One in four 'too rural' for fast broadband, says study

Up to a quarter of the British population will not have access to broadband at faster than 2Mbps, according to a national study of existing optical fibre...

Up to a quarter of the British population will not have access to broadband at faster than 2Mbps, according to a national study of existing optical fibre links.

The study, by Vtesse Networks, showed that about a quarter of the population lives in villages and towns that are too small or too far from BT exchanges to make it economical for them to have access to "next generation" networks under present rules and regulations, said Aidan Paul, Vtesse's CEO.

Paul was speaking at a Conservative Party technology forum on barriers to broadband investment.

He said Vtesse had mapped the routes of optical fibre ducts and exchanges against Ordnance Survey maps of where people live. This was part of a project to provide Hatt, a Cornish village with 210 houses and 450 residents five kilometers from the nearest BT cabinet, with a "cable TV experience".

"As much as 20% to 25% of the population live in areas with between half and double Hatt's population that will not get broadband above 2Mbps without new investment in fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) because the copper lines are too long," he said.

Motorola's Andrew Gill told delegates that the government needed to keep its options open. He said projects he had run in Kenya had used fixed wireless links to provide broadband speeds of up to 20Mbps. "As a result schools and clinics in rural areas there have a much faster service than they do here," he said.

Gill said a lack of money had forced Kenyans to innovate to solve the problem. He said the fixed wireless technology allowed network owners to install a basic service and to upgrade it sector by sector as revenue and demand warranted.

Referring to barriers to investment, Paul said third parties did not have access to Openreach fibres and ducts on the same terms as BT received outside the existing cable TV footprint. BT's charges for local loops (between the premises and the roadside cabinet) were up to three times more expensive than in the Netherlands, Italy or Spain, he said.

Clare MacNamara, BT's head of Whitehall relations, denied this. She said BT was not advantaged by a preferential pricing scheme.

Paul said it was unfair that BT refused to supply, or let third parties supply, dark fibre to places like Hatt in order to protect its investment in fibre at places like Muswell Hill (where BT is installing a 40Mbps service).

Paul said the circumstances of different communities were different. This should be recognised by BT and the authorities by allowing more freedom in finding solutions to their particular problems, he said.

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