Rural broadband

All those packets of data on the internet pass around the globe as pulses of light in optical fibre, across oceans and countries as light or sometimes as waves in line-of-sight microwaves, then as to the local exchange from where they continue in the same way if you are in a city or a new build urban development, all bright and shiny and at or near the speed of light. If you are not in a new-build, or not in a city, once the packets get to your local exchange they run to your nearest telegraph pole or underground connection in copper. In our case they then connect to the house via a piece of edwardian copper with the bandwidth of a bit of wet string. (See http://nrg.cs.ucl.ac.uk/mjh/string.html).

The asymmetric part of ADSL means that the bandwidth of the connection is split to give about ten times the capacity (Speed) to downloads that it gives to uploads. For most people, who mostly surf the net, watch YouTube or iPlayer, and receive lots of junk e-mail this is fine and dandy and we only notice a bit of slowness when sending e-mails with photos attached. On a good day, when everyone else in Hay is out or has a power cut, I can get 6mbps (million bits per second) download speed, the rest of the time it’s nearer 2mbps. Fairly predictably I can get 50kBps (thousand bytes per second, where a byte is 8 bits plus a couple for checking) on an upload day or night. This equates, roughly, to 500kbps or around a tenth of the download capacity. Pushing 4,000 songs up this feeble, constricted pipe made my poor Mac struggle for nearly two weeks and it often got quite hot with the effort.

As I imagine it, this means that all the incoming data packets come flashing round the world, only to get near my house and collide with each other like keystone cops as they try to get down the last leg, piling up somewhere waiting. All the outgoing packets stagger up the wire to the telegraph pole and then find open roads along which they can race. For this poor capacity we rural users pay exactly the same as those in towns or cities getting much better service. I know there are increased costs to service provision to dispersed communities, and I also know that we are lucky to be served with broadband at all here as many rural areas are not, but it’s still not good enough. The situation only arises because as an early adopter of the telegraph / telephone we have a large and unwieldy infrastructure which took ten years to upgrade all the exchanges to digital and still hasn’t properly addressed the need to run fibre into every home (Or use some equivalent wireless transmission). In many asian countries with no landline telephone network, they have 3G mobile and 100mbps broadband commonly available, leapfrogging us europeans by a technical generation.

In a day I could have copied all the songs to a thumb drive and given it to someone in a better served area, and they could have uploaded for me. It would almost have been quicker by post.

I therefore demand that somebody do something immediately to provide proper, modern high-speed broadband to we rural users, just in case I ever have to upload 4,000 songs to iCloud again and don’t fancy waiting two weeks for it to happen. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, do you?

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