This year, the annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC) took place in the USA. The TPRC confers on information policy and assembles researchers and policy makers from industry, government, academia and NGOs. This year, a particular panel (Rural Broadband Policies in a Cross-National Comparison) was organised by Bibi Reisdorf. What emerged from this panel was that several highly technologically developed countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Australia continue to experience urban/rural digital divides.
Access to high-speed internet via broadband connections is a persistent urban/rural divide problem despite varying developments supposedly designed to resolve this issue. Yet, even today, high-speed broadband access is still denied in many rural areas.
In the UK, and despite the government’s insistence that there has been a steady roll-out of high-speed broadband connectivity to more than four-fifths of UK homes and businesses, a significant percentage of the population remains unable to access to the super-fast service. The government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme boasts that 95% of the UK will have broadband access to at least 24 Mbps by 2017, using fast fibre optic networks connected to BT’s street cabinets. However, connection to individual premises remains through much slower through copper cables. In fact, millions of people are still unable to achieve even basic broadband connection as the signals drop off exponentially with increasing distance from these cabinets. In addition, reliability is not guaranteed as connections fail for no apparent reason, other than inclement weather.
The government announced in April this year that approximately £10m worth of funding for broadband in the south-west would be available for locally-based projects. In a statement it said: “BDUK will start working with local projects immediately to determine the most effective way of delivering this support.”
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