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Lack of Fast Broadband is NOT Just a Problem for UK Rural Areas

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 (2:15 am) - Score 3,023

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.

Firstly.. The Typical Rural Problem

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.

The Urban Problem

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.).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. DTMark says:

    The overwhelming majority of people without access to any broadband are in urban areas over 2km from the phone exchange. About half the country. Try postcode AL7 2QF to see what happens when you’re over 3km from the exchange = no broadband at all. Not cabled either.

    Broadband = 6Mbps down, 1Mbps up as an absolute minimum
    % of people who can get broadband now = about 60% (being generous to ADSL there)

    S/F Broadband = 25Mbps+ down
    % of people who can get it now = about 54% (52% cable + 2% FTTC?)

    Forget “broadband” going forward. By 2015, broadband can’t seriously be considered to be anything < 10Mbps down.

    % of people who could get broadband if every BT cabinet were enabled = probably about 85%

    % of people who could get S/F broadband if every BT cabinet were enabled = probably about 65%

    A monumental lack of ambition and delivery, because the same factor that guaranteed poor or no broadband for the last decade for half the country will still be in play for the next one, that factor very specifically being the lack of a market.

  2. Somerset says:

    Half the country (population, which is what matters) has VM so where do your figures come from?

  3. New_Londoner says:

    So many factual errors in this, where to start?

    About half the country without access to broadband? More like 2%
    No broadband if over 3km from an exchanges? Not correct, assuming you mean line length
    %people who can get broadband now? 98%.
    On your personal definition of broadband? No idea, but IIRC current Ofcom figures suggest average downstream speed is a little under 8Mbps, noting this is the average speed of services we’re all subscribing to, not the average of e best speed available to us, which will be higher in many cases
    %people that can get SF broadband? About 8m or 30% for FTTC, 50% for cable, with some but notb100% overlap between the two
    %people who could get SFbbroadband if every cabinet enabled? Over 90% given that’s how many of us are within 1km of a cabinet

    Apart from that, all okay!

  4. Web Dude says:

    Figures can be confusing and exceptions can be many and varied.

    I was hoping to move into an area with 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps service from VirginMedia (OK, I would pay for the 30 Mbps to start with, and possibly upgrade later if I could afford it and needed it).

    I moved from a rural area and bought a nice property (no work needed) on Merseyside (L20 postcode). 70% has VirginMedia so they post to all properties with their deals. My street (and a number of blocks of flats nearby) just happen to be an area that wasn’t cabled. 40 feet away they can get 50 Mbps. We are stuck with under 12 Mbps. Luckily FTTC is due within a year, but some areas not far away aren’t even being considered for it (presumably VM is widely available around those exchange).

    1. DTMark says:

      Same as that postcode I mentioned above in Welwyn – just off the edge of the cable network, over 3km from the exchange – no access to any broadband services at all. Can just about hold an ADSL signal. Lines too long/too poor quality. Might be able to get a 3G signal maybe.

      New Londoner – ADSL does not = broadband; only BT could seriously consider a phone line that can manage 135kbps as a “broadband line” let alone the majority of lines which can’t manage much more than a paltry 6Meg on a good day, nor does fibre to a telephone cabinet mean that the subscribers connected to it will be able to receive either broadband or superfast broadband from it.

      By 2015, the idea that anything less than about 10Meg down will be “broadband” is laughable especially when that has been your main competitor’s starting speed for years. The figures sound about right to me.

  5. Web Dude says:

    Forgot to add – enquiries abour penthouse flats in some of the local blocks gave mixed responses.

    One (estate agent) says that VM is available at 20 Mbps “well above the average speed” (a lie, the people near my home have 50 Mbps, but I assume VM limits to 20 Mbps as there are 100 flats and they probably only want to “guarantee” 20 in case everyone decided to sign up).

    Another (property management person) says that VM is “coming soon” while VM tell me they have no plans to extend their service here [that’s where the 70% figure “so we advertise to everyone in L20” came from].

    I suppose if 200+ households sent e-mail then VM might get their finger out, but I dare say for an extra tenner over what I am currently spending, PlusNet FTTC may be my least cost option, without waiting until Hell freezes over for VM to agree to serve this little bit of L20 !

    1. New_Londoner says:

      I found this helpful when looking for new properties getting FTTP:


      None in Liverpool yet, though I presume it’s updated regularly.

  6. Bob says:

    There are a major problems with very poor Broadband in Urban areas both cities and towns. Most have very poor speeds in the outer areas and frequently cable is not available. Poor access to Broadband in Urban areas is at least a 1000 times greater and has a much bigger impact than in rural areas but getting Broadband to the outer areas of towns & cities seems to be a very low priority with little to no focus on it

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