Is Poor Rural Broadband Restricting Our e-Reading?

by David Murray on 17 September 2011

in Opinion

If you are anything like me you will by now have downloaded a good number of electronic books and papers. One of my sons bought me a Kindle last Christmas, and reading the newspaper took on a new form. Then along came the Android phone. They both now carry books and magazines.

Having said that, I love my old-style paper books. As I sit here at a desk carrying nothing but a computer, a phone and a lamp I am nevertheless surrounded in the room by bookcases holding hundreds of books, from this year’s new publications to some a couple of hundred years old and more. I’m not one that throws out the old as soon as something new comes along. After all, who knows whether the new thing might turn out to be ephemeral?

One thing that clearly is not going to pass away quickly, however, is the buying of books online. Whether they’re paper books to be delivered through the post or ebooks with instant download, methods of purchase have altered out of all recognition in recent years, and that’s not going to go away.

Amazon have recently conducted an interesting study, however. They analysed their online sales (both hard copy and electronic) and have now announced that Huntingdon seems to be the booklovers’ capital of the UK with nearby Cambridge close behind. There’s a list of the twenty towns whose people buy most books online (at least through Amazon).

Sadly, only one northern town is in the top twenty. It’s Doncaster, and that’s almost in the Midlands. What has happened to the far North of England? Well, I have a theory. Or maybe it’s more of a hypothesis. Or maybe it’s really no more than a wild guess.

Many areas of the north have poor standards of rural access to the Internet. Recently I took part in a BBC survey of 3G service. It showed that in the areas around which I moved (in Cumbria) over the several weeks of the exercise I had 3G access for less than 10% of the time. Rural broadband is a big debating point at present with various schemes afoot to do something about the situation.

Improved wired and mobile services are an urgent requirement. I wonder whether that is the reason for the North coming out so badly in Amazon’s survey.

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