Identifying Market Failure

Notspots, Slowspots & Community Initiatives

Local broadband plans need to include notspots and ‘slowspots’ – areas that currently receive services delivering less than 2Mbps downstream. These amount to around 10% of homes and businesses in the UK as a whole. In 2010 BIS commissioned a theoretical exercise to address these areas which can be downloaded here. This provides a very useful summary of the different technical approaches that can be taken to tackle notspot problems. Clearly it is desirable to bring these areas up to the same level of service enjoyed by better served areas and, whilst it is difficult, there are some innovative and pioneering organisations working to achieve this.

One of the main contenders is fixed wireless access. Ever since the problems experienced with first generation roll out local wireless broadband services have proved cost-effective at reaching more isolated areas. These are often run by small, private or community-owned enterprises. Having worked hard, over many years, for little reward, they will not thank local authorities that set up procurement processes that simply steam-roller over their efforts. Other providers are working on fixed line solutions including FTTP for remote, rural areas. This is clearly the most desirable option and should be encouraged.

The fall-back position for the most isolated premises is satellite broadband. In recent times the costs of satellite provision have reduced, making it more attractive; but issues such as signal latency remain.

The Technology section of this Knowledge Base covers the pros and cons of different technological approaches.

The national policy objective during ‘first generation’ broadband roll out was for Britain to have "the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005." In the early stages of roll out BT stated that it was commercially viable to reach only about 60% of the population (familiar number?). This led to a range of different initiatives involving the public sector, local communities and smaller private operators setting up services or funding ADSL exchange enablement. Late in 2004 BT changed tack and announced the enablement of all but a handful of local exchanges, which gave rise to the ‘job done’ declaration by government, RDAs and BT.

At the time many people knew (and now it is widely acknowledged) that simply because 99% of the population are connected to an ADSL-enabled exchange, it does not mean 99% of the population being able to receive a good broadband service.

Many local schemes ceased when exchanges were enabled or funding dried up. Surviving projects and new entrants are moving on to include next-generation broadband in their plans and often offer local expertise, innovative solutions, invaluable industry knowledge and ways of bringing in other sources of funding. There is no central information resource about local schemes, although organisations like the Community Broadband Network and the Rural Broadband Partnership have much valuable knowledge.

Some projects and businesses are listed below and elsewhere in this knowledge base.