What if your right hand knew full well what your left hand was doing, but chose to ignore it?
That mindset may explain why some governments invest heavily in satellite technologies as good for the economy and taxpayers alike, then completely ignore these technologies when it’s time to invest in closing the digital divide.
U.S. satellite broadband providers may stop reading here. They know the story: A complicated web of rural telcos, local political public-relations requirements and other interests has been formed to keep satellite broadband down, way down, on the government’s priority list.
Only the richest nations, with certain population distributions, can still believe in the fantasy that, one day soon, their rural areas will be connected by fiber or 5G cellular.
In passing, let’s salute Australia, the one big exception to the rule. Expensive as the program is — very — Australia’s government and operator NBN have taken the bull by the horns to deploy a package of microwave, fiber and satellite infrastructure to cover literally the entire nation.
Just about everywhere else is a different story. Vying with the United States for the top spot on the You-Have-No-Excuse list is France. France has an established domestic satellite industry; a satellite fleet operator — Eutelsat — willing to suffer French taxes for the right to stay in Paris and operate its own consumer broadband satellite; a military that launched a broadband-to-the-soldier satellite with Italy; and a territory large enough so that, like the United States, it should know it will never connect everyone with terrestrial links.
As in the United States, the number of people in France with bad DSL service not far from metropolitan areas is astonishing. To top it off, the government is desperate to find ways to keep young people from deserting small towns because there are no jobs there.
France is also the nation whose defense and research ministries, and top satellite builders, have asked the European Union to use the EU’s Juncker Fund monies to deploy a small fleet of large Ka-band satellites to bridge the digital divide in Europe and elsewhere.
The French government has gone so far as to use financing from a public bond issue — only in France! — to help French equipment makers hone their bids for work on satellite constellations proposing global Internet delivery.
Still, we have a situation where on May 3, the day when France’s aerospace industries association, GIFAS, was presenting its annual results and highlighting satellite Internet, the French Economic, Industry and Digital Ministry (yep, that’s the name) cheered the French Senate’s adoption of a raft of measures under the banner of the Digital Republic.
A French citizen’s Right to Fiber is included, to ease fiber access for those owning apartments in buildings where the neighbors don’t want to sign off on it. Rural communications are to be given tax breaks to invest in mobile telephone infrastructure.
Cellular network providers will again be encouraged to commit to full national coverage. A special agency, called ARCEP, will be invested with the authority to punish them if they don’t meet agreed-to targets.
The idea that a satellite can deliver Internet to the home at a cost-per-user that is far less than fiber and far quicker than 5G’s rollout is nowhere to be found.
French politicians are like everyone else: They like to point to teams of happy workers digging up sidewalks to lay new lines. It’s a nice picture.
It’s said that the people who made the most money during the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s were those selling shovels. For broadband, that still seems to be about right as well.