My tech's heading backwards

11 Oct 2011

Define progress in modern communications and media.

A year ago I received TV signals via an old-style analog antenna. The set-up offered reasonable quality pictures of the UK’s five main terrestrial TV channels and wasn’t subject to the vagaries of the weather in terms of coverage.

Today, after the ‘digital switchover’, I have a service that often drops out in windy conditions – I get screen freeze and lovely loud screeching noises as the audio fails – and which seems to require re-tuning every month or so. Sometimes the digital receiver itself – colloquially named the ‘digibox’ – gives up on life and has to be rebooted by being unplugged at the wall.

It’s ironic, really, given that the analog TV signals are being switched off to free up spectrum for 4G mobile services. You see, my regular 2G mobile service has suffered a drop off over the past week.

I’m a Virgin Media pre-pay customer and a tech journalist, so I’m guessing that MVNO Virgin’s host network T-Mobile is consolidating its infrastructure with UK partner Orange – the pair formed EverythingEverywhere in mid-2010. From a business perspective that consolidation clearly makes sense, but for me as a consumer it means that a week ago my in-home mobile coverage fell off the scale. The phone now barely works in the downstairs areas, and is almost usable upstairs.

Thank goodness, then, for my ‘always-on’ fixed Internet connection, which recently has been dropping out at least two or three times per day. Neighbors report similar problems, which clearly stem from the fact we don’t live on top of our exchange (I’d estimate I’m no more than half a mile away from that exchange, as the crow flies).

Living in a rural area, I accept that I’m unlikely to see maximum data rates beyond 8Mbps for many years to come, which brings me to my final point.

Why does broadband still cost so much?

I’m in the process of switching provider, and in the course of researching a replacement have been staggered by the price carriers are quoting for a, by now, well and truly depreciated asset. The highest price quoted for unlimited downloads (fair use policy or not) was £28 ($44) per month, excluding line rental, which I currently pay close to £17 per month for.

Another provider quoted the much more attractive figure of £11.49 per month with a 60GB download limit, however that’s just a promotional price for the first three months. After that, the monthly cost rises to £17.99. Excluding line rental.

What that means is that, in the year 2011, it costs me more to have always-on, unlimited broadband than it did in 2003.

Stellar progress? I think not.

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