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Mason Communications, the independent telecoms consultancy, has completed an investigation into the role of community networks and their position in the broadband marketplace.


Community broadband networks hit the headlines recently in areas of the UK where there was a need for high-speed Internet connections within the local community, but where there was no offer of a commercial supply. Community networks are normally co-operatives or collaborations between a select group of local residents who are confident they know the local customer base and market well enough to implement a cost-effective, local solution.


To better understand the future of community networks, Mason Communications (Mason), conducted a review of the community broadband projects already in existence or in the planning stage, in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The review covered issues such as the technology selection, support structure and quality of the new broadband networks.


The research has shown that, where community networks exist, they are typically outside areas of high population density and are, therefore, not a high priority for traditional suppliers, such as BT, at this time. In many cases the community networks that have been established are either very small, or have not been in existence for long enough to be able to gain an appreciation of how they will perform, or even if they will survive, in the longer term.

Traditional suppliers recognise that community networks have their role to play in locations where no alternative broadband supply is likely for the foreseeable future. These are areas where potential subscriber numbers are normally limited, and where real community effort has driven the establishment of broadband services. Many communities that have instigated their own broadband networks have employed a ‘best effort’ approach, in order to get a basic network up and running. However, they must be aware that, once a subscriber starts to pay the monthly rental fee, service quality must be on a par with other broadband providers, and it is clear that this is the area that still needs to be proved in many cases.


Another potential danger to community networks highlighted by Mason’s study, is the likelihood that, if BT enabled an exchange for ADSL in an area already covered by a community network, it is very likely that users would migrate to the mainstream supplier, killing off the community network’s business plan.


An alternative approach, which would help community networks to thrive, would be for incumbents like BT to concentrate on providing affordable terrestrial backhaul options for communities, currently the most difficult cost for communities to bear.


One alternative example of supplying broadband to rural communities exists in the province of Alberta in Canada, which was used as a comparison to the UK situation for the study. The Government of Alberta has created SuperNet, which will extend a low-cost, carrier neutral broadband network throughout the province. This has encouraged ISPs to start planning to offer services in the more remote areas that could not have previously been served affordably.



NOTES FOR THE EDITOR


About Mason Communications

Mason is the number one* telecommunications and IT convergence consultancy providing business solutions to public and private sector organisations worldwide. Mason provides a comprehensive range of disciplines including strategy and business planning, programme and project management, design and engineering, procurement and outsourcing, network optimisation and training. Mason’s innovative services address the communications technologies that are enabling the networked economy and incorporate a unique knowledge, experience, methodologies, and toolsets tailored to the particular requirements of our clients.

*Source: Industry Research Group 2001 & 2002


About Alberta SuperNet

Alberta SuperNet is a high-speed, high-capacity broadband network linking 4,700 government offices, schools, health-care facilities and libraries in 422 Alberta communities.

It's a pathway that lets government, educators and health care workers share and deliver information and services province-wide, and faster than ever before.

But it does more than that. Telecommunications companies and Internet service providers can piggyback’ onto the Alberta SuperNet network, making it possible for service providers to offer high-speed services to areas that, until now, have been too expensive or difficult to reach.


For further information, please contact:

Kate Garton, 0161 7728057 or kate.garton@mason.biz




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