3UK has promised free 3G broadband to 11 rural communities, as it seeks a competitive advantage in the 4G race
Mobile operator 3UK has launched an initiative to give away free 3G-based broadband access to rural communities around the UK who haven’t been able to get broadband any other way.
The scheme is part of a wider government commitment to spreading broadband to rural areas, but is also seen by some as a manoeuvre intended to help 3 lobby for access to more spectrum.
3 will first hook up Gringley-on-the-Hill in North Nottinghamshire, giving out around 30 3G dongles and hotspot devices along with free Internet access for one year. The operator will install hotspots in the local pub and community centre.
3 is working with the Countryside Alliance on the scheme, and is also receiving advice from Race Online 2012, the government-backed group promoting wider Internet usage. This group is to identify a further ten rural communities to target with the free Internet access scheme over the next year.
“Thousands of communities still cannot access fixed-line broadband services, but they do have access to a mobile broadband network, and that’s where this new initiative comes in,” said 3 chief executive David Dyson in a statement.
The initiative is also intended to show that wireless should be a part of the government’s rural broadband strategy, 3 said.
The government has made a commitment to get all areas of the UK connected to basic broadband operating at 2Mbps by 2015. 3’s service falls into that range, with the company promising 2Mbps speeds, although data rates could be lower at peak times.
The company is in the midst of a pitched battle with larger competitors such as Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere, and is looking to make sure it is not squeezed out of the game as 800MHz 4G spectrum comes to auction next year.
Three told the BBC that 800MHz spectrum would be useful for rural broadband because it is better at dealing with interference from geographical obstacles such as hills.
Meanwhile, the government recently revealed that England and Scotland will receive nearly £363 million out of a wider £530 million cash pot to improve broadband in rural areas, with Medway in Kent and Thurrock in Essex, along with parts of Dorset, East Sussex and Cumbria among the areas to receive funding.
“Fast broadband is absolutely vital to our economic growth, to delivering public services effectively, and to conducting our everyday lives,” said Hunt. “But some areas of the UK are missing out, with many rural and hard-to-reach communities suffering painfully slow Internet connections or no coverage at all. We are not prepared to let some parts of our country get left behind in the digital age.
“I urge all those suffering the frustration of slow Internet connections to make it clear to your local elected representatives that you expect them to do what is needed to access this investment and to deliver broadband to your community,” he added.