Rural broadband isn’t easy

Providing broadband in rural and remote areas isn’t easy. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have needed billions of dollars of government incentives directed to improve access over the past decade.

It comes down to economics. On a per customer basis, it is costlier to connect rural homes and distances mean that it can take longer to install and service these connections.

No single technology can be relied upon to deliver broadband internet to everyone. The biggest challenge is in delivering service in markets with extremely low household density.

For wireline based services, there is the cost of running cable. With the greater distances between rural households, these long cable runs – with costs measured in dollars per foot – can lead to initial placement costs that simply cannot be recovered from monthly service fees. And that assumes the distances even permit a broadband connection. For many households in rural markets, a wireline connection simply isn’t practical.

When wires aren’t economic, fixed and mobile wireless can be effective if there are enough households within the reach of the base station. These solutions use spectrum; more customers and higher speed services need more spectrum. That is why reports about this week’s results from the 2500 MHz spectrum auction have referred to rural consumers being the big winners.

But there are still some residences that cannot be served by conventional wireless technologies and the only viable solution available today is satellite. New fourth generation satellites are able to provide broadband speeds that can deliver two-way video calling and streaming media. While there is a longer latency – it takes a quarter second for a signal to go up and down to a geo-stationary satellite – satellites enable broadband connections for households that are beyond the reach of terrestrial technologies.

Other countries have recognized the role of satellites in providing broadband access for rural markets. Despite massive levels of government subsidy, satellite and fixed-wireless are part of the solution for universal broadband in Australia and even the UK.

In February, I wrote about the common misinformation about Australia’s NBN as a universal fibre to the home initiative. Last year, I wrote about an interim report from Australia that showed that after spending more than $7B, only 260,000 premises had access to fibre with only 78,000 subscribers – a cost to taxpayers of nearly $100,000 each. In the UK, despite far greater population density compared to Canada, “Superfast Broadband” includes satellite for rural markets: “The Government will be working with local projects and suppliers to launch a scheme which will offer people with less than 2Mbps broadband services the option of taking up superfast capable satellite service”.

One technology simply doesn’t fit every application.

On June 3, Xplornet President and CEO Allison Lenehan will be talking about delivering advanced services to rural Canadians at The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit.

Have you registered yet?

1 thought on “Rural broadband isn’t easy”

  1. Good information regarding broadband in rural and remote areas. Because of the larger distance between households, providing broadband service can end up being very costly. Thanks for sharing!

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