Designed in 2 Minutes?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A digital sub-divide?

With Francis' and Natalie's excellent introductions to the subject of the digital divide, it's clear that two distinct 'qualities' of life are percieved to exist, one for those who have access to computers and networking for example, and one for those who absatain from all such technology.

Yet even we, the digitally-enabled, in our own niche world - where it's so easy to forget that we are in fact the global minority - are subject to sub-divisions where quality of digital life is concerned.

Here in the UK we get excited about 512Kb/s broadband services. We positively drool over 1Mbit lines, and 2MBit lines are but a fantasy for most users. Yet looking to other European countries or indeed countries in the Far East such as Japan, it's common to have broadband connections at true LAN speeds - anything from 10-14Mb/s is common.

Whilst on the outset it may seem that we in the UK (with our wonderfully dilapitated century-old telephone and railway infrastructures) are simply missing out on faster access to all that porn, the reality is that the enormous extra speed afforded by modern internet connections opens the door to a whole new lifestyle of digital video streaming on-demand to your home, or being able to truly work from home with no crippling bandwidth issues.

It's clear that the UK, with its ancient copper-based communications network, is lagging behind these other countries which laid down fibre optic connections from the very beginning. And therefore, we have a digital sub-divide where part of the digital world is more developed and can provide much higher quality of service than other parts.

Enter UKOnline with their announcement of a staggering 8Mb/s broadband package. The price is very expensive (ukp40/month) when compared to foreign offerings, but that's because UKOnline have had to foot part of the bill for persuading BT to be more lenient with what companies can do with their exchanges.

Currently this service is strictly limited to metropolitan areas, large cities such as Birmingham, London, Liverpool and Manchester. And even then it's only available to residents living within a paltry 2km of the high-speed-enabled exchange.

"UK Online is looking at the possibility of bundling services such as cheap net telephone calls, video-on-demand and TV by 2005 if the service proves popular", reports BBC News Online.

So once again the UK experiences split in the digital world. The rich and the lucky who live near enough to the centres of big British cities can experience the same sort of digital quality of life as the Japanese, Koreans, and French. Meanwhile the rest of the UK is left lagging behind.

Only when the price of 'high'-speed internet access falls to a reasonable level (this coming from a country where the cheapest broadband is still kept above ukp15 because otherwise it would 'make dialup commerically unviable'?!) and is available as widely as standard 0.5Mbit broadband, will the whole of the UK move into the upper class of the digital society. Until then, we must consider ourselves digitally poor on the world stage.


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