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ATPM 15.11
November 2009


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by Mark Tennent,

Chasing the Dragons

Broadband speed in Britain is like today’s Formula One qualifying in Suzuka. Over in Japan, the F1 cars tried to set ever faster speeds on one of the world’s most demanding circuits. Five drivers have crashed already, one is in hospital with a leg wound, and the race hasn’t even started.

This is only to be expected when all practice sessions had been washed out and races haven’t been staged here for a couple of years while the track was “updated.” These improvements would appear to be largely cosmetic to a circuit built in 1962 by Honda, for motorcycle races rather than modern F1 cars. It is tight, twisty, and action is close to the barriers all around the circuit, with only old-fashioned, narrow gravel traps at the corners to slow a car from 200mph.

Meanwhile in Britain, our current standing in broadband speed languishes in 25th place, a long way behind dragon economies such as Latvia, Slovenia, and Romania. In a similar predicament are counties with British Commonwealth or Empire links including Canada and Australia, presumably because they suffer from the same problem as the UK. Our infrastructure, like Suzuka’s, was built for a different world and from the wrong materials.

Instead of fibre and cable, which will be reaching 1Gbps by 2012 in South Korea, we are stuck with aluminium and copper. Global average speeds at 4.75Mbps downloading are higher than the UK’s; Korea’s is currently ten times faster already.

Our own in-house ADSL line usually exceeds the download average, but we struggle to get more than 75% of the 1.3Mbps average global uploading even though we are relatively close to the telephone exchange and our lines fairly quiet. BT still plans to get a 24Mbps service across the country, which from our experience most households will find is a speed impossible to achieve.

But we are the lucky ones: 30 percent of the UK still hasn’t got broadband. They have yet to experience the joys of social networking sites, choppy, blocky iTunes video, and sharing photos and music. Which on reflection, might not be a bad thing anyway.

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Reader Comments (4)

Peter Danckwerts · November 2, 2009 - 08:40 EST #1
It is pretty scandalous. I have a friend who lives just outside Sevenoaks - hardly the middle of nowhere. Quoted broadband speeds vary from 0.5 megabits per second to 'not more than 0 megabits per second'.

We can only compete internationally if we have good infrastructure, and that includes high-speed broadband.
anonymous · November 2, 2009 - 08:57 EST #2
At least 98% of Britain has broadband access (or so I've heard). Where I live in the US, the town 16 miles away is looking forward to fios, while there is no cable, a weak cell signal, nor can the phone company be bothered to up grade the phone office in my neighborhood with a 'mere' population of 10,000. I pay 3 times what my neighbors pay just to get 1.5 mbps download speeds with satellite. A good deal of America is languishing with not quite broadband speed in a world where access to high speed broadband is becoming as necessary as access to electricity and gasoline.
Lori Smith · November 2, 2009 - 21:04 EST #3
I will join with Anonymous and note that America is in a sad state also. I live in Austin, Texas - supposedly one of the most connected cities in this country and I can tell stories of friends who have purchased homes in well-established areas of town that were floored when they discovered broadband was not available to them... This is a problem that is not limited to the rural areas here.
Eric Van Hoose · November 13, 2009 - 09:23 EST #4
Gee, it's almost as if the USA is one of the largest nations on earth, with one of the lowest population densities, and very evenly balanced quality of life between urban and rural areas. Why, as a matter of fact, it seems like many of these “dragon nations” are in fact tiny little 3rd-world countries with all of their infrastructural development (including ANY electrical utilities) concentrated solely around their largest high-density cities. Funny, that.


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