According to my local authority I don’t live in a rural area. My council tax includes an urban supplement but I don’t have a gas supply, pavements or street lights or decent broadband. We have opted for oil instead of gas and we can manage without the pavements and street lights most of the time (although it is dangerous walking at night in the dark) but is getting increasingly difficult to manage with broadband that barely gets over 1Mb. Of course we pay for “up to 8Mb”. This is narrowband for the price of broadband. I think the assumption of the service provider is that a minimum 2Mb is available, but at the moment that is a pipe dream.
The poor service means that practically NONE of the video content embedded in news sites such as the BBC or the Guardian is accessible. As the BBC policy seems to be to rely on it more and more it means each year less of its material is available to us. iPlayer is hit and miss. If we set it at the very lowest resolution it sometimes works but often it doesn’t (unless you like watching programs in low quality 2 second chunks). The BBC kindly notifies us that we have insufficient band width and recommends we contact our service provider to increase our broadband package. Sometimes it is possible to pause and build up a buffer of a reasonable length, but even this technique doesn’t always work. YouTube on its very lowest quality setting just about works but some content providers don’t give the option to change the quality settings. And the lowest quality is just that. You have to be very keen to see the programme to tolerate it.
Mobile broadband coverage is about the same.
There is a satellite service which could give us faster broadband but the cost of using iPlayer, watching news videos, downloading music from iTunes or even working from home and downloading large documents and presentations would be prohibitively expensive.
For years our broadband service stopped when it rained hard or persistently. The support services were very slow and had built in delays of about 2 days, so on most occasions the rain had stopped and the service resumed by the time anyone looked at it. Every time the fault happened it was treated as the first time.
Our fixed line is provided by BT which once famously did a test on a line which wouldn’t even provide voice calls (no dial tone) and reported that there was no fault. Eventually, after we offered to pay if no fault was found, they sent an engineer and he discovered that the line was disconnected at one of the telegraph poles.
Over time, from when we were first connected in late 2004 (as soon as it was available) our broadband service deteriorated and became more intermittent – but every time we reported a fault we were told it was our internal equipment. Earlier this year (2012) an engineer who arrived to work on a job nearby offered to take a look while he was here and within 5 minutes identified a set of very poor connections and fixed them. This improved the speed from 500-600 kBits/s to about 1.2Mbits/s and it is significantly more reliable and doesn’t go off in the rain.
Our assumption is that there are many poor quality connections on the overground line between us and the exchange which degrade our service. The speed nearly doubled when the engineer fixed the connection. Obviously I know it wont double the speed for every connection that is fixed, but I do wonder whether it is poor maintenance rather than inherent infrastructure which is keeping us below that “useful threshold”.
Of course we would like fast broadband – especially as the two thirds mentioned in the governments policy paper move to super fast. When two thirds are on “super fast” even those on “fast”never mind those on narrowband will start to lose services as content providers begin to assume that everyone (or at least sufficient for them to make a profit or meet their targets) will have access to bandwidth hungry services.
Maybe you think I live in a remote place. I am less than three miles from the centre of the nearest town and only six miles from a city centre. High speed cable services come within 2 miles.
My fear is that as the government’s policy to tackle the rural areas takes shape those like me who live slightly out of town but who are considered to be urban will be left behind in no-mans land.