Broadband Delivery Challenge

Broadband Internet is changing the economy and society in ways that were unthought-of a decade ago. IT has become a near necessity for a substantial proportion of the population. Goods and services are increasingly delivered via broadband, including everything from shopping, ecommerce, music TV and access to all manner of information.

Despite widespread access to broadband across the UK, many do not have access–communities and individuals, mainly in rural areas, have had long-standing difficulty acquiring broadband connectivity. The plight of these rural communities has been highlighted in the UK Government’s Digital Britain report. As a part of a strategic vision seeking to position the UK at the leading edge of the global digital economy, this includes a recent recommendation for high speed broadband for all by 2015.

Earlier Initiatives

The Broadband Wales program was launched by the Welsh Assembly Government in July 2002. One objective was to address the “digital divide”. Following this, the Regional Innovative Broadband Support (RIBS) project awarded a grant to BT, to extend first generation broadband coverage to “blackspot” regions in Wales. That is, areas where broadband service would not be commercially feasible in the near future by the current market suppliers. The response included upgrading 35 exchanges, as well as communities located too far from an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL)-enabled exchange. The Broadband Wales program was a success, where 99% of households now have broadband access with approximately 60% take up.

The Broadband for Scotland project sought to deliver affordable broadband (2 Mbps capacity) in Scotland by 2005. The first phase encouraged further expansion in fixed line broadband infrastructure (ADSL). BT was awarded the contract to upgrade 378 Scottish telephone exchange areas that were not commercially viable. However, a substantial number of homes and businesses across Scotland remain beyond the reach of broadband– fixed-line technology is unable deliver service at a competitive price. The Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) recently published a survey on the proportion of households in each region in the UK which had less than 2Mbps bandwidth. The survey showed that 8% of UK households have less than 2Mbps bandwidth.

Understanding the Research Challenges

There are both research and policy challenges to the realization of broadband capability that will offer appropriate access to all parts of society. In contrast to the way the current Internet has evolved, the development of the next generation network will demand both collaboration and a shared vision between researchers, corporations, community groupings and governments. This directly affects the way in which research needs to be conducted, requiring the participation of stakeholders and on how to embed processes of market selection and government control into the development of solutions. There can be no single uniform solution that embraces all types of user and all locations. The network needs to offer flexibility to behave in different ways at different times and in different places depending on the outcome of market selection and social regulation mechanisms. The new digital infrastructure must combine different transmission technologies, while at the same time allowing evolution of service with changing patterns of usage, payment and to support an increasingly diverse range of internet and media applications.

Given the scope of the Future Internet, it is vital to address the socio-economic challenges that the Internet and its evolution (will) pose. Stakeholder is vital in setting and evaluating the research agenda. The stakeholders need to be engaged in developing new services, establishment of new markets, technologies, and deployment policies, which should be evaluated considering the impact they may have on all parts of society.

This must identify new trends that will have impact on established structures, e.g., in regulation [and policy]. Such understanding is particularly important when designing architectures and systems, which necessitate a growing strand of research on the Future Internet in the light of an understanding of how the technologies we create will shape future society. This will require increased dialogue between communities that have had little exchange in the past as well as a mutual perception of the value of different perspectives.

The research described here is supported by the award made by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub; award reference: EP/G066051/1.