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Calls for Action to Tackle “Chronic” Rural Broadband and Mobile Problems

Friday, August 16th, 2019 (1:21 pm) - Score 2,075
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A new report from lesser known UK think tank Parliament Street has warned how a historic “lack of investment” and “chronic connectivity” problems mean that too many rural areas are still being “challenged” by issues such as “slow broadband, less bandwidth, and problematic mobile and TV reception,” among other things.

At present around 96% of UK premises are estimated to be within reach of a fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) ISP connection (hopefully rising to c.98% by around the end of 2020), which is thanks in no small part to the state aid funded Building Digital UK project. Ofcom also states that the outdoor geographic coverage of 4G services across the UK is still low at 67% from all four mobile operators or around 91% from at least one operator (EE).

Naturally many of the remote rural locations where farmers operate are often last on the list for upgrades, which is due to the economic challenges inherent with building expensive new networks to cater for so few users over a wide area. In response the think-tank wants the Government to tackle such “forgotten and neglected” areas.

The report comes ahead of the new National Infrastructure Strategy (here), which is widely expected to set out how the Government will aim to achieve Boris Johnson’s radical pledge to make “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband available to every home by the end of 2025 (here).

Parliament Street Statement

The government is planning changes to policies, these changes should support farmers, tackle chronic connectivity in rural communities, improve and preserve landscapes, restore wildlife, protect the environment and build countryside character.

Any legislative changes should be tailored to reflect local character, working with local areas and communities. We should see this time of political uncertainty as an opportunity to regenerate outdated rural policies and support the rural communities of the United Kingdom.

Lack of investment from consecutive governments in agriculture and rural affairs has left rural communities severely challenged. The heartland of the UK is being forgotten and neglected, and became a blind spot by the Westminster bubble. Food and farming is the bedrock of our economy and environment, with agriculture having been the backbone of Great Britain throughout history as the oldest industry in civilization.

Unfortunately the proposals that accompany this report aren’t particularly detailed.

The Six Proposals

1. Government should help develop a dynamic, innovative sector, accessible to new entrants, by developing measures, which reverse the loss of farms, particularly small ones.

2. An evaluation of subsidies, grants and taxation affecting farmers and rural communities should be carried out in order to support profitable sustainable farming practices where possible. For arable farmers, opportunities to sequester carbon through use of cover crops and to be less ‘intensive’.

3. A national, industry led initiative to ensure better government support for farmers and the best possible trade deals for the industry.

4. More work to incentivise public procurement of local produce and meat.

5. State aid for farmers.

6. Rural community support, for businesses and residents alike. Concentrating on better connectivity, transport and small businesses.

In fairness last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) has already started some of this work, not least by moving to adopt an “outside-in” approach to deployment (i.e. start building fibre in difficult / rural areas at the same time as the easiest urban ones). Since then we’ve also had the launch of their new £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme (here).

On top of that a lot of effort is going in to improving mobile coverage alongside Ofcom’s forthcoming auction of the 700MHz band, which when coupled to the proposals for a new Shared Rural Network (here and here) could eventually help 4G and 5G coverage to reach around 92% and then 95% geographic coverage in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile the March 2020 introduction of a new 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (here) may help a few areas until something better arrives further down the road.

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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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27 Responses
  1. Avatar AnotherTim

    The problem with rural broadband is that articles about it always contain phrases such as “eventually”, “in a few years time”, or “further down the road”.
    Articles about urban broadband contain phrases like “an increase of 7,000 premises in just over three weeks”, “at a rate of 20,000 per week”, etc.

    • Avatar Joe

      The 20k figure is BT and thats Urban and rural.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      So what is the split between urban and rural then?

    • Avatar Joe

      Andrew may have the figures at TB ? 🙂

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Well, according to the TBB July-August update, the number of ultrafast connections increased by 0.3% (0.29% being FTTP), while the percentage of sub-USO didn’t change. I realise that sub-USO lines are present in some urban areas, but many are in rural areas (14% of the Forest of Dean are sub-USO), and in the past 2.5 years Gigaclear have not managed to connect a single one to FTTP.

    • Avatar CarlT

      https://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/8498-the-growing-size-of-the-openreach-fibre-first-footprint

      ‘Splits for Openreach FTTP and change in category since 12th July 2019:

      452,996 premises via BDUK or other rural intervention (increase of 7,448)

      586,503 premises in Fibre First areas (increase of 104,038)’

      Do note:

      ‘149,299 premises via commercial/old roll-out (decrease of 27,010)’

      Urban FTTP overtook rural in terms of total numbers during May. Proportionally rural continues to exceed urban as far as Openreach go.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      So those figures show that the rate of rural FTTP roll-outs is a small fraction of that of urban (7k vs 104k). It won’t take long for %age urban FTTP to overtake that in rural areas.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      While the percentage to a resolution of 0.1% may not have changed in last month, the numbers failing USO test did…

      827,027 down to 806,881 and 801,843 a week and a half later.

      A lot on USO hinges around what BT does once it has it up and running around the ADSL2+ users who sync at 16 Mbps down and 1,048 Kbps upload. Letter of USO says they are compliant, but we don’t count any ADSL2+ as compliant. Hence why Ofcom constistently has a smaller USO premises count.

      A BIG reason or two Openreach FTTP is slower to deploy is
      Distances involved in serving just a few premises
      Scattered nature, i.e. across UK rather than concentrated in a few areas
      BDUK contracts are not a bottomless pot of money, so if contracted for 2,000 premises in 2 years, they will do meet contract, rather than just carry on and do 4,000. Carrying on without new contract/extension from local authority would mean no gap funding.

    • Avatar CarlT

      ‘So those figures show that the rate of rural FTTP roll-outs is a small fraction of that of urban (7k vs 104k). It won’t take long for %age urban FTTP to overtake that in rural areas.’

      Yes indeed. As would be expected on both counts.

    • Avatar NE555

      > Letter of USO says they are compliant

      I guess the reason the USO chose a minimum upload speed of only 1M was precisely so that ADSL2+ would be compliant, thereby cutting out a large swathe of EO lines from the USO problem pile.

  2. Avatar Julian Robbins

    It has to be said that some rural areas are tackling this problem. Herefordshire council via Gigaclear has been installing full fibre via a series of grants which has increased the local county wide full fibre deployment to about 15% pretty good over a rural county. My village 8miles from nearest town us getting full fibre this year with up to 900mbs connections. Shame not all areas canny benefit from schemes like this

    • Avatar 1pF

      It is a shame that they are not pulling their fingers out in other areas of the same scheme. We have been waiting for over five years with continual delays through the Fastershire scheme and even now when they were supposed to start in Q1 after a further delay/change at the end of last year we are still waiting. There were several opportunities for Fastershire to sort things out but, we as a rural community, are still waiting band there has been no more information from either Fastershire or Gigaclear. The Fastershire site still says Q1 start….

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Fastershire have told me that Gigaclear are once again re-planning, and until the new plans are presented to and approved by Fastershire they can’t say what the impact on dates will be. When I was buying my current home 6 years ago it was a few months from having FTTC (so I bought the house expecting a decent broadband connection very soon). That was cancelled by Fastershire as some properties in my EO bundle wouldn’t have received 30Mbps. Now, FTTP is 2 years away if the dates aren’t changed again.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      The pace of the Fastershire rollout can be seen by the latest press release “Work steams ahead” bringing 80Mbps FTTP to “164 residents”. And that is the first news since the start of March – so 164 in 5 months is “steaming ahead”.

    • Avatar NE555

      > 80Mbps FTTP to “164 residents”

      And if it says “164 residents” then it might mean only ~80 properties.

      Looks like the PR is here: https://www.fastershire.com/news/article/129/2019/08/13/work-steams-ahead-bringing-fibre-broadband-to-parts-of-rural-herefordshire

  3. Avatar Brian

    There have been lots of empty promises of upgrades that have not been forthcoming with regard to broadband.
    I suspect mobile coverage is based on networks predictions, rather than reality, In recent months at least two of the local networks has “done work to improve your coverage” and actually made matters worse; the predicted coverage is down as excellent, including indoor, but that doesn’t match reality, with frequent drop outs and phones searching for a signal. The speeds offered by 4G lie within the speed range of ADSL2+, but all too frequently at the bottom end, slower than the actual longer line ADSL2+.
    I have no confidence in the issue of rural coverage and speeds been addressed.

  4. Avatar nofibreherewales

    It’ great to have these articles and uk government pledges or strategies but the Welsh government continues to drag its heels when it comes to rural areas like most things with them if it’s not in Cardiff it doesn’t matter or exist. The UK government needs to ensure the devolved governments follow the same aspirations that for parts of England. Perhaps we need a referendum in wales to abolish devolved governments that fail to deliver the benefits enjoyed by others.

  5. Avatar Gary

    Sadly its not just upgrades that aren’t happening in rural areas. My ADSL is half the speed and much poorer in terms of ping and errors than it was 10 years ago. OR still look at the service with the old attitude that Broadband is a bonus and a matter of luck if you get it or not.

    Until there’s a change in attitude regarding fixed line being judged against its ability to provide a phone service, rural and EO lines will be ignored. Potentially the USO might help some ‘if’ its cheaper to fix existing lines than deploy any of the other solutions.

    For me Ive finally reached the point where I’ll not be paying OR for providing a pathetic broadband service and phone line i’m moving totally to 4G/mobile. Small potatoes for a big company to lose one customer I know, But the potential for 4G USO affecting their income stream may be much bigger.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I expect it is likely that EE will provide USO 4G, so BT don’t need to worry about losing out when ADSL is replaced by 4G. That doesn’t give them any incentive to upgrade sub-USO lines before USO comes in.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I am surprised that BT has yet to announce a hybrid product. A bit like BT assure where you subscribe to slow ADSL/FTTC but the router also has 4G but in this case include balancing capability so that residual use does not hit the 4G transmitter. BT is losing market (broadband and fixed phone) and in addition to the forthcoming USO there is a lot of customers in suitable 4G range particularly EO. Hopefully we will know more later this year.

      4G does not come free for BT. They will need to map the USO in many areas for take up and bolster the relevant transmitters.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I do appreciate there are Routers available with this functionality but BT could probably do this around their existing hub. i.e a USB dongle with an external aerial facility and revised firmware.

  6. Avatar Michael V

    We see so many commitments to cover rural areas, I’ll believe it when I see it. @nofibreherewales is kinda right, outside our South Wales cities, coverage can be patchy across all 4 operators. I’m in a village 5 minutes outside of Cardiff & all four Operators have failed to cover the area. Up until two years ago O2 only had 2G-EDGE here!
    O2 have even referred to Dinas Powys as ‘rural’. Hilarious & so stupid!

    • Avatar Gary

      Sadly all the Competition BS from Ofcom doesn’t help in marginal investment/return areas. Low density high cost areas will require a long term revenue guarantee to even come close to breaking even. If you water that return down by allowing infrastructure sharing and wholesale price fixing to promote competition, you make the business case even less attractive than it is already.

      If avoiding a monopoly results in no service, who is the winner ?

  7. Avatar MikeP

    Bit blinkered there. They seem to think the only rural economy is farming.

    Couldn’t be further from the truth.

  8. Avatar Anthony

    I live 8miles outside of Chester in a semi rural area. FTTC was implemented some years ago but doesn’t even touch the vast majority. Because of this we are now working in partnership with Voneus to bring them here to cover the 100+ homes and businesses that are being forgotten about because of cost to OR. My area will be live within 12 months. We are left with little other choice.

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