Broadband divide getting wider

Broadband divide getting wider

Summary: High-speed Internet is available to almost everyone but take-up is still much greater in and around London

TOPICS: Networking

Research firm Point Topic has warned that the take-up of high-speed Internet access is still skewed in favour of prosperous urban areas, and the problem may be getting worse.

Figures released on Wednesday showing the top ten areas for broadband take-up indicated that areas in and around London still dominate the charts, even though BT's DSL broadband is available to around 99 percent of the population.

Wandsworth topped the national table, with an average of 25 broadband lines per 100 people. The lowest was Eilean Siar, or the Western Isles, with 4.9 per 100.

In some urban areas, broadband line density was boosted by the presence of small businesses that use DSL to get online. Experts have predicted that the rise of teleworking could boost broadband take-up in rural areas, as people choose to base themselves some distance from their place of work.

Point Topic's figures, though, show some big differences around the country, especially now that BT's DSL is proving more popular than cable broadband. Back when cable broadband was cheaper and more available than DSL, areas such as South Wales were among the leaders for broadband density, but this is no longer the case.

The analyst group also reported that it has carried out 2,000 face-to-face interviews and found that poorer families were much less likely to have broadband, despite prices having dropped sharply in recent years.

"Most important of all, the publication of DSL numbers for different regions by BT has showed that there are big differences in density between different parts of the country which are independent of social factors or cable competition," the report stated.

"Rural areas often have lower density than the suburbs even where broadband is equally available. Some parts of the country, such as Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the North-east of England, just seem to have less interest in the Internet than others."

Point Topic's report did not look into the different broadband speeds used in each area. BT is gearing up to offer speeds of up to 8Mbps, but people — typically in rural areas — whose home or office is a long way from the local exchange will not get such high speeds.

The digital divide has long been identified as an issue that needs addressing. Before BT made DSL available to almost all its customers, it had been assumed that the limited rollout of broadband infrastructure was to blame.

The government identified the digital divide as a problem several years ago, but one rural broadband activist pointed out that people need a reason to get connected.

"The government has rightly focussed on the mantra of "Internet access for all", but people need to have everyday work, family and leisure reasons for taking advantage of access," said John Wilson, coordinator for the Wales Broadband Stakeholder Group.

Wilson added that the Internet had a lot to offer those in rural locations, even if they weren't going online as part of their job.

"Market towns in rural areas are abuzz with conversation... the challenge is to create the online as a vital social space," said Wilson, suggesting that education projects and details of local services would be popular.

The top ten areas for broadband density were Wandsworth, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets, Windsor and Maidenhead, Chiltern, Mole Valley, Kensington and Chelsea, Islington and South Buckinghamshire.

Topic: Networking

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  • The primary obstacle to universal domestic broadband is that, although the facility is thoeretically available to all cable users, every residence that has a bt connection is not equipped at the exchange for the service. The primary task is to ensure that, within practical reason, every domestic residence is connected to a broadband availablility.
    The secondary obstacle is COST!!! and then more COST!!!
    It costs a potential broadband user to have it's line enabled, then it costs again to be connected, then it costs again for usage. And to change from one unsatisfactory ISP to another ISP costs yet again and can, in some instances, mean up to 2 weeks without the service.
    There are many who just cannot afford the initial payments to set up a broadband connection and many more who are strapped for ISP charges.
    I feel that cable companies should be made, as is BT, to open their broadband network to other ISPs. I feel that all communications providers of line should be required to equip all domestic connections with broadband facilities.
    Service providers should be required to submit their pricing schedules to Ofcom for approval and that there should be a ceiling price laid down and reveiwed regularly.
    And all ISPs must be required to facilitate , at NO CHARGE, customers wishing to migrate to another and better ISP. Making a charge for this is a disincentive for customers to find the best.
    In addition to the provision of broadband, the other problem is the provision of a basic computer. There are still many who do not have a computer at home. Meanwhile we have a number of organisations who collect old computers, refurbish them, and send them to developing countries. All very well but I feel that this effort should be directed to UK home users who don't have one, or school children who get little chance to use the one and only family PC.