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Subsidised satellite broadband to fill BDUK connection gap

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said a satellite broadband service will reach 300,000 properties in remote parts of the UK

The government will roll out subsidised satellite broadband around the UK to service the needs of around 300,000 homes and businesses in remote areas of the country that currently cannot obtain a 2Mbps service.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will implement the scheme throughout December 2015 in collaboration with local councils, BT, and a number of local satellite broadband providers.

The offer forms part of a previous commitment to guarantee a 2Mbps service to everybody who wants one by the end of 2015. It does not, however, reflect the new universal service obligation of 10Mbps, announced in November 2015.

The government said it wants to help people with the slowest connections by boosting their speed immediately, ahead of any future improvements planned under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme.

 “Our rollout of superfast broadband has already reached an additional 3.5 million homes and businesses who would otherwise have missed out. We are making tremendous progress, but it’s a massive engineering project and won’t happen overnight,” said digital economy minister Ed Vaizey.

“This scheme offers immediate assistance to those homes and businesses in the most remote areas with the slowest speeds and is all part of our transformation of the UK’s digital landscape.”

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Voucher scheme                                                                                                         

Eligible homes and businesses will be able to request a voucher code from their local authority, which can then be used with selected retail or b2b ISPs to obtain the subsidised service up to a value of around £350.

In most cases this will cover the cost of satellite dish equipment and installation, although users will be responsible for remaining costs associated with installation and commissioning, and ongoing service charges for a minimum contract period.

The government initially floated the idea of a subsidised satellite service in the March 2015 budget, and put a test scheme into operation in parts of East Anglia and Yorkshire early in the autumn.

Fit for purpose?

However, while satellite is able to provide a solid service, and can meet the government’s definition of superfast broadband – 24Mbps – in some cases, it still comes in for criticism due to usage limits and problems with latency. It can also be adversely affected by weather conditions.

In the past many commentators have suggested satellite broadband can only ever be a stopgap measure and warned against the government using it as a convenient means to brush the concerns of the final 5% under the carpet.

Writing in Computer Weekly earlier in December, Neil Fraser, communications and information provider and leader at satellite service provider ViaSat UK, said that the image of satellite as an expensive and slow service that needed a vast antenna to be of any use was “woefully out of date”.

However, even Fraser conceded that satellite was not necessarily the right solution for every part of the UK suffering from poor connectivity, and said a mix of services was needed.

“A combination of technologies will help ensure that all potential areas are covered and that there is redundancy in case of one or more parts of the system failing,” he said.

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