Pigeon flies past broadband in data speed race

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A pigeon
Image caption,
In urban areas, broadband cleanly wins, but rural areas are a different story

Broadband is the most modern of communication means, while carrier pigeons date back to Roman times.

But on Thursday, a race between the two highlighted the low speeds of rural broadband in the UK; the pigeon won.

Ten USB key-laden pigeons were released from a Yorkshire farm at the same time a five-minute video upload was begun.

An hour and a quarter later, the pigeons had reached their destination in Skegness 120km away, while only 24% of a 300MB file had uploaded.

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

It is not the first time that such a race has taken place. Last year a similar experiment in Durban, South Africa saw Winston the pigeon take two hours to finish a 96km journey. In the same time just 4% of a 4GB file had downloaded.

The pigeons are expected to complete a 120km journey to Skegness in around two hours, but Tref Davies, who is organising the stunt to give publicity to the campaign for better rural broadband, said the broadband connection will take significantly longer to transfer the 300MB file.

"The farm we are using has a connection of around 100 to 200 Kbps (kilobits per second)," Tref Davies, the stunt's organiser, 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."

Mr Davies, who is co-founder of business ISP Timico and serves on the board of ISPA (Internet Service Providers' Association), 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 said.

However, BT disputes his figures. A spokesperson said that 99% of homes could now get broadband, leaving an estimated 160,000 lines "where excessive line length means broadband won't work".

Speed test

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

Research commissioned by the BBC last year found that around three million homes in the UK had internet connections of below 2Mbps (megabits per second).

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

However, a recent report by communications watchdog Ofcom found that while these "headline speeds" were on the rise, they are not the relevant measure for broadband customers.

According to the report, "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, said the effort to draw attention to rural broadband deprivation and low speeds was laudable.

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

"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 co-ordinating how a parish is going to handle it - what we say is that 'communities need to help themselves to broadband'."

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