Pigeons Fly Digital Divide


by Tim Moran

High-speed internet access is an issue for millions in the United States and, as it turns out, in the U.K, where one Trefor Davies created a publicity stunt to prove just how bad rural broadband is in the British hinterlands.

Davies has these two carrier pigeons, named Rory and Tref, and he recently used them in a little experiment. ArsTechnica: "The idea was simple enough: Rory and Tref would be tagged with RFID chips, fitted with microSD memory cards containing several hundred megabytes of video, then released from a Yorkshire farm. The pigeons would fly about 60 miles with the memory cards, while the farm's Internet connection would be used to upload the same video to YouTube. Would the pigeons carry their data back to their loft before the farmer could upload the clip?"

Now, it must be understood that Davies has a horse in this race, as well as a couple of pigeons -- he's chief technical officer of the U.K. ISP Timico. The stunt was designed for the pigeons to win, which they did -- details below (important information, lest you were thinking of betting a few quid with the London bookies).

Davies explained that the farm used for the race has a connection speed of around 100 to 200 Kbps, unfit for most purposes, but his real point is that such upload speeds "can easily keep people from anything like full participation in online social life and that rural users are on the wrong side of a digital divide."

So how did the race end? Rory and Tref arrived one second apart "at their loft in the city of Skegness after only an 75 minutes." The video upload? "Only a quarter of the video file had been transferred over the farm's broadband connection" by the time the birds arrived. How's that for wingin' it?