The UK government is always banging on and on about how "Broadband Britain" will be at the ultimate cutting edge of communications technology with every man, woman and child having unfettered access to ultra-fast connectivity that will enable citizens the length and breadth of the country to become part of a utopian super-smart e-economy that will transform all our lives. By Martyn Warwick.
That's the hype anyway. The reality is rather different. The government's definition of what constitutes broadband is both antedeluvian and unimaginative. Our leaders think that the construction of a "national access network" "delivering universal broadband at speed of 2Mbps will "stimulate private sector investment to deliver the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015". How's that for paucity of vision. The "Best superfast broadband network in Europe" in four years time. They're having a laugh.
The reality is that some parts of some British conurbations do indeed have moderately inexpensive access to fast broadband but the divide between the city mice and their country cousins is enormous. If you live in rural, England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, broadband access is, in general, partial, slow, expensive and liable to fall over completely if too many people try to use it at once.
Network operators are, understandably enough in terms of the money it costs to deploy fibre, loath to chuck huge sums of cash into holes in the ground to provide broadband access to small rural populations. They say that in cases where what they regard an insufficient amount of public money is used on rural broadband infrastructure projects, return on the investment they make as private companies is takes too long and, in some cases, there is no ROI at all.
And that's probably why Fujitsu, Geo and now Cable & Wireless have abandoned bids to bring broadband services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
After all, they are not tax-deductible charity organisations, they are in the game to make money.
The Scottish Parliament, dominated as it currently is by representatives of the Scottish Nationalist Party, is promising Scots voters a referendum on Scottish independence, which, if carried by a sufficient majority, would result in the breaking-up of the union between England and Scotland that has been in place since 1707.
Until and unless the Scots vote to become an independent nation, they remain in receipt of financial support from the British government down in Westminster and, back in August this year, was given £68.8 million to help pay for the provision of 2Mbps broadband connectivity to all Scottish homes and businesses - a sum the Scottish parliament called "derisory" after pointing out that bringing broadband to the Highlands and islands region will cost at least £300 million.
Certainly C&W, Geo and Fujitsu have jibbed at paying the difference between what the Westminster Government is offering by way of a subsidy and the real cost of the deployment of 2Mbps broadband and have now officially withdrawn from the bidding process - leaving incumbent telco BT as the Highland's and Island's last best hope.
The trouble is that if BT does go ahead and stumps up for new infrastructure it will make itself hostage to fortune and the butt of complaints by its detractors that the big incumbent with deep pockets has an agenda that will be further bolstered be being the de facto monopoly broadband provider to the Highlands and Islands, and will, in the absence of any viable competition, be able to charge what it likes for the services it will provide.
In fact, BT is quite blameless here. It's a case of the telco being damned if it does and damned if it doesn't, and as such, quite unfair.
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