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UK ISP TalkTalk Criticises Rural Need and Demand for Superfast Broadband

Posted: 23rd Oct, 2010 By: MarkJ
talktalk uk broadband and phone ispInternet and phone provider TalkTalk UK has warned the government not to spend part of its £530m broadband fund on helping rural areas get superfast internet access. The often outspoken ISP claimed that preventing the Digital Divide from getting worse would be the "wrong focus".

According to TalkTalk, those living in rural areas will never need more than the governments weak Universal Service Commitment (USC), which seeks to bring a minimum broadband speed of just 2Mbps to everybody in the country by 2015. The USC does not promise good upload speeds, flexible usage allowances, low latency or affordability but that doesn't seem to concern TalkTalk.

TalkTalk's Executive Director Strategy and Regulation, Andrew Heaney, said:

"We wholeheartedly support the investment to get speeds up to a minimum of 2Mbps across the country – Lord Carter’s so-called Universal Service Commitment or USC. Hopefully, the funds will now be enough to meet this target and possibly increase the minimum floor. TalkTalk are working with BDUK and other operators to help make sure that consumers and taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck.

However, many are pushing for much of this public money to be spent on subsidizing ‘superfast broadband networks’ (aka next generation access) in more rural areas. We think that in such a tough economic climate this would be the wrong focus.

Instead, alongside the USC we think the funds should be focused on ‘digital inclusion’ – helping the 10m of our fellow citizens who do not use the Internet to start using it and enjoying the benefits it delivers. RaceOnline2012 estimate that using the Internet can save homes over £500 per year as well as helping to be better educated and informed and be more engaged with society and family. In some ways, being able to use the Internet is becoming as important as being able to read.

The simple maths show that spending on digital inclusion is the right priority. In rural areas NGA networks cost upwards of £1,000 per home passed. Based on experience elsewhere only 10% or 20% of homes might take up the new faster network. That means that it will effectively cost £5,000 to upgrade a home from 2Mbps to may be 40Mbps. For that same amount 10 or 20 people could be helped to use the Internet for the first time and enjoy the immense benefits it brings."

Most other opinions appear to disagree with TalkTalk and further suggest that 2Mbps will not be enough to keep up with modern demand by 2015. TalkTalk also forgets that many of the potential USC solutions could cost a similar amount per home passed (e.g. Satellite, BT BET etc.).

Smaller providers are often able to deploy superfast solutions for considerably less than the £1,000 figure stated above, which is frequently overlooked. Why install 2Mbps when you could have 20Mbps, 40Mbps or possibly even 100Mbps? Just ask Rutland Telecom or Fibrestream about that.

However nobody should be surprised by the comments. Towards the end of last year TalkTalk's boss, Charles Dunstone, referred to remote communities as if we were still living in Victorian times by suggesting that the then Labour government risked, "[subsidising] mostly richer rural households that can afford high-priced super-fast broadband services".
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