Sunday, April 06, 2003

Remote Broadband

I had the good fortune this week to spend some time with Angela Vivian down in Somerset. Angela styles herself TOL, or "The Old Lunatic", although I'd see the world a much saner place if we all had half of her wisdom, energy and passion. First item of the day was a local session to see how local businesses might enable broadband in the area - not ADSL especially, but broadband of one kind or another. Seems that there are quite a few local businesses that could benefit. If you've visited this part of the world, you'll see that Wedmore doesn't seem to lack for big houses so even though it's rural and remote, it's not poor. Tim Wotton of RABBIT (Remore Area Broadband Inclusion Trial) was there with an offer of a small sum of money to every business that wanted to kickstart a local attempt to get some bandwidth. The rules for getting the money appear relatively simple - a rarity in the case of government handouts. Tim's funding comes from the dti's pot of around £30 million announced a few months ago to stimulate remote broadband. Although Tim doesn't steer you towards a particularly solution, one of the conditions of funding is to report back to him on how things are going - response time, customer service, contention - and he plans to publish a review of which providers offering what technologies are doing best. To get the money though, you must be about to install - if you've already done it, you don't get a penny. Exenet were also there, presenting on some of the options for getting faster kick in your net connection, whether it's satellite, some kind of wireless, cable or good old-fashioned fibre. I've been corresponding with some people recently about the relative merits of ADSL over other technologies and also with people who are fed up with the service that they receive from BT on ADSL. These are the kind of people that send my boss abusive mails and, often as not, I get those mails to do deal with. Brightens up my day sometimes, other times not. There are probably two important things to know about ADSL - (1) it has a high contention ratio or about 50:1 meaning that if you're unlucky enough to live near people who are Kazaa-addicts, you may find your bandwidth doesn't look as good as the ads, and (2) the reason it can be had for £30 or whatever these days is because there's next to no customer service with it. If you plan to make ADSL mission critical for your business and are likely to lose revenue if it's not there, don't get a cheap solution - look for other options, because when you send me a mail to complain, I won't be impressed. Back to Angela, who plans to have the community wired up on or before the end of June of this year. Seems like it's about do-able to me as long as she stays focused on it. The problem with organising local initiatives such as this is that they need someone to sit in the driving seat and make it happen. If you don't have someone like Angela, you're going to struggle. And there aren't enough Angela's in the world.

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