Springfords LLP blog

Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

Rural Broadband plays second fiddle no longer

22 April 2015

It’s an often repeated plaintiff, but will the places that need better digital infrastructure always be the places that lag behind.  Not if some innovations take hold they won’t.

There are plenty of reasons to live in the country.  Right now though, fast broadband isn’t necessarily one of them.  All those rolling hills and wide open spaces don’t really lend themselves to laying out all that superfast infrastructure.  In trading off the sort of contention ratios that urbanites can only ever dream of, the country cousins of this world put up with crumbly old copper wires and the single track with passing places end of the information super highway.

Which of course is the exact opposite of how it should be.

Where else, other than the thinly populated expanses of these green and pleasant lands, would benefit more from the opportunities to conduct business and pleasure over the wires, especially when the nearest branch of anything is generally over the hills and far away.  In these environmentally aware times, the obvious solution to the run down of rural services is to make the countryside connected, and connected in a big way.

Yet, it seems that everything is stacking up against living the lifestyle that’s closer to nature.  If you want to get anything done, or more pertinently need to get anything bought or sold, the only answer seems to be either abandon the country or abandon hope.  Just as we heard that internet banking had hit new heights of commercial activity, we were wondering how country-dwellers cope with rural branch closures, and the unaccounted overhead in time, not to mention the cost to the environment, that travelling to distant centres extracts from the rural economy.

It’s an obvious drain on resources and productivity, but the obvious thing is …  it needn’t be like that.

Some countries are taking the value of their land and the people who live there into their digital domain, and connecting up the whole landmass.  South East Asia is rapidly moving towards total coverage - especially in the more aggressive economies, like Korea, Malaysia and Singapore - the latter of which, despite it’s city-state reputation is still relatively rural.  Some unlikely parts of the world have enviable connectivity via spanking new wifi networks, built from scratch, without the financial legacy of an old, wire-based system to worry about.

Here in Scotland, the government assisted roll out of high speed connectivity is progressing, albeit, you might conclude,  with all the pace of an atari with a flat battery – in other words not quickly enough!.  However, it does mean that slowly but surely, little places from Formartine to Fountainhall are seeing their local exchanges upgraded and buzzing with the velocity of internet traffic.

There are other less obvious solutions too.  Satellite based internet has been around for a while.  At a price it works and if you have staff discount from Inmarsat, it should work at the ground station in your back office too. 

More down to earth, but maybe even less likely, railway lines could be the surprising answer to many a rural community’s prayers.  Although the permanent way isn’t permanently down everyone’s way anymore, the remainder of the network is having it’s communications vastly upgraded.  Out comes the copper wire - before some scallywag pinches it, and down goes fibre optic cable, carrying signalling and communications instructions - robustly, quickly, and on a fraction of the usable capacity of the fibre.  Network Rail has already discussed at board level the possibility of opening up their shadow digital network to carry commercial internet traffic. 

If there’s one thing railway lines are good at reaching, it’s the rural spaces between urban centres.  Even if the lines only pass through places like Halbeath and Heriot, the digital express can make a request stop without slowing down. 

The digital super highway might just arrive in Sutherland and the Southern Uplands, not as a virtual six-lane motorway, but up alongside a single track railway line that’s earning a new living for itself and helping rural communities become more viable again.  The byways and branch lines of the countryside could just be the high-speed carriers of the future that make life in the slow lane serendipitous with the fastest pace the twenty-first century can muster.  Maybe that oft repeated plaintiff is about to become an internet ode to joy.

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Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

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