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How can we bring high speed connections to rural areas?

conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Fri, 2012-04-13 09:19

There is a lot of debate in the UK especially about whether urban dwellers should 'subsidise' the rollout of 'superfast' broadband to rural areas.

UK Government has made funding available through the Digital Switchover fund and BDUK to help counties put in some infrastructure to help the final third.

It is now looking like this funding is going to be used to bring slightly faster speeds to those who already have a connection.

What does everyone think about this? What can Europe do to help everyone get NGA and not let the incumbents cherrypick the densely populated areas and ignore the hard bits?

The UK USC (universal service commitment) is currently 2Mbps which is not adequate for today's needs, let alone tomorrows, and implementing this with copper will cost as much as doing it properly with fibre.

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Comments

alison.coleman's picture
Submitted by alison.coleman on Sun, 2012-04-15 10:17

If the established providers have a business case against investing in broadband for the 'harder to reach' rural locations, couldn't a proportion of that government funding be reallocated to smaller network providers that can do it on a social enterprise basis?

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Sun, 2012-04-15 21:18

good idea Alison! I also think that government could compulsory purchase the assets the incumbent won't upgrade which will give other companies a head start, as the poles, ducts and wayleaves are already there, and fibre is so cheap to buy. New networks could spring up all over... now that would be an excellent use of public money, to seed corn the birth of true NGA.

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Lorne Mitchell's picture
Submitted by Lorne Mitchell on Sat, 2012-05-19 13:56

Oh, Chris! We are living in a new world, I fear. Compulsory purchase of assets like these would be really difficult unless we re-nationalised the national telecoms providers (in the UK e.g. Openreach). And I can't see this happen anytime soon. We need to have less dogmatic, more practical approaches for building-out passive network infrastructure. This is where I support both wireless and fibre options for the middle-mile / backhaul networks as both have their uses - and a Point-to-Point radio/wireless backhaul link is considerably cheaper than a dig. Then again, I know you love digging!

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Sat, 2012-05-19 14:06

Lorne, a new world? I don't love digging. I would far rather someone else did it, but it seems no one will, so we just do it ourselves. We have tried point to point. We have used it and run wifi networks in rural area since 2005. Now its time to do the job once, and do it right, and build a futureproof network, not keep patching up and make do and mending. Bring on your digital pumps, and make the job easy for groups like us, or businesses, to connect to an affordable feed, that would be a practical approach.

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Tue, 2012-04-17 16:40

No Miguel, we have no evidence of any joined up thinking in the UK yet. We are hoping to instigate some through this forum.

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andrew's picture
Submitted by andrew on Thu, 2012-04-19 17:05

For a while there was a chance of joining up with the smart meter roll-outs, but believe those are now going to rely on low data rate mobile broadband type connections.

We have had 30 years of regulation that was designed to setup commercial competition. That encourages disjointed thinking, which is what a PLC will always do, i.e. look after profits and future dividends.

Though if UK were to create a non-commercial loop operator, it would require careful management to avoid it becoming a useless monopoly.

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Infostack's picture
Submitted by Infostack on Thu, 2012-05-17 15:15

Government cannot manage. Need to account for technological change and risk capital. Also government oversight/regulation typically results in the opposite of the original intent.

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andrew's picture
Submitted by andrew on Tue, 2012-04-17 16:20

UK has a 2015 target for the USC, there is no USC in force now. Also remember a commitment carries no obligation to provide service.

As for the final third funding being spent on those with a service now, surely that is inevitable, when broadband at speeds of 2 Mbps or faster is available to ~88% to 90% of the UK, and if you lower your target to 0.5 Mbps even more have broadband.

The BDUK projects should not be being used in areas where commercial NGA roll-outs have took place, and authorities are generally gathering information on current and future plans to avoid this.

One thing to remember, final third in the UK is not a PURE rural thing, plenty of people who are in areas, that are neither rural nor urban.

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Tue, 2012-04-17 16:47

Thanks Andrew, it is a bit depressing sometimes when you realise how low our targets are, and describing 2meg or even 0.5mbps as broadband is dire. I agree, many in urban areas are on very poor connections, its not just a rural issue. Some lines go for miles round areas before they connect to a home or business and the service is frankly not worth calling 'broadband', yet statistically they count in the information fed to the government. This has to stop, and we need some accurate information for policy makers. Hence everything you can find is very welcome.
In my humble opinion all BDUK money should go into new networks to provide some competition for the monopoly and up the game in the UK. Some good reading from the FTTH council in their evidence to the Lords here: http://t.co/2St2Gfph

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Submitted by Peter on Thu, 2012-04-19 14:34

There needs to be a published database down to full postcode level of available services and speeds. Could include mains drainage and gas!

Is the BDUK money sufficient to do anything approaching FTTH?

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Thu, 2012-05-03 22:02

I think it would probably cost too much to get a full database, and I don't think anyone would believe the results, especially if ofcom had anything to do with them. Utility maps are a great idea though, pulling them all together and letting communities have access would save a lot of money for start up networks.
There isn't enough money in BDUK to do a lot of FTTH, but if it did some seed corn funding for innovative fairly large pilots that looked like they were going to be sustainable then a pattern would emerge that other communities or businesses could replicate, and like the web itself could increase and multiply, providing stimulus and competition for the incumbents.

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andrew's picture
Submitted by andrew on Tue, 2012-04-17 17:43

Various councils are handling things differently, those with surveys should fare better, as have independent of operator location feedback.

I expect the £300 of 2015 to 2017 money to fill the holes that are missed, but very little talk. UK Gov focuses on May 2015, due to re-election.

At least lack of plans mean 10 years of consultancy work for some, and dust off old plans, search and replace a few figures and more money.

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JoanneS's picture
Submitted by JoanneS on Thu, 2012-04-19 10:50

The Commission has a target to get everyone online by 2013, or at least those that want to anyway. Some areas in the UK, particularly in the north of Scotland, are practically unreachable via terrestrial internet services. Couldn't the use of satellite be an option in these cases? I'd rather see the government helping out these people by subsidising the initial cost of the box than leave them out in the cold.

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andrew's picture
Submitted by andrew on Thu, 2012-04-19 16:59

Satellite in terms of it can be rolled out relatively quickly, and around £250 subsidy can underwrite hardware costs is an option if connectivity is needed now.

The issue for residential use is the usage allowances and monthly fees.

Fixed wireless broadband offers a better opportunity for small communities that are spread out, and you can use wireless to get the signal to a larger town too. Some parts of the Highlands and Islands have this already.

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michaelmulquin's picture
Submitted by michaelmulquin on Thu, 2012-04-19 21:57

I'm working with the east midlands PSN, that runs the schools network in the East Midlands region of the UK, linking up 1800 schools and other buildings. There are several hundred of these schools in rural areas with poor broadband, while the school has a fibre link. At this stage it looks as if we can provide affordable backhaul in many cases for rural communities.

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phil's picture
Submitted by phil on Fri, 2012-04-20 10:17

Good to hear from you. I suspect you'll reap the harvest of previous hostility from schools, LEAs and educational broadband consortia who were generally not prepared to contemplate someone else using "their" network, so there's 8 years of history to overcome.

Can you link is to a map of the PSN that shows capacities and nodes, that would be a good place to start thinking around your idea. I'm at PE8 6PS so in E Midlands (just).

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Jim Savege's picture
Submitted by Jim Savege on Thu, 2012-06-07 14:56

All of the network connecting the 323 schools across Cumbria has been included in the procurement process for super-fast broadband for rural Cumbria in order to make use of existing public infrastructure that will help accellerate roll-out and access for businesses and communities.

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michaelmulquin's picture
Submitted by michaelmulquin on Thu, 2012-04-19 22:03

Just to link this up with Chris' original comment. One of the challenges is that up until March 2011, the schools' connections were all paid for by the County Councils and they averaged out the cost. Effectively urban schools were subsidising the cost of connectivity of rural schools. But also, because the Councils were able to offer the schools as one big contract, the overall cost was much lower than it would have been if they had all paid for their connection individually.
However, the Government gave individual schools the control over their broadband budget. What this means is that commercial providers are cherry picking the urban schools and offering them a cheap deal. The leaves fewer and fewer schools that can band together for procurements and is leading to the costs for rural schools becoming very expensive indeed.

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phil's picture
Submitted by phil on Fri, 2012-04-20 10:32

How are we defining "high speed" for the purposes of this debate ?

I ask because the coverage at say 30 Mbits/s plus is significantly different to that at say 2M, so the discussion may be more focussed if it is tightly defined.

Providing 30M obviously covers issues about supplying anything less, but satellites can deliver "welfare broadband" to practically everyone at 2M today.

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MerrowDrover's picture
Submitted by MerrowDrover on Fri, 2012-04-20 11:19

Network Maintenance

Perhaps we should considering how to replace the ageing twisted pair networks too? They must becoming ever more complicated and expensive to maintain. Addressing this vital topic might divert the debate just on speeds to more urgent necessities ?

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Submitted by Peter on Thu, 2012-05-03 16:12

The main/core networks of all telcos including BT will be fibre. Fibre to the cabinet gets rid of huge amounts of copper, but only when Ofcom allows BT to provide voice telephony from the cabinet as well as broadband, which is happening soon.

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lizzytait's picture
Submitted by lizzytait on Fri, 2012-04-20 14:38

Hi everyone, just a quick comment to introduce myself.

I work at dot.rural research and am just away to start work on a project that involves conducting socio-economic analyses of broadband initiatives in the UK. The project is linked with the DART project http://www.dotrural.ac.uk/dart/ which is investigating next generation satellite broadband. My own interest is in the policy requirements and the regulatory/technical standards etc that have to be put in place to help communities who want to set up broadband initiatives. There are some very interesting examples that I've come across (will post more about these later) but for one reason or another they are not transferrable to other areas and can be unsustainable in the long term.

I look forward to discussing these issues on this board some more and will also post on behalf of some colleagues.

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Fri, 2012-04-20 19:25

Small world Lizzie! I am working on the same project! Our village is a living lab for DART. We have an avanti satellite installed to bring content in. It will be very interesting. Hope we can do some stuff together, guess the living lab will be a key part of your work.

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lizzytait's picture
Submitted by lizzytait on Sun, 2012-04-22 19:40

Hello! That's really funny I had no idea. My project is actually DEAR (sorry for another dot.rural acronym) but it's cross-cutting all the projects including DART looking at impact. I haven't done much with DART yet but Gorry was telling me a bit the other day. I'll mention you're on here too :)

Looking forward to working with you- maybe I'll get to come and visit. I'm going to Wray at some point soonish to find out about their community broadband initiative.

Cheers
Lizzy

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General Disquiet's picture
Submitted by General Disquiet on Sat, 2012-04-21 14:17

I agree with all the points you raise. There is an urgent education job to be done in many of the rural communities, as there is still a degree of ignorance of why ultrafast broadband is an absolute necessity and not some sort of luxury - and why many rural communities will sink into decline without it. Current plans to give better broadband access to those with an already excellent service is to shove a dagger into the heart of the countryside.

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lizzytait's picture
Submitted by lizzytait on Sun, 2012-04-22 20:17

I agree about the urban/rural divide and that access to broadband is essential for rural areas.

From talking to people in rural areas I'd say that they do know what they are missing but don't know what if anything they can do to improve the situation.

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Sat, 2012-04-21 14:23

Agree with you General, the digital divide grows ever wider, and there is no competition to stimulate innovation. We need to help the rurals first. Finalthirdfirst was set up to do this, but it seems to be that it is being cherrypicked and just a few larger villages will get some benefit leaving a bigger gap than ever between those who are left on the other side.

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Wispa limited's picture
Submitted by Wispa limited on Sat, 2012-04-21 20:19

I'm going to throw my tuppence in.

Urban/rural is a key question, and (in part) is repeatedly asked due to the fact that rural is seen as being a less profitable enterprise than urban.

Increased density of potential subscribers in urban areas is one reason
Another is that urban infrastructure is usually easier to roll out (ducting is more readily available as an example)
Finally, demand in rural areas is often perceived to be low as there is a distinct reticence for rural dwellers to 'show interest' when asked not least of all due to 'failure fatigue' where they have gone through the 'it's coming' loop so many times that it is simply not believed that it is going to happen.

As such, departments, Government, devolved Governments, EU etc all spend time trying to narrow the digital divide.

Honestly?

This is a fundamental mistake. Having sound policies to incentivise (or force) the delivery of an appropriate speed and ubiquitous access, would necessitate the delivery to 100% of the population that desired access.

With a weak (or poorly informed) regulator, and a directionless Gov, the UK is in the situation where they are being led by the principal incumbent as to what the shape of tomorrow's access should look like.

If the principal incumbent says that 100% is not achievable, then the Gov works with them to try and lower the expectation.

The Welsh Gov is going through this process at the moment in order to allocate C£60m to BT. Whilst the contract negotiations are all but finished, the ICT team is canvassing existing SME suppliers to find areas where BT will not have to deliver in Wales, as these SMEs are already offering fast (sic) speeds.

Subsequently, this will not result in enhanced availability in Wales, moreover it will leave some areas with new virtual monopoly supply.

All to appease the principal incumbent, and then hand them 10s of millions with politically achievable targeting.

If we wish to close the rural/urban divide, we need robust policy, robust decisions, healthy reasons why ISPs should deliver, and a minimum expectation of 100Mbps for anyone in the UK that wishes to get it.

And yes - we do indeed believe that this is possible - and yes we have 'shown our workings' and yes you can have a copy if you want it.

Implement something close to the policy changes in that Doc and we wont need to worry about divides in the future - well - other than who gets it first.
+++
Link to the doc is here (you can download as a pdf by using the box with the little arrow):
http://issuu.com/richardbrown0/docs/uk_broadband_plan

And while I am posting links - can everyone reading this in the UK please help us to challenge Ofcom (thankyou):
http://wispa.it/upto-charge-upto-service/

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Wispa limited's picture
Submitted by Wispa limited on Sun, 2012-04-22 08:17

It certainly isn't helping the SME suppliers - as they will no longer have regions abutting theirs that BT will not be paid to satisfy - subsequently this will reduce their opportunity for growth.
Additionally - BT will be REQUIRED to go right upto to the border of the SME delivery - and this is being done on the basis of a full postcode - SY16 4EP not a partial postcode SY16.
It's a pretty ugly way of doing things IMHO

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Submitted by Peter on Sat, 2012-04-21 22:24

Please correct Para 221 - homeworking and smart metering does not need 100M!

Any thoughts about how these proposals would work when 2/3 have >20M and many larger businesses have dedicated internet links of their own? Plus the FTTP on demand product complicating the story.

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Wispa limited's picture
Submitted by Wispa limited on Sun, 2012-04-22 08:20

Para 21 doesn't say it requires 100Mbps but let me tell you - it will only be a short period of time before I will have to be changing that paragraph to say that it does - smart metering also does not require 100Mbps - but it does require constant availability - something not possible today.
As for your other questions - I'm afraid that I either do not understand your question or you have not read the document.
The document is entirely technology agnostic - in fact it demands that the Gov is too - it also has a 100Mbps min delivery expectation. so I am not sure how I can answer that paragraph.

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phil's picture
Submitted by phil on Sun, 2012-04-22 17:12

Having worked on big process plants with distributed control systems wired together with RS422 I think I would be happy with an SMS text device for smart metering my house. Exactly how much data can one extract from domestic utilites ? certainly not more than a 100 MWt CHP plant.

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Submitted by Peter on Mon, 2012-04-23 15:32

So existing broadband and wireless etc. do not have constant availability? How often does smart metering transmit?

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Infostack's picture
Submitted by Infostack on Thu, 2012-05-17 15:25

Take your glasses/blinders off. 1st, metcalfe's law says that the value of urban is increased dramatically by rural connectivity and vice versa. They are inexorably linked. 2nd, the smartphone is the great equalizer in that it is mobile and therefore demands ubiquity and also has trojan horse wifi access to bypass carriers (so demand is close at hand). 3rd we need a new network paradigm and lingua franca to clearly see disparities and inequities at every layer across every boundary point. Capital loves to follow gravity and right now all the opportunity is in the lower layers since there is so much pressure being exerted from the upper layers (application ecosystems and OTT). Bandwidth is 20-150x more expensive than it should be because people lack the framework/perspective to analyze true marginal cost and project likely demand. Based on this perspective, I concur with Chris and believe the rural market could be the tail that wags the dog, or a way to grow grass-roots competition that attacks the redoubtable urban defenses of the monopolies.

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Thu, 2012-05-17 17:19

The more this forum grows the more I think grass roots competition is the way to break this stranglehold and deliver abundance. Now the job is how to deliver the people the means to achieve this goal.

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Sat, 2012-04-21 20:31

By gum, we're getting some good comments on here, keep em coming! Thanks for posting the links there Richard, your broadband plan is excellent reading and yes everyone reading your comment should spend 40 seconds voting for ofcom to bring in the 'up to' charge for an 'up to' service, because even when the cabinets are enabled many will not get the 'up to' service they were promised. Forewarned is forearmed and these policies need to be in place very quickly. We don't pay for 'up to' a pint of milk so why should we pay for 'up to' 8 Mbps in rural areas when we are lucky to get half a meg? Spot on. Thanks for posting.

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andrew's picture
Submitted by andrew on Sat, 2012-04-21 21:36

The whole up to is more complex, as a lot of the costs do not vary if someone is connecting at 160Kbps or 22000 Kbps

The solution is to charge for the DSLAM port, an amount for for the amount of usage data and the local loop line speed.

Of course those living closer to the exchange will have to have the option of opting for a slower aka cheaper line speed, as otherwise it will introduce yet another postcode lottery.

Or put this another way, Sky charges £7.50 for its up to 16 Meg service (or is it 14 or 13 this week?), what would people think is reasonable for a 2 Meg/8Meg/16Meg service?

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Submitted by Peter on Sat, 2012-04-21 22:11

Good points Andrew. And the fun would start with the predicted speed being different to the actual due to the home wiring. I moved a router (not mine!) from extension wiring to the master socket and the speed changed from 600k to 3M.

And would the price bands on 0-8M services be so close as to not make it worth it.

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Wispa limited's picture
Submitted by Wispa limited on Sun, 2012-04-22 08:14

The issue with the upto campaign is to highlight the weakness of the regulator as much as it is to highlight the unfairness of flat rate charging for variable service delivery.
If the regulator were in the slightest bit useful then it would not be an issue today.

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rob.lyle's picture
Submitted by rob.lyle on Mon, 2012-04-23 00:17

Andrew,
In anticipation of some BDUK money landing in an urban zone near to my little leafy village, my local council (Speldhurst Parish Council) has provided funds and deployed 50+ "whiteboxes" from Sam Knows across as many postcodes as possible. Data is here: http://www.b4rs.org.uk/content.php?162-Speldhurst-Parish-Council-Whitebo... We now have Ofcom approved QoS monitoring of the current service, and of course any improvements made by BDUK project initiatives. Unfortunately (for incumbents) we'll also have very accurate data on how little things improve, should FTTC or ADSL2+ not reach our more rural brethren over incumbent copper.
At the very least, I hope the local press coverage we're getting makes any ISP bidders for BDUK money think twice, and carefully, before they "promise" a coverage and performance level from their project.

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Infostack's picture
Submitted by Infostack on Thu, 2012-05-17 15:33

Andrew, right now we sell an ocean of capacity one drop at a time. Elsewhere I point out the model is fundamentally flawed. But to your point on pricing, it is amazing how often stock and flow consumption and pricing are confused! The key is to look at marginal costs given various demand assumptions. In 1996 I did a rigorous analysis of 10 cent mobile pricing (an 80-90% decline) under the 4Cs of wireless (cost, coverage, capacity and clarity) framework that lead to the prediction that MOUs would grow from less than 100 to 700+ and ARPUs would grow from $42 to $70 as opposed to declining to $35. The same approach can be taken for last mile broadband today under a variety of hybrid access approaches.

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phil's picture
Submitted by phil on Sun, 2012-04-22 17:15

you don't pay more for milk the faster you pour it either, so another analogy bites the dust.

£10/month and 20p per peak time GB anyone ?

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Submitted by Peter on Tue, 2012-04-24 10:20

TalkTalk - now £6.50 for 'get what you get speed' and 40G/month. Half price for 12 months, can't get much cheaper. What would that look like on a price range basis?

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conder's picture
Submitted by conder on Wed, 2012-05-16 13:11

Milk isn't sold on the speed it comes out of the bottle. its sold by the quantity in the bottle. or do you have fast milk where you live?

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