One of the less attractive things about living in the Dutch countryside is that the internet is usually delivered via the old copper cables used by the telephone companies. In the far distant days of using dialup modems (that is, 25 years ago), this was perfectly adequate. When ADSL technology was first introduced, using the same cabling, it seemed blazingly fast by comparison. And providing that you live close to the telephone exchange, it is still perfectly acceptable. However, the further away from the exchange that you are, the lower the internet speed becomes.
So for those of us out in the countryside, using the internet is usually akin to dealing with a piece of wet string. I’ve just surveyed the addresses around us that make up our postal area. It’s about 6 km by 3 km with two small villages in it surrounded by outlying farms and houses. There are, in total, 436 addresses. It’s possible to do an online check of what internet speed is available at each address, and this is the rather depressing result:
There are only 54 households that have internet (download) speeds of 8 Mbps or more, whilst the great majority (391) have 4 Mbps or less, with 101 households stuck with only 1 Mbps available via ADSL internet.
These days, such speeds are considered low, bordering on completely unacceptable, for the services that are being delivered via the internet. For example, there are changes in the Dutch Healthcare services coming that will require broadband speeds beyond what is currently available for most of us round here. The government and local authorities would like to see more of the elderly being able to live at home in their own houses for as long as possible, while being supported by healthcare professionals, carers, and volunteers. Their services will increasingly be delivered virtually by the internet. The district nurse and the doctor will no longer be carrying out housecalls by driving round, but using video conferencing to see their patients (or “clients” in the new Healthcare-speak).
At the other end of the age-range, today’s schoolchildren are using education services delivered via the internet, and this will only broaden and demand more bandwidth in the future. I know that the Director of our local schools is already concerned for the pupils at our village school. They are being disadvantaged in comparison with her pupils at the town school, which has broadband internet delivered via fibre optic cables.
The laying of fiber optic cables began ten years ago in the Netherlands, and now there are almost 2 million Dutch households connected to the network, mostly in large towns and cities. The issue has always been that it is more financially attractive for the cable provider to lay cable in built-up areas than in the open countryside. The Province of Gelderland tried to get an initiative off the ground earlier this year: a public-private partnership with a cable provider, but the deal fell through. Now they have just announced an initiative, in cooperation with ten of the Province’s local councils (including ours!), to lay fibre optic cables in countryside areas. The Province is making 32 million euros available for investment, with the ten local councils adding a further 25 to 30 million.
I expect that this investment will take the form of loans, with low or zero interest, made to individual householders who wish to pay for a connection to the fibre optic network. The challenge will be to get sufficient people willing to pay, so that the price per connection comes down to an attractive price for the majority of people. Our village community council is asking people how satisfied they are with the current situation for both internet and mobile telephone coverage. We’ll be using the results of that in our discussions with the Council. I’m hoping that we can get enough people around here to be interested in replacing the current pieces of wet string with pieces of glass – a fibre optics network.