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'Complicated' government scheme to blame for poor take-up of satellite broadband

Monday, March 21st 2016 by Ellen Branagh

People aren't taking advantage of the government's satellite broadband scheme because the ordering process is too complicated, a company boss has claimed.

Andrew Walwyn, CEO of independent satellite provider Europasat, said Britons are subject to a "postcode lottery" on what subsidies they can receive.

According to Mr Walwyn, the BDUK-run national scheme could learn lessons from a Welsh subsidy scheme when it comes to rolling out the technology.

There are a number of subsidised satellite broadband schemes currently running in the UK – the Welsh Broadband Cymru Voucher Scheme, the BDUK National Scheme, the Better Rural Broadband (BDUK) Funding Pilot and several standalone county pilot schemes.

Speaking exclusively to Cable.co.uk, Mr Walwyn said: "The Welsh scheme is going well – we are working on a huge number of orders – the process is very simple, customers get the quotes from us and then contact the Welsh Assembly to arrange the subsidy and then we arrange the installation.

"The take-up on the BDUK National Scheme has been much lower – BT is running this scheme and the customer ordering process is very complicated, plus the subsidy isn’t as generous.

"There are definitely lessons that can be learnt from the Welsh scheme."

In January, shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah branded the government’s subsidised scheme an "inadequate stunt", with just £8,000 of the £60m spent and only 24 people benefiting from it.

Mr Walwyn said: "The problem is that Brits are subject to a postcode lottery on what satellite broadband subsidy they can receive and the process they need to go through to complete the order.

"We hope that the BDUK National Scheme will change to make the process much easier, as this will hugely impact take-up."

'Evolving'

Europasat, which operates across Europe, offers a 30Mbps service and aims to be able to give customers access to 100Mbps by 2020.

But Mr Walwyn said satellite broadband’s biggest issue is its reputation.

"Satellite broadband definitely has a reputation issue that needs to be addressed – just as the fixed line telecoms market has evolved over the last five years, so has satellite broadband – but few people know and understand this.

"They think that the service is still the same, which isn’t the case at all.

"Satellite is evolving much more quickly than any other type of broadband technology – speeds have doubled in less than two years and data allowances are increasing even faster."

The market is "virtually unrecognisable" from five years ago when satellite’s reputation was as expensive, slow and difficult to install, he said.

"The market mirrors the pace of change that happened in the mobile phone industry – looking ahead the speeds and data are set to increase at an even faster rate, which will make it even more appealing to consumers and businesses."

While critics maintain that satellite will never rival fibre broadband, Mr Walwyn said people with access to fibre aren’t Europasat’s target market.

"We are not targeting consumers and businesses that have access to fibre – our product is designed to change the lives of people that hitherto haven’t had any broadband options."

That isn't limited to homes and businesses, but includes sites like wind farms and construction sites – places without underlying infrastructure that need connectivity.

According to Mr Walwyn, satellite broadband technology is not only future-proofed for the next few years but will only get cheaper and easier to install as hardware evolves.

"Three years ago professionals did the majority of installations, now nearly half are self-installed.

"This is set to get even higher as the hardware evolves – which is even better news for customers as they can get online faster and save money on the installation costs."

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