The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is set to launch a satellite broadband scheme in rural parts of Suffolk and West Yorkshire, and will issue connection voucher codes to help those deemed eligible get online.
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Similar to the ongoing Connection Voucher scheme for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in urban areas, the government’s plan is to help consumers cover the often heavy upfront costs of installing dishes and equipment capable of receiving satellite broadband. Funding will come from a £60m pot made available to deliver the Universal Service Commitment of 2Mbps.
Following setup, homes and businesses receiving the service from one of four providers – one of which will offer a 30Mbps service – will have to pay a monthly subscription cost of around £25.
The plan was first hinted at in the March pre-Election Budget, when chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne laid out plans to introduce a scheme – alongside local authorities – to help subsidise the cost of installing superfast-capable satellite broadband.
The government claims satellite could meet the needs of about a fifth of those properties categorised as the final 5% that will not be covered by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).
It has long been anticipated that the government’s preferred solution to meet the Universal Service Commitment would end up being satellite, particularly when it came to addressing the needs of the final 5%.
However, satellite broadband has been heavily criticised, particularly by people living in remote parts of the UK, for not offering comparable speeds to FTTC broadband, and for being more susceptible to latency and contention issues and unexpected downtime during periods of bad weather, for example.
Broadband expert and editor of comparison site thinkbroadband.com Andrew Ferguson described the prospect of satellite broadband as tantalising for many, but said that while it was capable of providing speeds that meet the government’s definition of superfast, that would not necessarily mean users could take advantage of it in the same way as a fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) or fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) service.
“Satellite broadband, while able to provide the speeds it suggests, comes with various usage limits, meaning if you want to enjoy gorging on streamed TV boxsets you will need the most expensive packages at over £60 per month,” said Ferguson.
“We hope the current and future UK government does not consign the final 5% to decades of satellite-based connectivity, but will invest serious effort and money into ensuring good superfast broadband is available.”
Ferguson also criticised the connection voucher approach, describing it as a “sticking plaster” and warning that the government would end up wasting public funds on new vouchers every few years as internet infrastructure technology continued to advance.