back to article Lords blast UK.gov's fixation on broadband speed over reach

The British government's broadband policy is failing to create a built-to-last national network because it is too fixated on speed, a House of Lords committee has concluded. An 80-page report entitled Broadband For All - An Alternative Vision released this morning by peers sitting on the communications panel - having heard from …

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Damn right

We don't need 100Mbit connections in every city. We need reliable 2-10Mbit connections in every village.

We also need to force all infrastructure owners to open up their network to competition. I'm looking at you, Virgin Media.

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Re: Damn right

Hear, hear. And I'd far rather have a 10Mb link that actually provides 10Mb 24x7 than one that syncs at 100Mb but slows to a crawl when the neighbours' kids get home.

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Re: Damn right

Thumbs up from me on this one. Fed up with getting 4mbps during the day and then watching it slow to a 1-1.5mbps connection in the evening. Stops me from helping to create jobs by buying a Netflix or Lovefilm subscription as I just wouldn't be able to watch the movies.

As to Virgin opening up their network, that would be nice especially since as the sole cable provider in the UK they have a monopoly which unlike BT's never gets referred to the Competition Commission or OfCom

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Re: Damn right

FWIW. Lovefilm and Netflix are U.S. companies, that pay no tax in the UK and the only jobs you will be creating is middle manager jobs in the US and exploitative ones in their Indian call centres.

If you are worried about creating jobs, then perhaps you should subscribe to SKY. British and at least their call centres are in the UK.

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Re: Damn right

Jobs are jobs where ever in the world. We are living in a global economy now.

Anyway LoveFilm and NetFlix advertise here in the UK, that's UK jobs for you.

How much the companies pay in tax is neither nor there. The economy would be better off if they weren't paying tax at all.

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Re: Damn right

Naw, my 15 year old son was very disappointed with the internet speeds

in England (he is Swedish).

We are well behind in this country, out internet crawls......

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Re: Damn right

So, what's that big office in Peterborough? And where do the discs get sent from?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Damn right

"We need reliable 2-10Mbit connections in every village.....say rural middle classes."

There, finished it for you. Incidentally, how would open up VM's infrastructure to competition help your goal of speeding up rural pr0n downloads? 99% of VM's network is urban.

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Re: Damn right

Middle class? I suppose, but it doesn't really feel like it.

Rural? No. I'm a Virgin Media customer living in the centre of Sheffield.

Just because I can get a service doesn't mean people living in the arse end of Cornwall shouldn't.

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Re: Damn right

"Just because I can get a service doesn't mean people living in the arse end of Cornwall shouldn't"

I don't believe anybody said they shouldn't. But at the standard national rates charged for broadband, it isn't economic to build the infrastructure to give Cornish peasants rapid access to the internet, and the only way round that is to charge them a lot more either up front, or with higher monthly charges, or for townies like you to subsidise the people of Cornwall.

Now, its good if you want to pay extra so the people of Cornwall can download their grumble faster, but there's other things that are more expensive for the Cornishes - water and sewerage charges are a whopping 50.4% higher than Yorkshire Water charge you. Now I'd say water was more essential to life than the internet, so are you going to volunteer to pay extra to reduce that bill for them? Food is generally more expensive in Cornwall (due to the structure of the local retail industry as much as anything), so does that justify your money too? Electricity is about 6% more expensive in the South West, judging by DECC average paymanent data, so there's another call on your money. You don't mind, do you?

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Re: Damn right

I don't think Virgin should be forced to do anything. They pioneered fibre optic BB while BT sat their with their begging hand out pan handling to the government (i.e. you and me) while providing a grotesquely inadequate service and paying themselves shed loads of money. I don't agree with government appropriating private assets...the BT network on the other hand was paid for by British tax payers and remains our property as far as I am concerned.

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Mushroom

Re: Damn right

No. Telewest and NTL put the cables down. Virgin Media just bought it.

Now they're sitting on an ageing network that they have full control over and have no incentive to expand. Within the network they face next to no competition since BT won't put cable down in areas saturated by VM customers.

I suppose it could be worse, I could live in Hull.

@Ledswinger:

So first I was a rich middle class country type, now I'm a townie and the people in the villages are peasants?

You're right about water, fuel and food prices, but watch your damn tone.

Besides, wouldn't boosting the economy in that area by making it a viable place to run a business generally help the situation with more vital utilities?

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Re: Damn right @Richard 81

I'll ignore your various high horse comments, other than to declare that if you wish to take offence then I'm pleased to be of assistance.

"Besides, wouldn't boosting the economy in that area by making it a viable place to run a business generally help the situation with more vital utilities?"

Welcvome back to the topic. Sadly the answer is no, unless you plan to increase the population density significantly, which is the key factor for all utilities, and why we have difficulty with the cost of services in the first place. In the highly unlikely event that rural broadband increased rural population density, you'd still need to renew all the other utility infrastructure at vast cost because the installed assets generally cannot cope with any material growth, in exactly the same way that the existing telephony assets can't deliver broadband. The cost of renewing in particular water and sewerage assets from a hypothetical doubling of rural population in a medium sized village from say 300 to 600 people would be around a million quid. Who pays for that? You could say the same about gas or electricity infrastructure (although for cost reasons gas isn't widely distributed in rural areas of course).

To put this in perspective, the cost of new rural utilities is about ten or twenty fold higher than either new or incremental urban provision, and would add about 25% to the basic construction cost of the new rural houses that would be required. Adding one house here or there will invariably be manageable by existing infrastructure, but that doesn't then help your broadband costs.

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Unhappy

The power that be concentrate on the 'fastest' speed to 2 main reasons, in my opinion. First it's a nice headline, "The UK now has the fastest broadband in Europe, with speeds upto 1GB" sounds really good. The fact that you can only get 1Gb if you live in a 200 square metre part of London can be kept quiet.

Second, it's easier to fudge: Broadband can move from 'upto 8mb' (average speed 2.51 mb) to 'upto 16mb' (average speed 2.53 mb) quite cheaply and easily, with OFCOM's blessing as well

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Alert

We're already pretty good on 'reach'. We've had broadband of at least half a meg available to almost every property for at least a decade. It's the NGA stuff that looks like having restricted availability and the fundamental problem there is that customers don't want to pay the kinds of sums needed to make it worthwhile in that 'final third'.

Either those customers pay more (*) or the government is going to have to step in on a major scale. Half a billion pounds was never going to be enough for that project and was always a bit dubious. What's needed is far more than that but who gets it? I don't know that we can trust government or private business to make best use of those funds.

Allowing the market to decide is likely to be the most cost effective solution but also unlikely to give NGA to everyone.

I'm also unclear why we should be looking to move broadcasting over to the internet. The current system is working perfectly well and technically is more efficient (even with multicasting if/when that ever appears) and I don't think we'd gain much useful bandwidth by handing that over to mobiles.

The last comment I'd make: If you want to see what a successful roll-out of NGA looks like when a private company gets 'government' funds look at Cornwall. No - it doesn't rely on BDUK. It's a partnership between BT and the EU. Just sayin' :D

(*)Cost is probably a complex issue. I doubt that location makes all that much difference really - rather it's the number of users it is shared over that matters. £500k to upgrade a town of 20,000 is one thing but £200k for a village of 500 is another altogether. The village might actually be cheaper but the business case worse (£25 per townie, £400 per village yokel).

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@AndrueC

Half a Meg is NOT broadband, its just an always-on, slightly-faster, modem (unless you're with TalkTalk in which case it's not even always-on). I challenge you to watch even a low-res YouTube clip on just half a Meg - I never managed it.

Broadband BEGINS at 2 Meg (and it always has). At that point, a single user (only) can probably use iPlayer in real-time, or watch a video clip on the BBC web-site without it stuttering too badly.

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Re: @AndrueC

> Broadband BEGINS at 2 Meg (and it always has)

Bollox. I don't think there's ever been a universally accepted definition within the telecoms industry. The only thing you could probably get everyone to agree on is the use of multiple frequencies for signal.

Wikipedia (for what that's worth) claims that 256kb/s or higher is 'broadband'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadband#In_telecommunication

I would suggest that if you don't think half a meg is broadband you probably haven't ever used an analogue modem. There is a huge difference between 40kb/s and 512kb/s. The former is barely (if at all) usable to browse the web these days whereas 512kb/s would be more than adequate for most activities.

I agree that users these days would benefit from more. My own feeling is that 10Mb/s per household member would be a practical target but the hugely successful take-up of the web in the UK proves that we have had very capable internet access for many years now. There is far instance a far higher take-up in the UK than Japan despite their higher headline speeds.

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Re: @AndrueC

Well, okay maybe not far higher these days but we are still ahead:

http://www.internetworldstats.com/top20.htm

UK - 61 million people, apparently 52.7m online. 85%

Japan - 127 million people, apparently 101m online. 79%

So if the goal here is to get the most people online - which country is winning, there?

Oh and:

US - 311m. 245m online. 79%

I doubt we're number one but on a pure %ge basis we seem to be beating two of our strongest competitors by quite a large margin. Tell me again how the current network is 'unfit for purpose', please.

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Re: Re: @AndrueC

> Bollox. I don't think there's ever been a universally accepted definition within the telecoms industry.

In the good-old-days of analogue modems (been there, done that, 300 Baud acoustically-coupled), broadband began at 2 Meg, because that was the point where you got your own bit of CoAx cable at the exchange. Typically a hideously expensive leased line. Anything less was just multiples of 64kb/s speech circuits on twisted pairs.

I don't diasgree that 512 kb/s is vastly better than 28.8 kb/s, but just because it's better doesn't make it "Broad".

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Re: @AndrueC

> I don't diasgree that 512 kb/s is vastly better than 28.8 kb/s, but just because it's better doesn't make it "Broad".

As I said no-one is likely to agree on the definition. However that wasn't the main thrust of my post. I was addressing the main point of the article which seemed to be implying that the UK had a problem with overall coverage and you seemed to be claiming that anything less than 2Mb/s is useless.

Since 85% of the population currently have an internet connection and since that appears to be higher than countries like Japan and the US I don't see how anyone can complain that we have a problem with coverage. Not unless they are suggesting that the great British public are so stupid as to be willing to pay for something they can't use.

In fact according to Wikipedia (again, sorry :) ):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_Internet_users

Sort by %ge and we have the ninth highest penetration. So why is someone lambasting us over it?

Yes the network could be improved. Needs to be improved. But we have too much talking and too little action already. Let's not distract people by complaining about one of the few things we've got right.

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Re: @AndrueC

...broadband began at up to 2 Meg...

There, fixed that for you.

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Re: @AndrueC

Broadband BEGINS at 2 Meg (and it always has).

Not so. I was designing and developing ISDN exchanges in the 1980s and they were considered to be 'broadband' by the telecos and suppliers, so your statement is not quite accurate.

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@Weeble

> Broadband BEGINS at 2 Meg (and it always has).

I agree with your sentiment but disagree with your conclusion. ADSL works by encapsulating communication voice into 0-4kHz range (or the 'voice band'), and data into the ~26-1100 kHz range (or the 'broad band'). Technically therefore all ADSL, including piffling 256k connections are 'broad band'.

OTOH, if you use the modern meaning of 'broadband' - an internet connection capable of watching streaming video - then clearly it is not.

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Holmes

The Lord on Radio 4 this morning, saying that no one needed speeds of 100Mbit and that 2Mbit was all most people needed, sounded much like Bill Gates in the 1980s saying that computers would never need more than 640kb of memory.

Id like to think our (un)elected parliamentarians would have more vision.

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Anonymous Coward

Ok, that's a statement that won't age particularly well, but as a basic idea, right now, it's sound. At 2M most things work; sub-2M, it's a struggle. I'm running a house with an internet-based business, a teleworker, VOIP connections and two teenage boys with Steam accounts, all on 750k. The likes of iPlayer and film streaming are things we can only dream of.

Getting people from 0.5M to 2M has much more effect on lives and working practices than getting those on 25M to 100M.

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E

Yeah I heard the ex CTO of BT talking. Although he was a jargon spewing, pompous windbag full of waffle about "connected socieities" he had a really good point: just because iPlayer works on a home computer doesn't make teh intertubes adequate for the next decade. In and among his waffely sociology and soap box testes, he did actually say that the government needed to be more forward thinking about net infrastructure. Although I am not sure why a tech provider that should be investing in this tech is waiting for yet more hand outs from the government to allow them to slap eachothers backs and redirect teh money into a tax efficient loan company in the Caymans.

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Facepalm

Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset. The government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy. The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come

Who'da thunk it eh? The UK Government dealing with something technical and failing to plan or understand it properly. Just turned my world upside down that has.

</sarcasm>

As others have said, what we need is a reliable infrastructure. Headline speeds are great for the providers and the politicians, but they just don't address the issues. If they really want TV to be broadcast over t'internet we're going to need better speeds, sure, but we'll also need a network that can cope with much heavier demand. OK TV can be achieved with multicast, but the point remains the same.

On the other hand, I'd hate to have to go back to 2MB!

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I'd like to go UP to 2MB !

At present it is 1.91 (just tested) with 0.27 upload.

In the evening it will be around 0.9 down....

That's village life...

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Currently I am getting 0.027Mb/s download.....

And I have 21 bt fone or openzone units operating near me (antenna on the pc)

Most on channel 11 or 1.

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Holmes

Sole provider

An awful lot (majority?) of the telephone exchanges round the country outside of the cities ONLY have BT-provided wholesale broadband - so it doesn't matter if you use BT, Sky, Virgin or any of the host of other ISP's: you're still using BT broadband as that's all there is....

Some of the ISP's (O2 springs to mind) simply say that if you live in one of these "market 1" exchanges, then you simply cannot have their service.

Whilst there's no competition in the exchange, a) broadband is more expensive and b) there's no incentive for BT to upgrade the kit in the exchange to provide better/faster equipment!

Comparing "download" speed on its own is also a little arbitrary: whilst a 7Mb/s DOWNLOAD speed might be adequate (or even quite good), being hamstrung to .5Mb/s UPLOAD speed is likely to be limiting to a business (and actually many domestic users too with the growing prevalence of "cloud based" applications!)

Personally, I'd do away with the ability to have an analogue phone line if I could have more bandwidth for broadband to the house itself - and simply use a VOIP phone when I need it (I've seen places in the US that use this arrangement).

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Stop

TV Licence?

If TV is to be delivered only over the Internet, people who want to watch TV will be forced to get an Internet connection. Does this mean the TV licence fee will be scrapped in order for people to pay for their connections? What about people with connections currently, but with low bandwidth limits?

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Re: TV Licence?

Forced to get an Internet connection if they don't have one currently, obviously.

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Re: TV Licence?

The law will also have to be changed.

Currently you only need a tv licence if you watch a live video stream on the internet.

You do not need one to watch iplayer repeats or programs that are not being broadcast at the same time as you are receiving them over the net.

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds like a forced internet tv license waiting to happen..

The government & industry should consider the long term possibility of switching terrestrial broadcast from spectrum to the internet.

The government & industry should leave the broadcast tech as is, and the tv license as is, because i can still do what i'm doing now, (not paying for it)

i believe everyone should have access to the internet however as it will prove useful to most people at some point, and i doubt i could do without it atm.

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Gimp

First Principles...

Really what the Lords are arguing for, without saying it, is a nationalised fibre to the home (or at least fibre to the cabinet/ community hub/whatever you want to call it) - something like what they're up to in Oz.

Fine, but you have to be prepared to pay for it.

As for some of the comments above asking for a reliable 10Mbit that doesn't slow down in the evenings- yes, you can have that but be prepared to pay for better contention ratios on your connection. You can't expect to pay for a cheap connection and not get slow down at busy periods. And be prepared for higher taxes for your 10Mbit - in a surprising number of rural areas, given the distance to the exchange and network topology (lines connected directly to the exchange etc) either FTTH or a clever fixed wireless solution is your only hope, both of which would require significant public money to subsidise the capital cost.

BDUK have done a pretty good job within the parameters they have been set by politicians - i.e. budget available, state aid rules, targets to hit etc. Any significant change in the implementation will need to start with a change agreed by Jeremy Hunt (policy) and George Osborne (cash available).

My view? Scrap High Speed Rail and use the cash to build a proper FTTH network..

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Re: First Principles...

Absolutely - that Lords committee sounds like it's full of a bunch of amateurs who haven't got much idea of the real practical issues involved. So they think dark fibre to streetside locations will somehow fix the issue by allowing any operator to install their equipment there leaving them with the tricky likttle issue of the "last mile". Just how many operators do they think will be prepared for the immense investment and maintenance to put in street cabinets, especially in areas with relatively low densities? Of course you might get this in some of the more densely populated areas (at the cost of having yet more cabinets cluttering up the streets), but that will only increase competition in well served areas - it won't do anything for the less densely populated ones. The only way to serve those areas will either be with differential pricing (and see a politician support that), or by cross-subsidy using either public money or a mechanism which forces it to happen in the private sector (which we have some semblance of now on the copper loop as the wholesale price is standardised and bears no relevance to the higher cost of rural provision).

As it is, the Lord's proposal seems more likely to increase competition in well served areas and leave poorly served ones worse off. If public subsidy is to be used, you need some notion of a complete solution, not one that doesn't tackle the most expensive part of the whole exercise.

Also, of course, speed matters up to a point. Retail products, such as HiDef multi-channel video require severl 10s of mbps, whilst businesses will increasingly need symmetrical speeds in the 10s or even 100s of mbps, especially if modern IT services increasingly move to the cloud.

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Re: First Principles...

@IHWT - that was me asking for a reliable 10Mb, and I agree you need to pay a bit extra for reduced contention - and I do, and it works (TalkTalkBusiness with a LLU ADSL2+ in the local exchange = £28+VAT for line rental, unlimited 17+1Mb broadband and bundled phone calls). I'm in the sticks, so not holding my breath for FTTC, let alone FTTH.

As for HS2 - spot on!

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Happy

Make the objectives easier.

short range lan,voip access and email /vpn storage servers in the pubs, long range wlan in the churches(Just stick an ariel on top).At least the politicians might understand this.

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Alert

Re: Make the objectives easier.

I think one of the successful small scale trials in North Yorkshire uses a village hall as the base for one of the fixed wireless transmitters. Thats the easy part - the difficultly is paying to install the backhaul, getting a viable business model so ongoing subsidy isn't needed and being able to provide a choice of providers at a sensible price - all possible but very difficult to sort out for all rural areas.

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Re: Make the objectives easier.

Top post.

Sadly most of the commentards are still bickering about what speed constitutes real broadband, rather than considering a solution.

You'd have thought that given the no-end of interested parties, regulators, and claimed government interest, that they'd have been able to sort out the organisational issues you highlight, and to offer this as one or two standardised solution packages?

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Re: Make the objectives easier.

There are some great community organisations coming together to make this happen, but its surprisingly difficult to make standardised packages work for the whole country, and tick all of the boxes that we'd want (FTTH where possible, future proof upgrade path if not, choice of ISPs available, sensible cost to the punter, decent amount of backhaul, not extending the BT monopoly etc).

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how about some mains sewage or gas.

Its the 21st century and i still have to get a man to come drain my septic tank and ensure i have enough oil to see me through the winter

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Instead of talking among ourselves

...... any national infrastructure gets so wrapped up in regulations and bylaws and committees and inquries and on and on and on - so any project winds up taking four times as long as it should and costing squillions more than it should.

We should to talking to the wasters and committee men and time-servers who just looooooove their little positions of power. Talking as in, "Step down or get knocked down."

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Big Brother

It's a trap I tells yer....

<conspiracy>

The more people who get on line, the easier it is to keep track on everybody.

</conspiracy>

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FAIL

Not too long there was an estimated figure for the cost of running fibre to every area of the UK.

This is figure is 3 times less than a pointless high speed link that is being built - but which no-one will ever use because the tickets to use it will be extortionately high in order to recover costs.

It always saddens me to see the spoilt brats who do the "I have great broadband - I don't care about the rural areas - it's not my problem" apparently - 90% of this comment page is full of them.....

I sincerely hope in that case - the next time you are flooded - the insurers refuse to pay out - and we can all point and laugh that you were stupid enough to buy a property on a known flood plain...... not the same you say? Yup - yup it is - you are essentially saying "it's your fault you don't have good broadband - because you choose to live where you do" - I'm essentially saying the same! It's your fault you got flooded - you chose to live where you did - now suck it up and pay through the nose.

Complete bunch of idiots - the lot of you (the ones that don't appreciate it is a real problem - and you'll just have to pay 10x what the rest of us pay - is not a viable solution)

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Megaphone

@Andrew Jones 2

No, you fail to understand that your lack of off-the-shelf, low cost broadband is not my problem, and that it is indeed a viable solution to suggest that you stick with what you've got, or you pay extra for what you want.

I expect my property insurance to reflect risk factors (such as higher crime risk because I live in a town, the condition, location etc ), I have no expectation that rural dwellers should pay more for my specific risks for any of those aspects. The same applies to motor insurance, where I pay a higher premium for living in a town.

As it is, rural dwellers get subsidised by the urban masses for the costs of their water, swerage, electricity, post, education, medical services etc etc. Any common service provided free or at a standardised cost ignores the higher cost of delivery in low density populations.

I'm so sorry that's not enough for you - is there anything else you'd like us town dwellers to pay for?

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Happy

Google Fibre - pay $300 American dollars and free broadband. They're rolling it out in some middle of nowhere, America - 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. Perhaps we should write a nice letter to them and ask them to sort out the UK (it's a lot smaller than America, probably do it in a couple of months). I would totally pay £300 English sterling for that deal.

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Oh, the 300 bucks is for laying the wire into your house.

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Unhappy

and nobody's truly on the hook for the first mile

In my village we are a fair distance (2-4km) from the exchange, yet the actual speeds achieved vary significantly from house to house, and not in a way that correlates with distance. It also depends a lot on the weather (worse after extended periods of rain) so I suspect that the quality of the copper cables plays a big factor; it's not just contention upstream from the exchange and how your ISP shapes traffic onto the core backbones. I am one of the lucky ones with 5-6mbs but others (some of whom are closer) struggle to get to 2mbs.

But if you try and complain to your ISP that your service is sh*te you just get bounced around and nobody seems to be able to kick BT into actually going out and sorting out the copper so that we all get a consistent "up-to" speed. Even if BT is your ISP you get passed between the various departments and none will take accountability for it.

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Re: and nobody's truly on the hook for the first mile

Look, whilst sometimes the quality of BT's cabling leaves something to be desired, most commonly it is the wiring inside your own house that is the biggest issue. If you don't have a replacement NTE5 faceplate on your master socket and plug your router into that socket, then you will be getting a sub-optimal line performance.

This will translate into low line synch speed, intermittent errors and increased susceptibility to atmospheric conditions.

My old boy lives 8km from the exchange and had difficulty maintaining any connection until I fitted one of these. A few calls to BT to get them to reset the line training, and he now gets 3.5 MB.

Incidentally, this is what BT used to install when all installations were an engineer install. These DIY broadband installations work fine when there aren't any problems, but they should really insist on a faceplate installation as soon as there are any complaints.

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