A Piece of Wet String

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:

image 

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.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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7 Responses to A Piece of Wet String

  1. Matt Healy says:

    I’m rather more fortunate when it comes to Internet speeds where I live, about 75 miles from New York City. Typically I get over 10 megabit/sec downloading and over 5 megabit/sec uploading at home via cable modem. I get about 2 megabit/sec with 4G LTE wireless on the road. The 4G service has also been very convenient when hurricanes or blizzards have disrupted our cable service, which has happened rather a lot in recent years; of course 4G gets somewhat slower when lots of neighbors are using it at the same time because their cable modem connections have also been affected by the storm! But the 4G is a lot better than no connection at all in the aftermath of a disaster.

    I have relatives who live in rural areas where broadband means a satellite connection, for which the latency inherent in a geosynchronous satellite link is a major disadvantage. Of course people in Seoul would think my 10 megabit/sec connection horribly slow. But I can remember when Ethernet was only 10 megabit/second (and finding the bad t-connection on the coax could be plenty of fun).

    The snowflake effect is rather cute; we had our first major snowstorm here in the New England region of the US last week. Looked lovely but played hob with many folks’ travel plans!

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      For most of the Netherlands, 20-50 Mbps is the norm, and for those with optical fibre, subscription plans with speeds of up to 500 Mbps are available. 4G is now supposed to cover the country, but here at the border with Germany, reception is often flaky because of interference from the German providers. This affects 3G as well, and questions have been raised in parliament about it because many people in the area can’t use their mobiles to make calls to the emergency services.

      • Matt Healy says:

        Some of my wife’s rural relatives live where our mobile phones also do not work, so when visiting them we call from on the road to let them know we are on our way. Sometimes we forget to do this until we’re already out of mobile phone range, in which case we must use a coin-operated phone (remember those?). In the US as in the Netherlands, political noise is sometimes made about getting better service for such places, but the basic issue is of course the same: fewer customers per square kilometer means cost per customer of putting in the needed infrastructure is higher.

  2. Matt Healy says:

    I should have mentioned: last week was the US Thanksgiving holiday; the Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week are among the biggest travel days of the year. So last Wednesday’s snowstorm was rather inconveniently timed for the airlines.

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