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News Rural broadband issues

April 2012: Well in to our 12th year of providing broadband Internet connections we still find there are places with poor service.

Slow speeds for rural broadband

Traditional broadband services make use of the existing wires from the telephone exchange to your house which are there for the telephone line. The main problem is that rural areas are more spread out and have longer lines. Entire villages can be miles from the local exchange. Whilst these long lines are not a huge issue for telephone calls, they are for broadband. The longer the wires the slower the broadband, and there is not a lot that can be done about - as Scotty would say "You can'na change the laws of physics".

Fortunately there are other ways to connect people to the Internet, including running fibre to a cabinet in each village (FTTC), providing wireless networks, using broadband enabling technology (repeaters), and so on. Unfortunately small rural telephone exchanges are usually the last to get newer technologies like this, or even ADSL2+ which can sometimes squeeze a bit more out of a line. They are the last to get competing providers. So, as many rural areas know - broadband can be slow, or even unavailable.

Where lines are slow, AAISP are able to provide bonding of multiple lines. Whilst this costs more, we have provided 4 line bonded installations on 5km lines to manage total speeds around 6Mb/s in the middle of nowhere. So there is some hope.

A hidden problem

We have, however, discovered a new problem for rural broadband. It seems that BT are quite happy for a rural location to have what they call a "hot VP". This is a congested link from the exchange to their back-haul network.

Hot VPs are not new, and there is a team which manages upgrades and usually manages to sort these quickly, but we have discovered that some areas like Whitchurch have only hot VPs. Whilst it is quite rural, a customer close to the exchange that can get 8Mb/s sync is getting severe latency and loss in the evenings because of this hot VP issue.

Damien Churchill, from WhitchurchThe service really is deteriorating, watching videos on youtube for example now always requires waiting for some time to load up the video before actually playing it else there's no chance it'll play uninterrupted. Playing online games has become quite a painful experience and sometimes unplayable, sometimes bearable. Loading content heavy pages (pages with lots of images for example) takes ages really disrupting the browsing experience.

Attitude problem?

What has shocked us is that BT are not going to do anything about it for two months. They have sent the fault report back to us. They won't escalate the fault further, and are point blank refusing to fix the problem in the 40 hour timescales they agreed. Of course, by sending the fault back to us they also stop the clock for any sort of compensation they may offer for a fault that is not fixed promptly.

BT have said this is a lack of capacity, and they cannot fix it sooner as they do not want to take resources from other upgrades needed in other areas. This just highlights a lack of resources committed to providing these services, especially in rural areas.

Damien Churchill, from WhitchurchI think its awful the attitude BT have taken on this, it seems somewhat like they're taking the view of "Well you're unable to move or use anyone else so you're just going to have to deal with it". It's incredibly frustrating. I was able to ignore it at the beginning of the year as Whitchurch was supposed to be getting FTTC but BT keep pushing that back as well as being unable to offer a satisfactory ADSL Max service either.

It is hard to see how we can change attitudes. We find that we are often battling BT to get faults fixed, sometimes spending hours arguing with them over some B2B system not working rather than them actually trying to fix the fault. As ever we are trying to work with the account teams in BT to improve things and work with them to provide a better service for all of our customers.

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