Fujitsu is planning to roll out superfast broadband to 5m rural homes. That’s good, right? Broadband for you, broadband for me, broadband for everybody. We can all meet in a chat-room and discuss how great it is that someone in a bothy in rural Aberdeenshire can download the back-catalogue of My Family instead of being forced to stare interminably into the fire like a rabbit caught in the headlights of modern civilisation.
While Fujitsu is playing its cards very close to its chest in terms of where it will build this infrastructure, and what “rural” even really means, it seems it will be targeting the “final third” of the UK left after BT connects the rest of the country by 2015. We’re talking some seriously isolated areas here; Welsh valleys and Cumbrian mountainsides. And all Fujitsu says it needs to drag these people kicking and screaming from their Kafkaesque nightmare is £500m of the £830m of government money earmarked for the roll out of next generation internet.
Being a selfish, navel-gazing city dweller, the argument that we shouldn’t be spending quite so much to connect some of these places holds some sway. Small and medium-sized towns, the places worst hit by the recession, need the investment that follows broadband roll-out more desperately than just about anyone – but should we really be paying for the next generation internet of someone choosing to live in the rolling hills of Northumbria? These people are greeted every morning by crisp clean air and ride to work through fields of daisies on the backs of wild horses, while city dwellers are forced to wade face deep through a fetid sea of human slurry. Surely we should at least be able to dazzle them with our technology like Neanderthal man waving a flaming torch at an angry ape?
But this is largely redundant when you consider it looks unlikely that Fujitsu will be able to fund its ambitious plans. Firstly, it would need to win almost all of the public money, which will be released in small chunks for local governments to bid for and despite going head-to-head with BT. Fujitsu has admitted that if public funding falls below a certain level it may be unable to proceed. It also relies on BT reducing the amount it charges for access to its duct and pole infrastructure, which analysts are sceptical about.
Finally, Fujitsu has remained tight-lipped on whether there will be a premium charged for people living in rural areas for the privilege of this network. While the point of the project is to help remove the digital divide, this could risk erecting yet another barrier.