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Farmers See Small Improvements in UK Mobile and Broadband

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021 (11:56 am) - Score 960
farmer rural broadband and mobile uk

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has published the results from their annual (2020) survey of 430 members, which found that just 20% of farmers had access to fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) speeds (up from 17% last year) and 11% have no indoor mobile signal at all (better than the 15% recorded last year).

Admittedly farmers tend to work in some of the United Kingdom’s most sparse and remote rural areas, which frequently end up being last on the list to be upgraded (if they’re improved at all) due to the economic challenges of building expensive networks to cater for so few users over a wide area. As such the fact that they suffer a greater proportion of connectivity problems will come as no surprise.

At present around 97% of premises can access a “superfast broadband” connection (here), which is partly thanks to the state aid funded Building Digital UK scheme and earlier commercial deployments (here). Meanwhile Ofcom’s recent Connected Nations 2020 report found that the outdoor geographic coverage of 4G mobile services across the UK is still painfully low at between 79% to 85% (90-95% indoor).

The coverage of both mobile and fixed broadband services does of course continue to improve with every passing year, but this won’t mean much to those who are waiting for better connectivity to arrive. Admittedly in some areas it’s also possible that a better service could already exist, but that the locals may not have realised yet (awareness remains a common issue), although the NFU’s survey doesn’t examine this.

Key Findings from the 2020 NFU Survey

Broadband

* 32% have download speeds of 2Mbps or less (up from 30% last year).

* 20% have access to superfast download speeds of 24Mbps+ (up from 17% last year).

* 93% believe broadband is essential for their business (up from 90% last year).

* 40% believe their broadband speed is sufficient for the needs of their business (up from 36% last year).

* 27% said slow broadband speeds / poor broadband was a barrier to further use of digital technology (up from 26% last year).

* 42% believe the government should provide the same service/infrastructure for rural communities as urban ones.

Mobile

* 11% of respondents have no indoor signal at all (better than 15% last year).

* 82% of smartphone users have access to 4G (down from 84% last year).

* 46% believe the signal they receive is sufficient for the needs of their business (up from 41% last year).

* 87% of mobile phones owned are internet enabled (up from 47% last year).

The survey also noted that nearly all farmers surveyed (99.5%) owned a mobile phone, even if (as above) only 46% felt the signal they receive is sufficient for the needs of their business.

Stuart Roberts, NFU Deputy President, said:

“For too long, those living and working in the countryside have been dealt a poor hand when it comes to digital connectivity; waiting for improvements which never seem to arrive. It is completely unacceptable that in this digital age we have a two-tier system of haves and have nots – particularly at a time when communication has become even more important.

Modern farming relies on fast and reliable internet access, yet as our survey shows, more than four in 10 farmers feel they still don’t have the connectivity they need to run their businesses. This comes at a critical time for these food production businesses when much is changing.

We have consistently highlighted poor mobile signals in rural areas, which put farmers at risk and prohibit the adoption of new technologies which have much to offer the sector and how we produce our food. The current pace of change is just too slow and, with the introduction of 5G and fibre broadband technology in cities, the gap between urban and rural areas continues to widen. As the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently highlighted, people living in rural areas “risk being left even further behind” if the government fails to raise its game on rural connectivity.

This is why the NFU is renewing its call to both government and the telecommunications industry to tackle the lack of rural connectivity as a priority. We will continue to campaign for investment in the country’s digital infrastructure so that farm businesses can meet their huge potential, not only as food producers and custodians of the countryside, but in helping to tackle climate change and deliver on our net zero ambitions.”

The Government would no doubt argue that they’re continuing to improve mobile and broadband connectivity, such as via the new broadband focused Universal Service Obligation (USO) that makes it possible to request a download speed of at least 10Mbps in areas that suffer from slower speeds. But even that runs into a huge cost problem when trying to tackle some of the remotest areas (here).

On top of that they’ve also put £500m toward the new £1bn industry-led Shared Rural Network (SRN), which aims to extend geographic 4G mobile coverage to 95% of the UK but this won’t complete until 2026. Separately, the Government has also committed £5bn to help “gigabit-capable broadband” reach at least 85% of UK premises by end of 2025 (here), which is focused upon helping the final 20% premises. But that too has said it may be unable to fix the final 1% of hardest to reach premises, which are extremely expensive to tackle.

Lest we forget that the BDUK Superfast Broadband programme (SFBB), including various voucher schemes, are still working alongside all of this to help extend better broadband, although it’s difficult to know quite how much of the remaining gap they’ll all be able to resolve. We should add that Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own projects to improve superfast broadband and full fibre coverage.

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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.
Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar Anna says:

    Was on a train yesterday – in town 20mbps – in the middle of a field in Derbyshire with no buildings in sight – 469mbps on Three

    Seems they have got it right – not.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Trains are often served by an interconnected track-side network and masts may be placed closer to the tracks in other areas. Since at present there a fewer people on the trains then some areas are currently over-provisioned for capacity.

    2. Avatar Dave says:

      I am in a town in Derbyshire, Speed 22Mbs, no decent 4g+
      Where is the field? I will move there!!

  2. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    Speaks volumes, doesn’t it. Three has a real nack of putting new 5g masts in the middle of nowhere. I presume that’s how they can say they’ve the fastest 5g in the UK (because no one can access it but them to show off their great speed from a field 10 miles from civilisation!

    1. Avatar Gary says:

      More than happy for them to erect one near me, I’d be happy to be their headline speed ‘freak’ customer

  3. Avatar Roberts says:

    A lot more farmers would have better speeds if they didn’t try extort as much money from providers for wayleaves and getting land agents involved which increases the cost substantially

    1. Avatar Gary says:

      How much would you want from me to build a Mast on your property that made me a profit year on year?

    2. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      And also remember that the landowner will need additional public liability insurance to cover the risk to anyone visiting the mast – and that can be more than some of the wayleave payments depending on what the access is like.

  4. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    If any of the carriers want to build a 5g mast in my back garden, you’re more than welcome.

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