Rural Broadband Woes

Rural Broadband woes signal a call for action – from the Press and Journal, Saturday October 14, 2017

Rural areas are home to one fifth of Scotland’s population and over one third – 50,000 – of the country’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs*).

Rural SMEs have been one of Scotland’s bastions of economic growth over recent years, making them very important to our overall economy. Yet, arguably, the most limiting of factors for these businesses is access to decent broadband services. I’m very fortunate to have travelled deep into rural Argentina, South Africa, Lebanon and Turkey, to be stunned that I’m receiving all my emails, thanks to full 4G service. Yet, why is it that running my busy marketing business in rural Aberdeenshire, my basic communications grind to a halt because I can’t get online nor access mobile phone services? And I’m far from alone.

Two years ago, frustration drove me to installing satellite broadband while continuing our wired BT service as a backup. However, at a fitful 256 KB upload and often much less than 1 MB download speeds, the BT service isn’t fit for domestic, let alone business purposes. My 100GB of satellite data costs me £99 a month, yet often, two weeks in to my monthly data package, I reach my limit, resulting in a “choking” of my service. The next service tier will cost me £250 a month. These costs put me at an economic disadvantage to my urban business counterparts.

Progress is promised by BT and the government – however, Scotland’s superfast website tells me I may never receive it because I have an “Exchange Only” line. So, what are my alternatives?

Press cuttingI could move my office to a town and become a non-rural SME, but this is counter to the government’s drive for rural SME development, or, if mobile signal was strong enough (which it isn’t), subscribe to an equally expensive 4G service. Hope lies in the new technologies coming, including Li-fi which would deliver services 100 times faster than wi-fi via LED lighting, or Project Loon, a network of “edge of space” balloons designed to provide connectivity to rural areas.

There’s also the Government’s community broadband incentives, but, by all accounts, funding is very hard to access and requires the support of BT, which seems near-impossible to galvanise.

But maybe there is another ‘win-win for all’, to channel post-Brexit agricultural support towards incentivising farmers to become internet service providers. Farmers have the land and equipment to dig the fibre trenches and I’m certain that some entrepreneurial engineers would grasp the opportunity to wire us up. However, for this to happen, the telecoms infrastructure also needs to be opened to competition, rather than leaving it in the hands of BT.

What is certain, continuation of our rural broadband woes will make it difficult for the Government’s vision for a vibrant rural economy to be fully realised.

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*small and medium enterprises with under 250 employees.

 

Jane Craigie

Jane Craigie

We live on a smallholding nr Turriff & run a marketing agency specialising in agri/land and food. I am an SE Rural Leader, LANTRA trustee, FACE/LEAF committee member, IFAJ and BGAJ

One thought on “Rural Broadband Woes

  • Amanda B.
    15th January 2018 at 10:45 am
    Permalink

    Like Jane, I’m on an Exchange Only line but in Lanarkshire. I used to have a satellite connection for my business, but with 12 people connected, it really wasn’t any help. Luckily though, we do have 4G so that’s the very expensive solution we currently use.

    The R100 programme being tendered by Scottish Government and promising 30 Mbps + to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021 is both ambitious and very welcome, but it’s important to recognise what a disadvantage poor connectivity is for our SMEs.

    Let’s collect your views in our Digital forum: http://www.sra.scot/forums/forum/digital-connectivity/

    Reply

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