Monday, February 20, 2012

Web Watch: Uk broadband scene goes from bad to worse

And the outcome of the debate could have a bearing on the future of the internet in the UK.
The service is still restricted to a small number of people and will not be rolled out extensively until a little later this year.
But that hasn't stopped some internet service providers (ISPs) claiming it could severely test the capacity of broadband services when more people sign up.
The solution - surprise, surprise - is to charge more for monthly broadband access for heavy users of video content.
BT  has distanced itself from the reports, saying it has no problems with the new BBC service. But others have not corrected the impression that the eventual outcome could be some form of two-tier internet, with users paying for premium services.
It follows a survey by Which?  indicating that broadband speeds (mainly ADSL) in the UK were falling far behind those advertised.
People paying for download speeds of up to 8Mbps were actually receiving an average of less than 3Mbps. Some were operating at barely more than dial-up speeds.
You can check this yourself. On your home internet connection speedtest and follow the instructions. Depending on the time of day, I guarantee you will be surprised or amazed by the result.
The ISPs say speed depends on a range of factors, including distance from the phone exchange, quality of cables in the home and so on.
However, the bottom line is that we are miles behind other countries. Even when 24Mbps connections become more widely available - in 2008 - our counterparts around the world will still be streaking ahead.
A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development underlined the fact that many Japanese users commonly have 100Mbps access at relatively cheap prices.
It's a similar picture in South Korea, Sweden and Finland.
In addition, Swedish consumers have the cheapest price in the world for entry-level broadband, at under 11 US dollars a month.
But this is not just about web users having better access to video content, convenient as that might be. Having the best possible data infrastructure is crucial for economic competitiveness in the 21st century.
As things stand, the US and the UK are well behind others in Europe and Asia.
The usual cry at this point is that installing better infrastructure is a costly business.
But look at what happened in France. Just six years ago it had one of the lowest rates of broadband availability in the developed world. Now it has sailed past the US, with standard download speeds of 24Mbps and fierce competition in the market.
The progress - and profit - has been such that some ISPs are to install their own high speed fibre optic networks, rather than relying on the government.
France has a high uptake of internet TV services and more than half of those with broadband connections regularly use them for phone calls.
If download speeds leave a lot to be desired in the UK, however, upstream speeds are even worse, verging on dire.
Yet these are equally important to businesses. The ability to upload large image or data files quickly can be crucial in deciding whether employees should work remotely, including from home.
While ISPs argue among themselves about charging for heavy use the Broadband Stakeholder Group which advises the Government has already warned that unless we take steps to prepare for next-generation broadband, it may be too late to catch up.
Its report, at, should be a wake-up call for everyone concerned.
Bill Law has 30 years' experience in IT and works in the industry for Fujitsu Services in Northern Ireland. The opinions expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Fujitsu Services.

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