I am typing and publishing this entry in the heart of the Cornish countryside about 8 miles inland from Newquay.
The country cottage that myself and husband Brin rented is miles from anywhere - and that's just how we like it. We're here to enjoy a rural break from our urban home in north London and, being mountain bike fans, hurl ourselves around the hills, lakes and woodlands. The fuzzy analogue TV pictures (and non-existent digital terrestrial TV at least until Cornwall experiences the 'digital switchover' in August 2009) allows us just to view enough picture to see that the excellent weather here will continue.
Still, the occasional blast of technology is good, so I connect an O2 USB data modem 'dongle' to my trusty Macbook Pro and here I am sat in the garden of this remote cottage, surrounded by lambs, cows, and an ancient hill fort - yet connected to the internet world.
I'd forgotten what 'narrow-band' internet connection actually was. The data dongle is currently reporting that the best connection I have is 42Kbps. In London O2 deals me up to 7 Mbps from the same dongle and at home my router happily reports over 11000Kbps (11Mbps). Quite a difference.
My iPhone experiences similar speeds - mostly standard narrowband (GPRS) in Cornwall outside the towns. In the Cornish towns of Newquay and Wadebridge I do get the '3G' symbol appearing.
I hear of rural communities deploring the fact that they don't get access to broadband, and that the government thinking of solving this by digging up the roads to install fibre cable, seeing as how ADSL doesn't work because the phone connections are too far from the exchange.
Surely the best way would be for the government and cellular phone companies working together to upgrade rural cellular transmitter towers to support 3G (HSDPA - High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) and the problem would be solved simply and wirelessly. No roads dug up, far less physical infrastructure to go wrong, and people in transit or on holiday with no access to any wired connection could enjoy broadband speeds as well.
I know that in London (and in Tesco.com HQ in Welwyn Garden City) I get blazing 3G speeds from my same O2 dongle - indeed comparing favourably with my home broadband connection.
If O2 were given the government incentive to upgrade the cellular transmitter tower I'm connected to right now to 3G, that tower could serve many villages with great broadband internet. Indeed I've looked up on the OFCOM Cellular Tower SiteFinder to discover that the O2 tower I am using is three miles away, north of St.Columb Major, and I'm getting a 4-out-of-5 bar signal sat here. That tower could probably serve a workable 3G/HSDPA 7Mbps signal out to a good 6-to-8 mile radius - that's a lot of rural communities in its zone. If customers helped the signal with a rooftop cellular antenna (my 3G dongle has an antenna socket) it could serve wirelessly out much further.
I talk about O2 for two reasons - firstly I have an O2 3G 'dongle' as I say, and secondly because if O2 did something about this, then magically Tesco Mobile would be able to offer their customers something too...
It just so happens that I have an unrelated meeting with O2 next week. I think I'll add a subject to the agenda!