Digital divide looms again over superfast broadband for all
Crunch time for next gen access
An influential internet industry group said today it would cost almost £29bn to deploy a 1Gbit/s new fibre optic line to every home and business in the UK, raising the spectre of a renewed digital divide if operators are able to neglect rural rollout in favour of more profitable urban infrastructure.
The finding comes shortly before a key government advisor on next generation broadband makes his recommendations.
The Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG), a policy body funded by a who's who of net giants, said the market could probably justify investing in dedicated fibre to about two thirds of the UK population who live in densely populated urban areas.
Alternative technology known as Gigabit passive optical network (GPON) could deliver fibre to the home via a 2.5Gbit/s link shared between 32 premises. The BSG estimates GPON would bring the cost down to £25.5bn. The short-term option of pushing new cable to roadside cabinets (FTTC), allowing for downstream speeds of between 30 and 100Mbit/s using VDSL over existing copper lines, would cost about £5.1bn.
Interestingly, BSG reckons the long term cost of operating a FTTH network will be 30 per cent less than BT spends running the existing copper lines. A FTTC deployment while cheaper in the short term would actually cost more to run than current infrastructure, it said.
The groups's sums have been given as evidence to Francesco Caio, the government's advisor on next generation broadband, who reports next week. He has already said in interviews that he doesn't believe the UK's lack of a coherent next generation internet strategy is causing it to lag behind competitor nations.
Caio also signalled he will likely advise against state subsidies for fibre, suggesting rural areas might be served by wireless technolgies.
The Ofcom Consumer Panel some pre-Caio report lobbying last week, arguing that country dwellers were neglected during ADSL deployment and must not be left behind again.
BSG chief executive Anthony Walker said: "The scale of the costs looks daunting but the report does shed light on how some of these costs can be reduced and what the likely extent of commercial rollout will be. It should focus minds of commercial players, policy makers and regulators on the potential solutions to these challenges."
Most of the extra expense of FTTH compared to FTTC is accounted for by digging up roads and other civil engineering costs, BSG said. It recommends that big savings can be made by sharing ducting with utilities companies, a policy that has proved successful in France and is currently under review by Ofcom.
The group's full rundown (pdf) is here. ®
i approve of it
gigabit, that is...
(on a less retarded level, it is great to move data around, but for access to small files there is still more lag than when working on a local disk)
"... the main problem I can see with this is the caps that ISPs deem reasonable at the moment. With a modest ten-fold increase in download speeds (say 80-100mbps for FTTC) could we expect a ten-fold increase in the caps too? At 100mbps it wouldn't take long to burn through 50GB (which to me seem to be the 'fair-use' cap most 'unlimited' ISPs impose)."
Who knows. I guess NTT in Japan (on it's 100mbit/second) service has a 900GB/month *upload* cap (actually, 30GB/day); downloads are not capped.
Personally, I'd like some competition. Where I live (midwestern USA), the cable costs $56 a month (8mbit or so down? no caps as yet though!). The phone line running to my house is 18,000 feet long, and the local phone co is downright allergic to remote DSLAMs so no DSL, fiber, etc.; the other choices are an EVDO air card ($60/month for a 5GB cap) or satellite ($??? for, I think, a cap where you're throttled way down after a few 100 MB). Oh, and dialup's right out, a modem on my line gets about 12kbps, no 56k for sure. I *don't* need more speed, but a reduction in price would be great.
@JonB re monopoly vs competition
Wtf has competition ever brought the world that co-operation couldn't have done just as well? Competition has brought us the UK's worst broadband retailers... from the clueless but pioneering Bulldog, through to boring but incompetent ones like CPW and Tiscali. What's the point of choice when the market is reduced to BTR vs CPW vs Tiscali vs Orange vs CowboysRUs, and any real choice offered by the likes of AAISP, Zen, and all the others in between with a clue has gone forever, having been forced out of the market by suicidal pricing from the volume players and incompetent regulation from the clueless ones at Ofcon?
I know BTw haven't a technical or commercial clue because I've been watching their failures at every opportunity since Pipex invented mass market prices for broadband (2002? Twas a long time ago). From the "MTU problem" which led to the collapse of the national access network in autumn 2002(?) (Cisco Express Forwarding didn't work right over BTw datacentre LANs which were still using 10/100 Ethernet kit that didn't do jumbo frames, what a surprise), through VPs that didn't correctly prioritise 512k vs 1Mb vs 2Mb, through VPs that were semi-permanently on red and amber for capacity. And then there's the utterly ridiculous pricing for BT Centrals, based on an average usage of (wait for it) 20kbit/s per customer!... are you bored with the list yet, 'cos I am, but there's more if you want.
Competition doesn't fix any of those issues, competence in the technical department and in the regulatory oversight does.
In a properly regulated total monopoly a sensible price is an agreed (and realistic) cost plus an agreed and realistic margin. Same as you get in the cartels that dominate most capitalist markets, except that in a properly regulated monopoly the discussions are legal, above board, and on the record, and involve the democratic process, whereas in the usual illegal cartels the opposite applies.