Further proof that outer-urban areas are at broadband-service-starvation risk

The current situation that faces these areas

There is a common issue with Internet service provision for customers that live outside of a major metropolitan area and this issue will become of concern as these metropolitan areas edge out to the country areas. This is where a town or district has old and decrepit telephony connections that are repaired or improved in a “patchwork” manner.

Typically, ADSL service would be rolled out to the towns by the installation of DSLAM equipment in the telephone exchange by the various providers. This happens with the old telephone wiring and connections still in place and, of course, any work that is done on the wiring infrastructure may be in response to disaster events or simply damaged lines such as a tree falling across a phone line. The old and decrepit phone infrastructure may be just good enough for a voice call or a fax transmission with modest equipment at each end of the line.

In some areas, there may be some work done on the telephone infrastructure covering the core business area of a small town i.e. the shopping strip and areas surrounding the hospital, police station or council offices. A large employer who is attracting business to the town may cause the telephony infrastructure provider to provide improved infrastructure for their business premises and some nearby areas.

The examples

Previously, I had seen a friend of mine who lived in Yarra Glen, which is in the Yarra Valley Wine District just east of Melbourne about their Internet connection.

The symptom was no successful connection to the ISP. They tried a new modem router just in case the old one had packed it in and the problem was the same. Then their retail ISP had found through Telstra who was the infrastructure provider in Australia that there were connections between the exchange and my friend’s residence that were simply rotten. They were good enough for voice telephony but not good enough for ADSL service.

Another example was found out through a conversation with a small-business owner who runs bottle shops (liquor stores / off-licences) in two towns in the Dandenongs that are a short distance apart from each other.

At one of the shops, there was poor quality-of-service for the Internet connection servicing that premises. He received different quotes for the “distance to the exchange” metric which affects the ADSL Internet service, even though the business was very close to the town’s exchange.

At that time, there was work being done by Telstra in the neighbourhood to replace some problemsome wiring. This was then causing the different readings for the “distance to exchange” metric due to the different quality of wiring and the connection that existed.

An industry problem that may affect service providers and customers

A question that typically faces the user and the retail broadband provider is who is to blame for the substandard service? That is whether it is the infrastructure provider, the wholesale broadband provider or the retail ADSL ISP?

This ends up with the buck being passed between the different parties and can become more aggravating especially where the fault lies with decrepit infrastructure. In some situations, this can place the customer in a position of liability for troubleshooting work that had taken place because the retail ISP’s equipment wasn’t at fault.

If the fault lies with the infrastructure between the exchange where the ISP’s ADSL equipment is located and the customer’s premises, it should be made clear that the fault lies at that point and the infrastructure provider is required to repair that fault.

What can be done

Infrastructure assessment as part of service deployment

Typically, whenever ADSL broadband is rolled out to a town in a rural, regional or peri-urban area, the work that typically occurs is to have the DSLAM equipment installed at the exchange plus some modifications at the exchange end of the service infrastructure. There isn’t a chance for the wiring infrastructure to be assessed for service problems, such as poor-quality connections or old and decrepit wiring.

This should be done more so as retain Internet service providers that provide their services on an “unbundled local loop” basis start rolling their services out in to that area or as multiple retail Internet service providers share the same DSLAM equipment in the exchange.

What should really happen is that if customers in an area register for ADSL service and the service arrives at the exchange; the condition of the wiring to that area should be assessed for proper ADSL throughput. At that point, any and all repairs should then be performed for all of the telephone subscribers in that area; including removal of pair-gain wiring setups that limit modem throughput.

Public-private engagement

Of course, it may be considered too costly especially in these areas, but there also needs to be the benefits assessed for that work to take place. This may include increased service utilisation which may yield more revenue and an incremental improvement for businesses who work in the area where their goods and services gain increased value.

In some ways, this kind of effort could be a public-private partnership where government is involved in the improvement effort. My suggestion of the use of government involved with money sourced from the taxes that we pay may be scoffed at by the “free-market, no-public-money” advocates but it may have to be the way we would go to seek these improvements. This is more so if there isn’t any sort of universal-service-obligation mechanism established for broadband Internet service.

In this case, the local government which is the shire or city council could be engaged in funding these service improvements that are specific to their local area. This could then allow the local government to attract more business or maintain a highly-viable business ecosystem in their area; especially if the area is driven by many small businesses like most of these areas.

This has been performed successfully in various British villages like Lyddington in Leicestershire whenever next-generation broadband Internet was delivered to these villages.

Conclusion

We just can’t think of improving broadband in particular rural areas when we give real broadband to sparsely-populated areas. Rather we also need to factor in the sparsely-populated areas that exist on the edge of our cities and, in some cases, serve as attraction districts for these urban areas like wine districts or beauty districts as part of broadband-service improvement plans.

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