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Academic Study Reveals Urban and Rural Broadband Speed Gaps

Monday, September 7th, 2015 (7:08 pm) - Score 1,188

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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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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