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The Hidden Costs of Broadband
When I read Barry Collins comparative analysis of broadband pricing, in The Sunday Times, over the Easter weekend, I felt something close to despair.

A month ago, the day prices fell, I was chairing The LondonOne Conference at the TUC Conference centre - an event devoted to the ideal of broadband Britain- and the news that the cost of ADSL was at last within the reach of the ordinary home, was welcomed with a sense of universal relief from those involved in a struggling cable broadband sector.

Of course, once the dust settles after the first big PR ‘Puff’, reality is always a little disappointing. I’ve been trying to find a spare moment to try and find out from BT – never a simple experience – what might be involved in bringing broadband to my home but the Sunday Times appears to have done much of the work for me.

First of all, it should be said that competition and the big drop in costs immediately drove-up the demand for domestic broadband, with BT apparently taking sixteen thousand new orders within days. This of course had the effect one might expect, the arrival of a long queue of customers waiting for installation. As a result, there are really two options – three if you are thinking of wireless of cable - . You wait for an engineer and pay a hefty premium or you do it yourself. Buy a cable modem and plug and play. Is it ever that simple I wonder?

Prices are, from my point of view, far too high, with only Pipex coming in below 25.00 a month and with the others, including BT hovering around 29.99 (why not just say 30.00).

On top of this, there’s the modem charge of around 100.00 and an installation charge if you can wait for an engineer. This rather does lead me to wonder how the government expects us to overtake Germany as a broadband society within eighteen months. You might have to wait that long for an engineer!

When all is said and done and my natural cynicism is put back in a box, where it belongs, we are looking at a cost of around 450 – 500 in the first year for broadband Internet access on a ‘Do it yourself’ basis and around 600 if you can wait for an engineer.

In my opinion, it’s still too expensive and much too complicated for the man in the street and I’m thinking of my in-laws here, silver surfers with their first PC and a passionate interest in a world they’ve only just discovered.

I still get the same feeling that I had when I plunged into the Internet in its early days of FTP and Winsock and Netscape 1.0. It was a very ad hoc experience, prices varied between ISPs; technical support was a nightmare and BT executives spent hours in my office agonizing over how they might set-up a consumer Internet service.
The last mile problem hasn’t really gone away; it’s just been divided-up between competing services. Until my in-laws can pick-up their phone, ask for broadband and have it installed and working in a week and at below 25.00 a month, broadband Britain may still be a while coming.


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