I attended a roundtable yesterday to discuss something called 'naked dsl' - a product that would allow consumers to buy broadband without requiring them to pay for a separate fixed telephone line. There are two reasons why some argue that it would be good for consumers if naked dsl were available in the UK:
The technology is particularly close to the hearts of those who want to see an expansion in what is called VOIP (literally voice over the internet) as an alternative to fixed or mobile telephony. The argument goes that if you have to pay for a fixed line anyway, you won't look seriously at other alternatives for telephony and as Ofcom research shows http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/icmr08/icmr08.pdf, we haven't taken to VOIP in the UK, as much as our fellow consumers in other countries.
The arguments sound beguiling, or they did to me. But then I discovered that naked DSL could be made available commercially in the UK right now, it is just that no-one has brought it to market. Which brought two questions to mind:
At our meeting, we did not exhaust the debate on the first of these points, but suffice to say the case for action was not obvious. More of our debate was around the part naked DSL might play in digital inclusion and in particular increased broadband access.
There is no question that providing greater access to broadband is a big issue as our recent research showed http://www.communicationsconsumerpanel.org.uk/Meeting%20the%20needs%20of%20consumers.pdf . and everyone at the meeting agreed. But is naked dsl the right way to go?
Before we look at specific answers we need to understand much more about why 40% of consumers don't use broadband. We know some of them don't have access, but most do have access and don't choose to take it up. Confidence, need, perceived value and cost will all play a part in the explanation. Only when we understand exactly why different groups of consumers are not taking up broadband can we work out how best to achieve universal access in a way that encourages wider use right across the population.
I represent a small village in North/East Yorkshire, and we have broadband, but only because of a local company who have a leased line. Access by telephone line is non-existant, due to cable quality and length. Some of the locals use mobile phones rather than BT lines as these are as bad for communication as for broadband. To us, non of it is any use, we can get no help, no one is interested, yet close by we have reasonable broadband connections. The idea of "naked dsl," is a good idea, but why not take it further? eg; for us, it would be a good and useful thing, if BT could give us a connection that is not in anybody's house, but either up a pole somewhere, or in a local box, that we could feed into and then use to transmit wirelessly to our location, or any other that needs it, and let us decide from who we get the connection. Looking at the cost of satellite or fibre and a village as small as us are totally out of the picture. Basically, never mind that those that have broadband want it better, those that have not need it now!
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