The Chancellor’s Announcement About Rural Broadband – Eventually You Get Proved Right

Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a further funding programme for rural broadband. This is designed to take faster internet connections deeper into the “difficult to reach” parts of the countryside.

There are two notable things about the proposed strategy here. The first is that it is based on what is called “full-fibre”. That means fibre optic cable right into the premises, not, as has mainly been the case to date, running fibre to street cabinets and then relying on the ancient copper cables to take the signal the rest of the way. This can be for miles in some rural areas, and the signal degrades over copper, whereas it doesn’t over fibre. Some of us have been calling for a “full-fibre” strategy for years, and, at last the Government has caught up with this, but only after wasting millions of pounds on propping up the antiquated copper telephone network.

The second notable element is that the new strategy is based around connecting up public sector buildings, especially schools, to the fibre network, and then connecting up the remainder of the community from there.

In 2011, redoubtable broadband activist Lindsey Annison had a plan identical to this to connect up the community of Warcop in Cumbria. Below are some videos I took on the Fibre Walk she led over the proposed cable-laying route. This plan could not be implemented because we were told that it was not feasible for schools to share the connections with non-educational sites. That policy has now been over-turned, but only 7 years later. How much time and money has been expended in pursuing temporary solutions till now?

It is good to be proved right, but why does it have to take so long?

Do people who don’t want the web need the internet?

Some quick thoughts on today’s DOTs (Digital Outreach Trainers) Celebration Event in Sheffield, which I was at (see #dotevent on Twitter). I was there live streaming the event, but it raised some thoughts with me.

There was some talk about how the “digitally excluded” are getting ever harder to engage, principally because the principal reason they now express for not being online is not cost, lack of access or ignorance, but lack of interest. The story goes that these people actively don’t want to be engaged, so they are the most difficult nuts to crack.

There was also some discussion about how the stats about people who are not online are increasingly looking similar to those about people with literacy and numeracy issues. Could it be that the digital refuseniks are actually hiding the fact that they can’t read and write well enough to access the web.

And this leads me to another thought. I think there is a lot of confusing of the World Wide Web with the Internet. The Web is where the words, pictures and videos reside. The internet is what connects them, and other things, together. I know myself, from the work I have been doing on rural broadband in places like Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Durham, that there are lots of people out there who say they don’t need the internet, but, in many cases, what they are really saying is, they don’t need the Web. Ask them if they would like networked CCTV cameras, Telehealth and Telecare, or smart meters, and you may get a very different answer.

This could be a particular issue in the quest to connect up our remotest rural communities. Even those who do not want to read online newspapers, look at online photos, or watch online videos, may well appreciate the ability to monitor their stock via an online CCTV camera, or get a virtual doctor visit.

I think we need to stop conflating the Web with the Internet to identify why people really need to be connected.