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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 2,913
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Take the recent example of Kingsway Village in Gloucestershire, which is home to over 3,000 people and exists inside of the more densely populated (12,000 people) Quedgeley (i.e. a suburb of Gloucester). Just over the road the locals can get a superfast broadband connection from Virgin Media but residents of Kingsway Village have been left with older ADSL services. It’s hoped that BT’s upgrade of the regional Hardwicke telephone exchange could bring FTTC speeds of up to 80Mbps to the area but even that can leave significant gaps.

Last year BT admitted that its superfast FTTC technology would, on average, cover 85% of homes and businesses within an enabled telephone exchange area (here). But the remaining 15% gap could, in terms of population affected, be quite considerable once you realise that most of BT’s rollout has to date been focused upon urban areas (small percentages equal lots of people).

BT’s February 2011 Statement

There are only a handful of exchanges with between 40-50 per cent of cabinets enabled, and that in many of these cases this equates to actual coverage of up to 70 per cent of homes and businesses in an exchange area. In the roll-out overall, on average well over 70 per cent of cabinets are enabled within each exchange area, covering, around 85% of homes and businesses.”

Issues like the one experienced by residents of Kingsway Village are by no means isolated and we’ve covered many more in our news. Even large chucks of the nation’s capital city, London, specifically in the South East corner, still have problems with broadband quality. Thankfully most of those should be improved by the end of 2012 but others won’t be so lucky.

It’s little wonder that only 4% of UK households have subscribed to a superfast service from either BT or Virgin Media (Ofcom’s June 2011 Data), which is despite around 60% being within reach of one. Uptake would perhaps improve if the major operators put a greater focus upon hooking up areas of poor urban, as well as rural, connectivity first instead those that already benefit from good service.

Government Intervention

The problems mentioned above might, at least in part, help to explain why the government launched a new £100m Urban Broadband Fund (UBF) at the end of last year (here). This will help to rollout “ultrafast” fibre optic based 80-100Mbps+ (Megabits per second) broadband services across ten UK “super-connected cities” over the next three years (full details), including the four capitals (Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and London). A further £50m was also added in the 2012 Budget for “smaller cities“, although the details of that remain vague.

In theory, provided the money actually goes towards connecting up the digitally underserved parts of those cities, then it might actually do some good. The government has been careful to point out that its UBF will only be “used to provide coverage in areas where BT and Virgin Media will not go“, or services “beyond what the market will provide“.

Unfortunately focusing on just 10 cities won’t help everybody and others suggest that £100m wouldn’t be enough to do the job properly. Meanwhile the schemes opponents argue, perhaps correctly, that this is work the private sector could be doing by itself and, unlike the rural situation, should be solvable without public subsidy. It’s a fair point. Another point is that such funding often only benefits the largest players and risks stifling valid competition from smaller rivals (e.g. Hyperoptic , CityFibre Holdings , Geo etc.).

In conclusion there’s no doubt that rural areas, which have a significantly smaller and more dispersed population over a much wider geographical area, need the most support. But at the same time we must not forget that poor connectivity does affect large populations in densely packed urban towns and cities too.

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Mark Jackson
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. Avatar DTMark

    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.

    Now:
    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. Avatar Somerset

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

  3. Avatar New_Londoner

    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. Avatar Web Dude

    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).

    • Avatar DTMark

      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. Avatar Web Dude

    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 !

  6. Avatar Bob

    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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