The lack of good broadband ISP connectivity, despite what some people might think, is most definitively not an issue that has confined itself to the United Kingdom’s many rural areas. Indeed over the past few years this has become quite a common misconception, not least because there is a lack of hard data to map the problem with any real accuracy.
Until recently the UK government’s primary focus for public subsidy related broadband development had been solely targeted towards rural and remote parts of the country. This makes sense because the Private Sector is widely expected to tackle the first two-thirds (66%) of the country’s population, most of which reside inside of densely populated urban cities and large towns, without any recourse to public funding. But that still leaves the “final-third” (33%) of rural areas in need of public assistance.
The UK’s national telecoms regulator, Ofcom, estimates that around 12% of UK premises (approximately 3 million homes and businesses) can only get BT based services (aka – Market 1), which results in higher prices due to a lack of competition and technology choice.
UK Government Strategy (Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future [PDF])
“The Government is committed to ensuring the rapid rollout of superfast broadband across the country. Rural and remote areas of the country should benefit from this infrastructure upgrade at the same time as more populated areas, ensuring that an acceptable level of broadband is delivered to those parts of the country that are currently excluded.”
Some related work, which was carried out by the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) a couple of years ago, strongly suggested that the cost of deploying superfast broadband to the last (most remote) 10% or so of UK homes is up to 3 times higher than for the first two-thirds (66%) of the population.
Even some of the largest unbundled (LLU) ISPs (providers that have installed their own kit in BT’s telephone exchanges), such as O2 and Sky Broadband, have trouble making an economic case for extending their existing networks beyond the first 80-90% of the country. Suffice to say that the Digital Divide in rural and remote areas is fairly well established. As a result it’s often all too easy to assume that the Private Sector is doing its job for that first 66% (urban areas), which isn’t always the case.
Unfortunately there’s an almost disturbing lack of detailed public data about the quality and reach of broadband in urban areas, such as the UK’s cities and larger towns. But it’s not usually too hard to find people whom live in such locations and yet, perhaps surprisingly to some, suffer from similar levels of poor connectivity to their rural counterparts.
Part of this issue stems from the fact that, no matter where you deploy a new superfast service, there will almost always be some homes and businesses that reside at its outer reaches or which simply cannot benefit for any number of different reasons (copper line length limitations, line of sight with wireless connectivity, physical/electrical obstructions etc.).