Rural broadband - if it's not worth it, it's not worth it

A useful guide is that if something's not worth doing then it's not worth doing - whoever is paying for it. This is true of, say, a road. If the benefits of having it are lower than the costs of doing so then don't build it. This is true whether it is privately or publicly funded.

This is also true of rural fibreoptic broadband:

Rural communities risk being left behind if the Government fails to subsidise the rollout of fibre broadband across the country, ministers have been warned. 

The National Infrastructure Commission said that the Government needs to go "further and faster" by subsidising the rollout of fibre broadband in rural areas to replace the ageing copper wiring. 

We're not even certain that this is the right technological solution. There are, after all, vast areas of the world which will never be wired up for landlines - mobile has superceded that requirement. We don't know but we can imagine that the onward development of mobile data will create the same situation.

However, it's still not true that we should be running fibre to every hamlet:

His report, due to be released next month, will recommend that while private businesses are likely to install broadband for urban areas, the Government must intervene to ensure it is also extended to people in remote and rural communities.

Schemes have already been launched by firms to install fibre broadband including CityFibre and Vodafone, Virgin Media and BT, but these programmes less likely to be commercially viable in rural areas, because the cables and too expensive to install and reach fewer people.

The clue is in that too expensive to install. The cost of installation will be more than the value of it. This is something that makes us poorer and therefore should not be done.

Even if we want to move up one level in analytical sophistication - perhaps it is worth it but the installing company cannot capture that value. In which case those who do gain that value will install, won't they, as with those Welsh villagers who've just got out and dug their own trenches. 

Living rurally does indeed mean access to less infrastructure, it's rather the definition in fact. We don't run water, sewage nor electricity to every cottage in the land on those very grounds of cost effectiveness. The same is and should be true of fibre.

Who pays for this, the resident or the general taxpayer, doesn't change that base calculation.