Auntie Beeb Strikes Again

There are times in every man’s life when aunties can be a little embarassing, even mortifying or once in a while just plain irritating, however there are others when you thank your lucky stars that Aunties are around to slap down wrong-doers, offer golden opportunities or just speak up for the common good. Auntie Beeb has just done some of the latter in its Have Your Say section: asking people to test their broadband speed and plot their location in the UK. Superb: finally an opportunity to have people give a true indication of broadband speeds as they really are. Go on have a go!

Ofcom Shoots to Kill

“Ofcom said the findings were unexpected, and signalled the end of fears of a “digital divide” between the countryside and built-up areas.” from the Guardian

Grrr. I cannot believe this. Such thorough-going ignorance of the real issue.  Yep, we’re all using BB, but “high speed”? In Colintraive & Glendaruel, the maximum speed, despite the providers’ claims is around half a meg, and would probably average at no more that 256kbps. Upload is paltry, 60 kbps. This is slow, and it is an economic brake. There is no getting around this and it represents the manifestation of the digital divide.

As part of the local development trust steering group’s agenda we have been considering how to improve the range and quality of broadband coverage and our conclusion? 3G if we can get it. In our view landline-based connectivity is always going to be compromised by the infrastructure despite the Scottish Government’s much vaunted and nearly online procurement strategy for the Last Mile.

And so, because our connectivity levels, where we can get them in rural areas, are low, and because there are significant numbers of people in rural areas who cannot get fixed line BB, there IS a digital divide. Ofcom’s  painfully inaccurate statement means any campaign for greater bandwidth and range in rural areas is effectively dead in the water.

But if you are still interested, there’s a great report written by Fyneside Media here, which has been submitted to the Scottish Broadcast Commission and argues for national provision of Superfast Broadband.

3G: The Rural Broadband Solution?

Browsing through the TimesOnline I came across this item about how Vodafone were opening up Broadband provision for all their customers on a monthly tarriff. For the rural user this is potentially a hugely exciting development particularly as it might mean doing away with copper for internet access and depending instead on the maturing mobile network. OK, so one has to admit that:

  1. presently mobile coverage here on the West Coast of Scotland is limited to 2.5G or GPRS which is the equivalent of a fast dial-up connection and;
  2. coverage is decidedly patchy in places – for example, I can get coverage on the 6th step of our staircase … and that is it for the house. If I go outside and walk around the corner I get not a bad signal, but I have a feeling that putting my office in front of a Grade B listed building isn’t going to be looked on too kindly by our local Planning Officers (Hi John)!


  1. the best provider out here for this area is in fact Vodafone;
  2. if it transpires that communities can negotiate mast upgrades and relays within their locality, and perhaps provide some of the capital cost of that then


Does it seem that I am a little over-excited by this? Well as I have mentioned on this site before my present broadband package is via satellite, with half a meg down and an eighth up. It costs £70 pcm, and the kit itself cost (gulp) £1,500+. If I could provide BB for my place via mobile phone for anything less than £70 pcm I would be very happy. Add to that of course that I’d have connectivity wherever I go and things start to look rosey.

And perhaps this starts to impact on the Scottish Government’s present broadband procurement strategy to cover the last mile. Aside from the fact the strategy represents a very welcome recognition by the department in question that BB is an economic driver, there are a couple of problems with this, particularly that any community of ten potential users or less ain’t going to get it (can’t remember whether that was an official statement by the Gov. or an unofficial by one of the consultants). Add to this that we’re still looking at a max. throughput of 512kbs for the foreseeable future on this procurement, and you start to see why this is still a reactive policy.

The creative, proactive strategy is to say, “In ten years time speeds of 50MB will be absolutely necessary to do business in the connected world so let’s step up to the mark and implement it now for everyone.” Vodafone’s announcement actually raises the mark for whoever implements the government’s policy, hopefully ensuring that bandwidth and speed are improved …

Scottish Executive to Procure Broadband for Everyone!

The Broadband Cluster Forum has born fruits: the Scottish Executive have just sent out a press release saying that they will be procuring a broadband solution for all those who are “Out of Reach” of conventional adsl broadband. Many in the Highlands and Islands will breathe a huge sigh of relief: out of the ambit of adsl, internet users have to depend on cranky copper to get online via dial-up (which is often disconnected seconds after a connection is made) or slow but very expensive satellite broadband. Both options have been deleterious both to economic growth and social inclusion.

Everyone who is out of reach is encouraged to register (if they have not done so before now) to qualify for a connection. The procurement process has begun but there are no promises as to the level of connectivity provided, nor the technology employed – all that is being said is that the broadband model should be sustainable and affordable. And if it is, if we can all get online at speed and persistently, it will have all sorts of positive economic and social ramifications for the area, and indeed Scotland. Initiatives like Radio Fyneside’s Out There For Argyll will only benefit from this, especially because we can now all plan on 100% population coverage for the country. Perhaps we’ll become the South Korea of the Northern Periphery!

And in the meantime, if this is representative of the SNP supporting rural communities we’re impressed!

More details are available here and comment from Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise and our MSP here.

Will We Ever Get Real Broadband for Rural Scotland?

In Glendaruel on the west coast, the lack of a quick enough ADSL connection made a potential house-buyer pull out of a house purchase – a family of three primary school age children were lost to the glen because there was no viable broadband connection. And if families like this don’t settle, the school is threatened. Once the school goes, what life is there left in the community?

Broadband is the issue for economic development in rural areas. Without it families will leave – and some who would’ve settled won’t even get here. As services are centralised and e-enabled, broadband will become more than a luxury of modern life, but a pre-requisite. Bandwidth (or how fast your connection is) will become the issue as PCs become terminals only – places to access your files and applications which are stored remotely, on a server. How can we expect our children to be educated if they can’t get a broadband connection at home? How can they possibly prepare for a career if one of the major tools and resources of our age is denied them?

So the Scottish Executive promised 100% coverage. Will they make it? Never. There’ll always be people who won’t get connected. But even those places which can get broadband are restricted. Certainly the larger exchanges get a 2mb connection, but the smaller ones can only manage 512kb or half a meg. In either case, this will not be enough. The internet is expanding into video, audio, interactivity and other bandwidth-hungry medias, and will continue to do so. Like the rule that states computer speeds will double every eighteen months, the internet’s requirement for more and more bandwidth will double every three years. If we are stuck at even 2mb for the forseeable future, in 10 years time we will have only a twentieth of the speed we have now when compared to the rest. We need to act.

As ever, the further away from the centre you live, the less resourced you become, however, we would argue that local government, the executive and the various NGOs should apply exactly the opposite principle: the more peripheral your community the better resourced with broadband it should become.

What would happen? More people, particularly families, would be able to move into the countryside and work. Communities would thrive. The future of village schools and shops would be assured. Scotland would begin to make the most of all its resources over a wider area. Broadband is the tipping point.

The Scottish Executive have outlined three phases of broadband roll-out, the first is 512kbps, the second 5MB and the final 50MB. A great vision, this last as it will truly enable everyone to take part in the online world. The question which needs to be asked is how is the third phase ever going to be delivered when there are still exchanges which have artificial limits place on them. Take for example the Colintraive exchange: as an Activate Exchange, this community of over 140 has a limit of 10 connections. This is ridiculous as housed in the very same building as the Colintraive exchange is the Glendaruel exchange with a lower population but with ADSL Max with unlimited accounts. How did that happen?

Let us hope the revitalised Scottish Executive bridges the credibility gap and ensures broadband is served equally among the communities of Scotland, both urban and rural.

Here’s the relevant SE link

You’ll find more info in these posts (and associated comments) about covering the last mile of connectivity: Broadband Cluster Forum, Glasgow & Slow, cranky and half-baked

Slow, cranky and half-baked

Not me obviously. Or not often.

After the Broadband Cluster Forum on the 18th I’ve been discussing the issue of broadband provision with several interested parties locally and the consensus seems to be that while the 512/128 kbps is fine-ish now, it will soon be obsolete. This means for anyone who has downsized, downshifted or generally left town in a permanent-ish way to raise children, chickens and carrots (or variations thereof) there will come a time when serious consideration will have to be given to moving back in; all too quickly work will become impossible as filesizes inflate and remote applications bloat; a proper education for the youngsters will no longer be possible (how will they compete in the new connected world if they can’t get connected?); as e-gov rolls out more i-services to replace real-people, those in distant rural locations will find getting mydiagnosis or youradvice or a dvlalicence increasingly impossible.

Seriously, if my kids can’t get an 8mb connection at the least by the time they’re using computers (ie in the next 4 years) we’re offski. This is why I’m so depressed by the £3.5m pledge by the Scottish Executive (SE) – it may get the last mile connected, but that connection will be of the same quality of the rest of connected rurality: slow, cranky and half-baked.

The problem is no-one has an answer. Whether that’s because they’re not posing the question, or because they don’t have the vision or because the funding is just not available, I don’t know, but Scotland’s most rural districts need an effective solution before they depopulate catastrophically and we’re left with an average age of cooling.

In this context the slides and notes from the Forum make depressing reading. Yes they’re trying, and the effort is worthy, but what effect is £3.5M really going to have? C’mon SNP support your rural constituency, bring us into the 21st century!


Broadband Cluster Forum, Glasgow is in a potential Broadband Cluster. That’s right, we have the potential to benefit from a point-to-point WiMax area network providing broadband connectivity to a cluster of between 10 and 20 subscribers in Glendaruel. Or that is how HIE sold the meeting to me when they rang (Thanks Angela!) — so as a resident business and (potential) subscriber I’m off to Glasgow at midday to see what is being proposed. (more…)