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Academic Study Reveals Urban and Rural Broadband Speed Gaps

Monday, September 7th, 2015 (7:08 pm) - Score 1,109
rural broadband and river scene

The Oxford Internet Institute and RCUK Digital Economy Research Hub have conducted an academic study into Internet access and the gap between urban and rural broadband speeds, which they suggest “risks damaging business, adds to farming costs and could be driving young people away“.

The study (‘Two-Speed Britain: Rural Internet Use‘) claims that more than 1 million people in Britain are “excluded or face challenges in engaging in normal online activities because they live in remote rural areas“, where slow or non-existent Internet connectivity is still a serious problem.

The report separated areas into several groups and examined each separately: Deep Rural (remote), Shallow Rural (less remote) and Urban internet users. It reveals that just 5% of those in Urban areas had an average broadband speed below 6.3Mbps, but in Deep Rural areas only 53% could achieve this “modest speed“.

Furthermore the gap is unsurprisingly found to be most pronounced in upland areas of Scotland, Wales and England, but also in many areas in lowland rural Britain. It affects 1.3 million people in deep rural Britain, and 9.2 million people in less remote areas with poor internet connection (or ‘shallow’ rural areas).

Dr Grant Blank, University of Oxford, said:

This is the first time we have captured data to clearly show the depth of the divide between those living in remote rural parts of Britain and the rest of the country. The digital gap is not just due to age, income or education. We show that slower broadband speeds are barring many rural communities from engaging in the social or commercial online opportunities enjoyed by those in towns and cities.”

Professor John Farrington, University of Aberdeen and Author, said:

This broadband speed gap between urban and especially deep rural areas is widening: it will begin to narrow as superfast reaches more rural areas but better-connected, mostly urban, areas will also increase speeds at a high rate. This means faster areas will probably continue to get faster and faster, with slow speed areas left lagging behind.”

Sadly at the time of writing we were unable to download the full report in order to examine its data sources (the link seems to fail) and how it identified what is and is not an acceptable broadband connection, which is important given the wide availability of Satellite services (granted these aren’t ideal) and the fact that sometimes real-world speeds don’t always reflect the local availability of faster services.

Admittedly the problems in rural areas are already quite well understood (Ofcom’s 2015 fixed line broadband speeds report) and indeed that’s a big part of the reason why the Government setup the national Broadband Delivery UK programme in the first place, which aims to bring superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds to 95% of the UK by 2017/18.

Mind you the most rural areas tend to be in that final 5-10% and as such they’re sadly often also the last to benefit from such upgrades, with the final 5% being particularly challenging due to the low population sizes and related high cost of deployment (not many customers to help return the investment).

As such it’s good news that the Government look set to hit their first 90% coverage target by early 2016, but getting to the next 5% will take a few years longer and a plan to tackle the final 5% is expected to be detailed by the end of this year. But in the meantime many rural areas can do little except wait or go with a restrictive Satellite option.

NOTE: Speeds in deep rural areas are often slower because related premises tend to exist further away from their local BT telephone exchange and often only have access to fixed line ADSL or ADSL2+ services, which suffer serious performance loss over longer copper lines. This issue can also impact some poorly served urban areas 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 Chris Conder

    I think it will take a while before its proved that the 95% is only a statistic, and not actually reality. In the same way that ofcom claimed 99.8% of the UK had access to ‘broadband’ until funding appeared. Then all of a sudden they said well a third of the UK doesn’t, and so they grabbed all the funding for the final third, but seem to have spent it all in semi urban cherry picking and the ones who didn’t have broadband still don’t. And now the economic case for providing it gets harder as the easy bits are done. Those bits could have been done out of BT profits. Nevertheless, it is still possible to reach everyone with fibre, its cheaper than copper, and its doable. We just need people of grit to stand up to the goliath and JFDI. Its not like the British bulldog spirit at all just to rollover and settle for satellites. We need fibre, moral and optic, and a government that understands the laws of physics and stops chucking our money down a bottomless copper mine. 80Mbps for a handful is pathetic when other countries are doing 1000Mbps symmetrical. We are going to be last in the digital revolution. Most of those classed as having ‘superfast’ don’t really, they are too far from the copper cabinets. Its the same old hype, just like in 2003 when we were all told we ‘had access’ to broadband, and we still don’t, but now we have this: http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest/1248546 that’s what you can get if you dig in your own fibre.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      ” Its the same old hype ”

      And the same old responses 🙂

    • Avatar FibreFred

      To understand why the money has been spent on what it has been spent on requires common sense, until you have that don’t expect to ever “get it”, you’ll be confused for the rest of your life on this one I’m afraid, you would have us chucking money down a bottomless fibre pit for the minority whilst most of the UK remains on ADSL

      JFDI? it sounds like JLAU (Just look after us)

    • Avatar themanstan

      Maybe it´s because you don´t know how the definition of Broadband Chris?

      BB is anything faster than narrowband, which is dial-up type connections.
      ISDN 128K being the fastest… so anything faster than that is Broadband…
      The first services were 1-2 Mbps ADSL…

      So on the basis of the original defintion, yes 99.8% do have BB…

      If people or organisations decide to change their own definition for BB, that´s fine but it doesn´t change the original true definition.

  2. Avatar TheFacts

    What does this report tell us that we did not know? Apart from more posh people live in the country and watch less TV. It uses data from November 2013, a lot has changed since then.

    ‘Most of those classed as having ‘superfast’ don’t really, they are too far from the copper cabinets.’ Evidence please.

    It’s not the cost of fibre v. copper, it’s the install cost. Yawn!

  3. Avatar Henry

    It seems to me to suggest that using its definitions the problem in 2013 with “slow urban” broadband (just under 5% of 47 million, so about 2.3 million people) was three times the size of the problem with “slow deep rural” broadband (53% of 1.3 million, so about 0.7 million people).

    This is not the full position, given (a) the BDUK rollout in the last two years and (b) some people especially in urban areas not buying faster available speeds, but it does suggest that slow deep rural broadband is not the only issue and that “have-nots” are in fact in all kinds of locations across Britain.

    • Avatar themanstan

      The problem is separating the “have-nots” from the “not really bothered when given the opportunity”…

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