibre optic line to every home and business in the UK, raising the spectre of a renewed digital divide if operators are able to neglect rural rollout in favour of more profitable urban infrastructure. The finding comes shortly …

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Stop

LTE

Alternatively, we could develop real 3G evolution technologies and products so that anyone anywhere can get access to these future Internet services that we hear so much about.

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Priorities?

Remind me.. how much that aircraft carrier is going to cost.. £30billion?

hmm...which would be more useful to the UK population?

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BT shareholders rejoice!

You mean BT aren't going to get the government to sponsor the initial outlay then fleece every customer they have with triple-price, fibre broadband for the next 50 years, whether they had it installed or not?

"It recommends that big savings can be made by sharing ducting with utilities companies, a policy that has proved successful in France and is currently under review by Ofcom."

Yeah, until the unions get a whiff and start a ruckus about "one man, one job, one bit of kit down there" Guv!

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Pirate

Most of the cost made up from digging?

Why not do what we did 150 years ago and just get a whole bunch of immigrant workers to work for a relative pittance digging the trenches? Except this time rather than bricking up and flooding the trenches to create canals, we'd be dropping in fibre bundles and filling over the top of them. 10,000 immigrants housed in temporary accommodation and properly tracked to ensure they don't escape to bother the general populace would be pretty easy- and cheap- to manage. Feed them enough to keep them alive and strong, pay them enough to entice them into the country even if it is hard, temporary work. Bring in "proper" UK workmen to do the actual installation of the cables themselves.

With 10,000 of them we could get the whole network dug, laid and filled in in a couple of years. Bring in 30,000 and run them round the clock in 3 8-hour shifts and you could have some serious increases in productivity. We could get them to sort out the road surfaces too...

I'm not saying beat them/flay them/etc. Not slavery. Just hard work for what they'd consider a very good wage. Based on what I've seen (or rather, haven't) of UK road-workers it's probably the only way to get it sorted on time.

On that thought, we could pay them a little more so they keep working and get them to level the ground for (and maybe even build) the Olympic Village! And still have the moral high-ground over china!

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Go

@AC with immigrant trenches idea

Good idea.

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Dead Vulture

Forward planning and foresight?

Can we have some please?

I mean some of us have been calling for FTTH for some time now. BT is investing approx. £10bn in updating its core network (21CN) and converting it to a packet switched infrastructure rather than circuit switched. Surely, if next generation services are all going to be packet routed, then it makes ultimate sense to make the jump NOW! Think about it people, one line (cable/fibre) for telephone, internet, TV and whatever else in the next generation.

IF we are serious about turning ourselves into an information economy and keeping up with the likes of South Korea, then this sort of investment is needed and needed NOW!

I actually enjoy a 7Mbit/s connection living in rural Scotland, however, it took me over 6 months to get it even after the exchange had had a DSLAM installed due to some legacy kit. Think forward OFCOM. There's a lot of bright people working there and between the ISP's, surely you can come up with a way to share the cost of deployment fairly?

Dead parrot because if we don't invest, then Information Tech UK will be as much use as a dead parrot!

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Economics ?

Most expensive option, not much over half a Northern Rock

Cheapest option, just the amount that Gordon Brown stole from people's savings (aka pensions) EVERY year for a decade.

So suddenly it doesn't sound all that much after all.

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Anonymous Coward

ID Cards?

Can we have instead 40% of that infrastructure? I think fast porn^H^H^H Internet connection is slightly more important...

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1Gbit for what?

What is the plan for 1Gbit per house? If anyone replies with "rich multimedia" content, then if that means broadcast content (TV and radio)over IP then why are you effectively duplicating bandwidth already covered by digital television and radio? Otherwise why not bin rolling out/upgrading DAB and digital TV (or at least scale it back) and divert some of the licence fee into this?

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@flatspot

Are the two really comparable?

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Coat

wireless

that's all

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@ AC

why use immigrant works you have to pay them

why not use prisoners. That will make them earn their keep instead of living free with all the comforts of home just with smaller windows. (we could use them to build levees along the Lincolnshire coast to stop the potential flooding then the Environment Agency wouldn't have to cast it off to the sea)

bring back penile labour

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@AC 12.13

I like your style!!

But, think of this, we have 3 million or something unemployed, we're paying for them anyway, lets get them to dig the ditches.

Now, this wouldn't be pratical in cities, where it generally involved using ruddy great cutting machines, but in rural areas this would be much easier (less to fuck up). So we get the best of everything - the unemployed actually start working, rural areas get fibre that they want, the whole thing done in double-quick time and BT save 30% on running costs.

Given our current recession-wood movement in the economy, a big civil engineering project is just what we need!!

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The Government should lay it down

It's clear that privately owned companies aren't going to lay down Fibre because it's expensive and it's hard for them to see any way of making a profit out of it.

The Government has billions of pounds - most of which it wastes. Why don't they lay the Fibre down? The infrastructure should be owned by the Government anyway imo. Private companies should just provide the actual broadband service.

And laying down Fibre will have to be done eventually anyway. You might as well get it done and over with.

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Tom
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suggesting rural areas might be served by wireless technolgies.

Is there any usable spectum space left after they sold off everything so people could watch youtube videos on their cell phones?

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Paris Hilton

@AC Re: Most of the cost made up from digging

<sarcasm>Yes, and then we could ship them to cotton plantations in the New World to make Britain great again!</sarcasm>

Barring thinly-veiled racist idiots, the main problem I can see with this is the caps that ISPs deem reasonable at the moment. With a modest ten-fold increase in download speeds (say 80-100mbps for FTTC) could we expect a ten-fold increase in the caps too? At 100mbps it wouldn't take long to burn through 50GB (which to me seem to be the 'fair-use' cap most 'unlimited' ISPs impose). Beyond downloading things like movies or other rich media content, I can't see much point in increasing the speeds for home broadband. Web browsing won't be much quicker, so the only point I can see is for downloading big-ass files. And well all know that ISPs really don't like us downloading big-ass files...

Paris, because she loves fibre in her cabinet...

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Rural areas

Maybe people who live in the more isolated rural areas aren't really that worried about having a fast internet connection anyways. They probably moved there to get away from it all anyways...

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Anonymous Coward

Web sites designed for gigabit links

Hurrah! I shall enjoy using those on my scorching 350k ADSL link, even more than I currently enjoy watching videos on the BBC news site that are greyed out with a spinny thing spinning even while they play underneath.

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Go

speaking from the rural area....

Give me a jack hammer and I'd quite happily dig up the whole of my street for this type of speed. Although the jump from dial up to fibre might put me into shock, still I'm sure it would be worth it.

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Ash

We don't need this.

Give us the 1Mb / 2Mb / 8Mb / 24Mb we CURRENTLY have a contract for, WITHOUT the limitations.

We don't use any more than this anyway.

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why are we such suckers for a catch-phrase?

Call something a "divide" or portray a group as "victims" and immediately the population is manipulated into thinking "Oh those poor unfortunate people, we MUST do something to help them!". If animals are involved (provided they're fluffy, with big brown eyes) then being flooded with cash, help and headlines is virtually a certainty.

On the list of things people actually need, internet access is way down - alongside lemon scented wipes, chrome-plated cheese knives and fluffy dice. When compared with such things as food, shelter, medicines and education being able to google for pr0n doesn't even register. What we need is a bit more of a reality check and fewer guilt-driven vested interests.

Personally, I'm a victim of chocolate-poverty. I haven't had a bar of fruit'n'nut for weeks - please give generously,

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@ The Government should lay it down.

No.

We'd like it to function reasonably efficiently.

You don't involve Government in anything like that.

Though I suspect this will eventually get 'Quangoed', wherein less than 10% of the final 'costs' will actually have been spent on the system.

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Rob
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@Pete

Just been in contact with the Red Cross, they are loading a plane with Fruit'n'Nut as we speak, keep an eye on the sky ;)

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Tom
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What a pointless waste of technology

So what will ultrafast boradband bring?

Just more pointless noise on the line.

I was forced to get Digital TV recently as our analogue signal seems to be mysteriously fading.

Better TV? No way.

Parkinsons law applies here. The same limited data will be padded out with absolutely pointless 'styling' - and lost in the noise.

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Paris Hilton

"bring back penile labour"

I'm pretty sure that making prisoners break rocks and dig trenches with their penis would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Penal labour would work better: this is where you use prison inmates (a prison is a penal institution, not penile, though USians seem almost proud of their PMITA system).

Problem here is that a work gang needs a lot more guards to ensure nobody wanders off rather than back to prison.

It may work better as a form of reduced labour as a substitute to imprisonment for non violent crimes.

E.g.:

Either six months in prison or two months in a work gang. Choose one.

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Anonymous Coward

@Gareth : Penile labour

Ouch! That's just cruel and unusual surely!

Would they be ploughing a furrow with it?

I can see that this will result in the whole concept stalling, BT will have caveats forcing it to provide the same service to people living 600/km^2 as people living 0.1/km^2 thus rendering the whole thing uneconomic.

There's a downside to living in the city, there's a downside to living in the country.

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AC
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@breakfast

RUBBISH, I live in the middle of nowhere to escape from people and crime, not to be left in the stoneage with a 512kbs internet connection.

Roll fibre out to my place and I'll cetainly use it so yes please, upgrade the rural areas first as we totally missed the "super fast broadband" era.

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Wow

1 gigabit internet connection

Where do I sign up?

Because it wont be with the current lot

Sample letter included

"Due to your high volume of traffic, we setting your speed to 1 gigbit for the first 30 seconds of connection then limiting your speed to 1meg.

Please dont not exceded 100K of data a day or we will be forced to limit your traffic even more.

Thank you for your custom, and if have any problem , call us on 0898 76228267627628728 (calls charged at £2.50/min)"

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To: gareth

perhaps you mean penal labour - unless the idea of prisoners installing FTTH with their dicks turns you on or something

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@Gareth & Ash

Gareth I think you mean penal, penile is dick related, penal servitude is prison, penile servitude involves knee pads and lots of black leather ( that's what I've been told anyway).

Ash I totally agree with you, making the current system actually match what it says on the label would be a good start.

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Paris Hilton

@ Most of the cost made up from digging?

I am intrigued and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

I think the new broadband infrastructure should be done as quickly as possible, if they worry about the cost they can just forget about the countryside, nobody lives there who would care anyway.

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Joke

@gareth

"bring back penile labour" erm, no thanks...got enough sprog now.

@Pete - "If animals are involved (provided they're fluffy, with big brown eyes)" Keep your sheep fantasies out of this.

@breakfast - I would take high speed in a second. Moved to rural so i'm not on my neighbour's hump every day.

I'm seriously doubting that any government could do this any more effectively than they lay down the roads.

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Paris Hilton

all that

all that just to download porn faster?

Paris cause....yeah you know...

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1Gb to the home, 10Mb Per month Fair Usage Limit

You just know it'll happen. Especially if BT are involved.

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IT Angle

@Rob

"I can't see much point in increasing the speeds for home broadband"

And there will only be a worldwide demand for about 6 computers.

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1Gbit? Why?

Who cares about 1Gbit? Why, exactly, do I need that much bandwidth (how much music or pr0n can one household listen too / watch)? That's 128Mb of data per second, or the equivalent of a DVD quality movie every minute or two people streaming Blu-Ray quality digital content at the same time with no buffering.

If the only result of this digital divide is that people out in the countryside have to rent Blu-Ray disks by post, then I'm not really that worried about it. And anyway, we still have the current digital divide to deal with, with half of homes still stuck with crappy dial-up. The difference between 56Kbit, 10Mbit and 1Gbit is like the difference between a bike, an SUV and a minibus. 1Gbit sounds great, but it doesn't actually offer much advantage over 10Mbit simply because that extra transport capacity is needed so infrequently.

Lets get everyone in the country onto 10Mbit bandwidth at FULL CAPACITY before we start worrying about taking the technology to its pointless extreme.

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Happy

@Ash - We do need this

"Give us the 1Mb / 2Mb / 8Mb / 24Mb we CURRENTLY have a contract for, WITHOUT the limitations."

This is why We Do need FTTH/FTTC !

If they put in 1Gb/sec+ Fibre links in then the internet backbone would also be upgraded to handle the faster speed, therefore the ISP could happy Give you a 8Mb/sec unlimited connection as they would have another 1016Mb/sec of bandwidth left on your Fibre connection unused, therefore not needing cut speeds or use traffic shaping

Not only that but would be able to get the full 8Mb as it doesn't matter how far you are away from the exchange with fibre as much as it does with ADSL

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Re: 1Gbit for what?

1Gb to look good in the adverts. Then all the 1Gb links go to a 1000:1 concentrator and get fed down a 56k modem.

That appears to be how it works now, why should this change it.

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Taking the long view

"The market" won't do nation-wide roll-outs. You know all that crap about "the market" achieving savings by eliminating inefficiencies? Well, rural infrastructure is inefficient, so in a "free market" you won't get the same high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas as you get in cities.

On the other hand, differential pricing is inefficient in retail businesses. That means that big companies don't like to charge different prices in different parts of the the area they service. This means that there's a drag in deploying new services because if they only aim to service part of their marketplace (the high-density areas), they'll catch all sorts of grief from the sector that isn't being serviced, but if they do plan to provide the service to everyone, they have to inflate the price to subsidise the cost of servicing the low-density areas. The UK lags behind other countries in broadband adoption because "national" companies, such as BT, are being pulled in conflicting directions. And while they can put a 10-15 year plan in place for 21CN, they can't do a 15 year plan for "customer-facing" infrastructure, yet they face "cherry-picking" by smaller companies that don't have any "universal service obligations".

The UK needs to make a choice between a "market driven solution" (the rural areas can go whistle) or a "universal service solution" that will require a 10 year plan, and that will involve high density areas subsidising low-density areas. And that will require a "tax" on the cherry-pickers too, which will drive the costs up, and/or reduce the level of investment and delay the deployment of new technology even in high-density areas.

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@Economics ?

Is "Northern Rock" now an El Reg currency unit?

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waste of time

you could buy a few satalites for that and give everyone 2 way 250mbs broadband. ftth only lets you have 150mbs. and 5g will be here in a few years. with real upload speeds

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What's the point...

...of having such a super-fast connection, when web servers won't be able to deliver content to you at anything near your line speed? Or (as in my case) your upload speed is 1/10th of bugger all, and it counts towards your monthly DOWNLOAD quota? No P2P for me...

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Boffin

What use is 1gig domestic broadband?

On an 8meg connection I can download a large file at speeds of at least 400kbs and occasionally up to 1500kbs (that is NOT a typo, unless I have accidentally been put onto the 16meg scheme) whilst symultaneously maintaining an MSN link, a teamspeak link, and streaming video ... whilst the other computer runs Xfire and still gives me a good ping to an online multiplayer server (before you ask... I'm with Be*, dang it's fast, fairly consistent and thus blisteringly hot... any relation Sarah?). So... what on this festering Isle of quangoes would I do with a 1gig connection?... unless of course the upload is equally broad and enables me to stream myself the fuck out of here in a Tron kind of way.

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IT Angle

1 Gbit for what?

Computers became powerfull enough for email and word processing nearly 20 years ago, speed improvements have not made word processing better. The Internet became fast enough for web browsing at 512k ADSL or even 64k ISDN. Speed improvements beyond 2Meg have made no difference to this. YouTube works fine on a 2Meg line and reasonable fulls screen is ok on 3Megs. If you had 20Megs on low contention then you are pretty much sorted for everything of interest the Internet is likely to offer.

If you had 100Megs then you could get rid of your PC and simply have a terminal. If you had 1Gbit, what would really be different apart from wasting bandwidth. Clearly you can't run Office 2007 on a 486 but Office 95 was fine. Bloated applications will require the bandwidth if it's generally available. For those without the bandwidth they will find that previously perfectly useable websites will nolonger work well enough.

Without the digital divide then there will be no reason to upgrade.

Actually laying fibre in rural areas is easy. You just give the farmer free broadband and borrow his mole drain digger.

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"the long view" (AI Jones)

There's a lot of sense in what you say. In fact, LLU makes very little sense really - why have some areas with four(ish) replicated sets of competing Internerd access infrastructure which all need to be paid for when one set done properly across the country would have been quite sufficient and only cost a quarter(ish) of the price of four sets? Let retail ISPs buy bit-level access to that national network at sensible prices and let the retail ISPs compete to provide the services above and beyond basic connectivity between ISP datacentre and end user, and make sure the network operator has a clue (unlike the present incumbent, whose history of cluelessness in technology and pricing is clear for all to see).

Sadly, none of the "copper alternatives" have really caught on, nor are they likely to. SSE Telecon's powerline broadband is still waiting for its "full commercial rollout", PCCW/Now/Netvigator bought all the regional fixed wireless licences and then ignored them (and Ofcon stood by and let them), WISPs in general are looking very vulnerable...

Either some kind of broadband is a necessary utility in which case the politiicians need to impose a Universal Service Obligation (and maybe a diktat re regional pricing) to ensure that BTwholesale don't rip off the punters in areas the LLU/cable outfits won't go near. Or broadband is not essential, in which case the vast majority of us are still staying with ADSL2+ in LLU/cable areas and ADSL elsewhere for the foreseeable future, whatever H2O Broadband (fibre in the sewers) and the like would have you believe.

Meanwhile, BT's much overhyped 21CN isn't really about service improvements for the punter or better wholesale offerings for the retail ISP (regional pricing differentials for Wholesale Broadband Connect? how retrograde is that?), 21CN is just about cost reduction for BT. Is BTw's 21CN regional pricing likely to lead us (back?) to an era of "local broadband for local people" for those that care about quality as well as price - Zen serving Rochdale and the North of England, AAISP serving the area west of London, etc, and no one except BT Retail covering the areas without LLU/cable? Markets .ne. choices.

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It won't work.

At the moment your house is fast with an ethernet of 100MB running to the socket. Then the slow bit from your house to the exchange of anywhere from 512K, to 4 MB (I doubt 8 MB eally exists). This will just transfer the slow bit a few miles down the road to whatever is behind the exchange. That of course is the 21CN which isn't upto the task.

@Flatspot

Nah the trident is 25 million, the aircraft carriers were nearer 4 million. Remember we are cheap and went for small, none nuclear aircraft carriers and no catapults. So it is only 4 million dole subsidy to the dock workers of Glasgow.

Remember though, the govt saved northern rock with 100million. Saving their badly run ass from the fire. And saving the FSA a serious amount of legal action for not doing their job right.

Still same logic applies, badly run, poorly checked bank, some more nuclear missiles or country wide gigabit.

Toughie that one.

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Unhappy

One Gig

one Gb/s is presumably the maximum speed that the fibre could carry, if it existed. Presumably it's (much) the same as standard gigabit Ethernet over fibre. Its end user would get what he paid for, in terms of actual usable bandwidth to the internet. It's much the same with copper, except that if you live more than a mile or three from yourt exchange, the copper wire becomes the bottleneck and you won't see (24,8,4) Mbps however much you pay.

Does anyone remember them digging up all our roads to install cable? It would not have added much to the cost to pull dark fibres into place at the same time, and would have only required a government decree to make it happen. Unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher was PM at the time and let the cable companies save a few percent. Penny wise, pound foolish, short-term thinking, as always. In France, they did it right.

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Anonymous Coward

LLU

LLU is about competition rather than technology, capitalism rather than engineering.

>LLU makes very little sense really - why have some areas with four(ish) replicated

>sets of competing Internerd access infrastructure which all need to be paid for when

>one set done properly across the country would have been quite sufficient and only

>cost a quarter(ish) of the price of four sets?

Because you get a choice who you buy from.

>Let retail ISPs buy bit-level access to that national network at sensible prices

In a total monopoly what is a sensible price?

Does government set the price? Should we have a full command economy where a government department decides how much bandwidth we need and what it costs?

>make sure the network operator has a clue (unlike the present incumbent, whose

>history of cluelessness in technology and pricing is clear for all to see).

This is the hardest one, with no competition, how do you even know if they have a clue or not?

The present incumbent, incidentally, is born of the system you describe. Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

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Tom
Coat

1 Gig for what?

How about fully interactive 3D TV? That should eat bit of bandwith.

Mind you, rolling out FTTH will have to wait for the ISP's to upgrade their pathetic backhaul networks first. Why do you think they shape traffic today?

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Joke

U.S. Carrier Group deploys to deliver Fruit and Nut bar

You are not alone. The United States is a great friend to Pete. A carrier group has been dispatched to deliver your Fruit and Nut Bar, and this token presence of a AEGIS guided missile cruiser, 2 destroyers, an attack submarine, an aircraft carrier and its associated flotilla of logistics will remain in your littoral zone as a continued reminder of your valued friendship to us.

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