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British ISP giving 3G coverage to rural areas for free

Even in 2011, finding broadband Internet access in rural areas can be difficult. In rural America, 40 percent of homes either use dialup or have no Internet access at all, a figure that’s ten percent higher than in urban areas. 

In the U.K., mobile carrier Three has decided to help change that. The firm has decided to give free 3G access to communities around the nation. It seems a noble pursuit, yes, but critics say it’s a calculated move to lobby for more crucial (and expensive) space on the wireless spectrum.

Three will set up 11 different towns with 3G access, as reported by the BBC. First up will be the small parish of Gringley-on-the-Hill, whose residents will receive 30 3G dongles and Three access for a year. Three will also set up WiFi hotspots at a community center and, of course, the local pub.

The plan comes after the British government promised that all areas of the UK will have access to broadband service of at least 2Mbps by 2015.

Three has teamed up with the Countryside Alliance, an advocacy group whose “aim is to protect and promote life in the countryside and to help it thrive,” and Race Online, a group supported by the British government that’s tasked with getting people online.

However, skeptics say that it’s just an attempt by Three to dazzle politicians with the quality of its network in its ongoing bid to score a larger piece of the wireless spectrum. According to the BBC, Three mostly owns high-frequency spectrum, which doesn’t have the range and penetrative ability of lower frequencies. The firm hopes that by showing off its chops in the rural U.K., it may get some support in picking up more spectrum that’s better suited for covering large expanses.

The firm’s motives aside, the plan shows some of the vast disparity in both Internet access and speed. There are still plenty of regions, even in the U.K. and U.S., where basic 3G coverage would be a big step forward. But Three’s touted average is still slower than even the global Internet average, which only highlights the difficulty in bringing speedy Internet to rural and undeveloped areas.

Photo via Flickr user MarilynJane

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