updated 09:25 am EST, Thu March 11, 2010
Virgin trials fiber Internet, TV for UK villages
Virgin Media today outlined plans to test one of the fastest rural Internet services available. The trial, in the UK village of Woolhampton, would use existing telegraph poles to link the area directly to Virgin's fiber optic network. It would give the residents the same 50Mbps access as those in larger towns without having to bury lines or relying on the existing, DSL-only BT network.
The test would also bring Virgin's TV services, including about 5,000 hours of "catch-up" TV episodes and other on-demand video. Testing starts later this month and should last for half a year. The company didn't say how soon more widespread service would be available if the trial is successful.
Virgin's test is being made possible in part by a change in attitude by the British government to rules surrounding the deployment of wired access in the country. Officials are considering loosening guidelines to more readily allow overhead lines, which should be less expensive and less disruptive to add than underground cables. Over 1 million homes outside of urban areas could stand to benefit, the telecom firm estimates.
The absence of such relatively easy overhead fiber has contributed in part to the lack of high-speed Internet access in the rural US. Multiple major American providers have often sharply resisted any government mandates to build out their access to these areas as they have claimed that the revenue they would get from the small number of customers wouldn't be enough to offset the original cost of expansion. An upcoming national broadband plan from the FCC may change this as it may help subsidize the up-front costs.