September 16, 2010

Carrier Pigeons Beat Broadband In UK Race

A race between an old method of using carrier pigeons versus the new modern form of communication through broadband took place in the U.K. on Thursday.

The pigeons took first place as they were released from a Yorkshire farm at the same time as a five-minute video upload began.

An hour and a quarter later, the pigeons reached their destination in Skegness 70 miles away, while only 24 percent of a 300 MB file had been uploaded.

Campaigners say that the stunt was being carried out to help illustrate that broadband in some parts of the U.K. is still "not fit for purpose."

Last year, a similar race took place in Durban, South Africa where Winston the pigeon took two hours to finish a 59-mile journey.  Only 4 percent of a 4GB file had been downloaded in just the same amount of time.

Tref Davies, who organized the U.K. event, said the broadband connection will take significantly longer to transfer the 300MB file than for a pigeon to fly 70 miles.

"The farm we are using has a connection of around 100 to 200 Kbps (kilobits per second)," Tref Davies, the stunt's organizer, told BBC News on Thursday morning.

"The kids need to do school work and the farmer has to submit online forms but the connection is not fit for purpose."

Davies believes the issue is one that industry and government needs to address.

"This is the UK. It should be well-connected but around a third of homes still can't get broadband," he told BBC.

However, a spokesperson for BT said that 99 percent of homes could now get broadband, leaving about 160,000 lines "where excessive line length means broadband won't work."

Even among those who can get broadband, rural areas are trying to get reasonable speeds.

Research commissioned by the BBC last year found that about three million homes in the U.K. had Internet connections below 2Mbps.

The government has committed to delivering a minimum of 2Mbps to every home by 2015.

A recent report by communications watchdog Ofcom said that although these "headline speeds" were on the rise, they are not the relevant measure for broadband customers.

The report said that "although headline speeds increased by nearly 50% between April 2009 and May 2010, actual speeds delivered increased by just 27%, and averaged just 46% of headline speeds".

Lloyd Felton, founder of the Rural Broadband Partnership, told BBC News that the effort to draw attention to rural broadband deprivation and low speed was commendable.

"It's true that there are particular areas of the country that suffer much more than others," Felton said.

"You've got massive deprivation - this long-quoted 'digital divide'. As we all get more dependent on the Internet, that divide gets wider."

"In the end it's who takes ownership and responsibility for coordinating how a parish is going to handle it - what we say is that 'communities need to help themselves to broadband'."


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