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NFU Survey Finds UK Farmers Still Suffering Poor Mobile and Broadband

Thursday, July 20th, 2017 (10:34 am) - Score 731

A new survey conducted by the National Farmers Union with 800 farmers across the United Kingdom has found that just 6% have access to “superfast” broadband download speeds and 85% have an “unreliable” outdoor mobile phone signal.

The news that farmers, which tend to operate in some of the country’s most sparse and remote rural areas, suffer from slow broadband and weak mobile signals shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Most of the major Mobile Network Operators (MNO) still have fairly poor levels of geographic coverage, especially in the newer 4G bands (although EE have delivered over 80% coverage).

Guy Smith, NFU Vice President, said:

“More than ever farmers need to use digital technologies to help farm more efficiently and fully utilise emerging digital technology such as robotics and GPS. Yet no signal for mobile phone voice or text and a severe lack of broadband coverage is creating a real barrier for those farm businesses and putting them at a disadvantage.

The ever-growing digital divide between urban and rural workplaces needs to be bridged. Government should recognise that, internationally, the UK is trailing behind other countries, putting our farmers at a competitive disadvantage. That’s why we are calling on government to adopt a much more ambitious approach to finding ways to get fast broadband to those areas that need it most.

This will mean ensuring there is necessary regulation in place and a competitive rural market. It is also essential to lay the foundations for an effective 5G network – universal coverage, with safe, fast and efficient systems that farmers can access to provide food and rural based services for domestic and international markets, while maintaining the countryside we all cherish, work in and visit.”

In fairness, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme has so far helped fixed line “superfast broadband” networks to reach around 92-93% of premises, although that still leaves 7-8% (i.e. mostly rural areas where farmers are likely to operate). The good news is that BDUK expects to reach around 97% by 2020 and hopefully the proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) might then benefit the rest, although some will still be left with inferior Satellite as the only option.

As for Mobile coverage, the NFU’s study puts a lot of stock into the future benefits (hype) of 5G but this is potentially a bit wrong-headed and farmers might do better to focus on 4G instead. The 5G roll-out won’t even begin until late 2020 and it will then take a few years before it really starts to reach rural areas.

Better rural coverage also tends to be achieved via lower frequency radio spectrum and in those bands the difference between 4G and 5G won’t be nearly as significant as in urban areas, where short-range higher frequencies can deliver ultrafast speeds. In that sense EE’s effort to extend the geographic reach of their 4G network to 95% by the end of December 2020 is a lot more important for the farming community.

One other issue with the NFU’s survey is that it only appears to measure responses based on existing service use and doesn’t consider whether or not any of the respondents are also covered by potentially faster networks, which they could benefit from via an upgrade. Admittedly faster networks often haven’t reached such areas but it would be good to match up the results with network availability just to see.

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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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10 Responses
  1. CarlT says:

    Well Guy Smith’s comments are dodgy making it sound like the digital divide is widening, it isn’t, and implying we’re somehow worse than most other nations, we aren’t.

    However, he’s from the NFU and is doing his job. You don’t Mick Cash of the RMT say that everything is wonderful unless he’s getting his own way, same story here. A union doing its job and should be read in that way as a PR piece, not taken at face value.

    1. Dave says:

      Well it bad were I live. No mobile signal at all and broadband switching regularly from 1mbs to 250kbs.
      With no prospect of any improvement until late 2020 with the USO which will probably lead to satellite.

    2. Mike says:


      The final 5% gap of rural not spots is actually growing as BT fail to factor line length and quality, and get away with homes past reporting. And mobile coverage is next to none existent in many rural areas.

      Just look at the data

      you must live in a Gigaclear enabled bubble

    3. Gadget says:

      Reading the comment in the CDRC map page in the area data box suggest that this is not the picture of what is available, only what is purchased. See the disclaimer that clearly states it is based on the actual speed not what is possible, which allows for poor home wiring reducing speed for example and also the case where a higher speed is available but not purchased by the end user.

    4. Steve Jones says:


      So you don’t know the difference between what is available and what people actually purchase, not to mention that people often test under sub-optimal conditions, using WiFi connected devices and so on.

      Line length is factored in. The BDUK payments are only paid out on counts of lines capable of supporting 24mbps and not on the count properties passed with FTTC. You may not believe BDUK figures, but Think Broadband has its own estimates based on rather more conservative assumptions about the impact of cross-talk and produce results which are only a little below the BDUK ones.

    5. Tim says:

      The digital divide is actually widening.

      Rural areas used to be disadvantaged with slow broadband when the urban areas could get ADSL2, when there was maybe an order of magnitude difference in speed. Now, with gigabit connections, the difference is 3 orders of magnitude. Satellite, or even 4G doesn’t close that gap.

      Worse, solutions such as Gigaclear even where available are very expensive – an urban business fibre broadband deal can cost £30 per month, while a Gigaclear business FTTP solution costs at least £100 per month after a £1000 installation and activation fee.

    6. New_Londoner says:

      Quote “The final 5% gap of rural not spots is actually growing…”

      All the available evidence suggests otherwise, what data do you have that backs this up? And why would it be growing? Even if your assertions about VDSL were true, the ADSL performance is unchanged so what make you think rural not spots are increasing?

    7. RuralBroadbandAndMobileSucks says:

      Not only do I get terrible broadband, but because we have no mobile signal, I can no longer use my credit card online. This is with 3 different mobile providers who all indicate on their websites that we should get a signal. We don’t and the reason it affects my credit card use online, is because they now insist on sending an Sms text message to approve transactions. The bank say there is nothing I can do as all the banks are switching to use the 3D secure technology (apparently).

  2. dragoneast says:

    There are three problems with digital services.

    Coverage is often patchy. Inevitably. That’s the nature of the terrain in the UK which has a wide range of landscapes in a small island (and jumbled development elsewhere – we hate and distrust planning) and unpredictable weather, exacerbated when you re-farm existing infrastructure. Necessary when we always try to do things on the cheap. Nothing wrong with that, just a fact. We do make doing anything complicated and convoluted, though. Add (or because of) a system that always prioritises private interests over the public interest.

    You have to know how to make use of them optimally, and that’s the difficult bit.

    Having the digital services available is the start of the effort and expense, not the end of it.

    1. Mike says:

      @stevejones these communities actually order and are told they’re enabled for 24 mb + and get knocked back on line length and other issues and still classed as enabled with the authority and not eligible to get redress on their vouchers

      If this is not an issues why did 50,000 NFU registered members get an offer from BT for satellite as the final fix, which they promoted accross all broadband NFU events.

      You honestly saying they’re all fine and can get 24mb and this is fake news.

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