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Survey Claims Most Rural UK Businesses Held Back by Poor Broadband

Friday, July 23rd, 2021 (3:35 pm) - Score 1,008
gigaclear engineers in rural uk field

A new survey involving 651 members of the Countryside Alliance, which was conducted by UK broadband ISP Gigaclear, has found that 85% of rural businesses view their current internet connection as being either poor but manageable (47%), or unmanageably poor (38%). Unsurprisingly, most of them want “ultrafast fibre” to fix it.

The survey highlighted how 80% of rural businesses agree that ultrafast fibre connectivity would have the “single biggest positive impact on their business recovery” post-COVID19. In fact, 32% estimate it would help them recover twice as fast or more than without.

Gigaclear-Rural-Survey-Question-2021
NOTE: We’ve never heard of “MGBps” before (MegaGigaBytes? 🙂 ), but they probably mean Megabits per second (Mbps).

The results are unsurprising, particularly since 56% of respondents were still found to connect via slow copper ADSL lines, while 18% were using faster hybrid fibre FTTC (VDSL2) connections and just 7% had installed a full fibre (FTTP) service. The final c.20% or so didn’t even know what broadband technology they were connected to.

On the other hand, it’s unclear how many of those on ADSL lines, for example, would have been able to upgrade to a faster service (FTTC, FTTP, Wireless etc.) if they had chosen to do so (speeds of 30Mbps+ are estimated to exist for c.96-97% of the UK). Nevertheless, 45% have had to invest in a 4G router (mobile broadband) in order to get reliable access, while 20% paid for a satellite connection or simply worked from a café in town (19%).

Whilst the vast majority (80%) of those asked said that ultrafast internet would have the single biggest positive impact on their businesses post-COVID, just 8% said more Government financial support would be the biggest help, while 3% sought a bigger talent pool to recruit from or better road conditions and 2% said discounted importing and exporting. Just 0.6% pointed to cheaper property maintenance.

Finally, during the UK lockdowns, some 14% of rural businesses closed permanently, but the rest saw their dependence on the internet increase for things like Zoom-based client meetings (70%), supplier communications (61%), online sales (42%), online marketing (35%) and keeping up with COVID rules (25%).

Gareth Williams, CEO of Gigaclear, said:

“The pandemic sharply underlined the importance of internet connectivity. For business leaders, myself included, maintaining any level of business continuity through the various lockdown periods would have been nigh on impossible without functioning broadband.

But, despite having one of the most advanced and sophisticated economies in the world, there are still areas of England where internet speeds are unable to meet basic needs, such as sending an email or opening a webpage. Rural businesses remain at a major disadvantage because there are still some obstacles to overcome. The negotiation of land access is one of the most significant causes of delay to rural network rollout.

This issue disproportionately impacts rural areas, as land holdings are often larger than in urban areas. Where urban network operators often have multiple build routes available to them at a similar build cost, rural rollout is then more likely to be dependent on a single critical path to be commercially viable. When land access cannot then be negotiated in a timely, reliable way, delays and descope of work are far more likely.

As DCMS reflects on the responses to its recent consultation on reforming the Electronic Communications Code to simplify and accelerate fixed network operator land access, I hope this research reinforces the need for such reform.”

Matt Warman, UK Digital Infrastructure Minister, says:

“Improving internet access is central to our plan to build back better from the pandemic and the government is funding the biggest broadband rollout in British history in order to dismantle the digital divide between urban and rural.

Our record £5 billion Project Gigabit fund is prioritising bringing lightning-fast speeds to rural areas and we are exploring using innovative wireless and satellite technologies to connect the hardest to reach.

We welcome Gigaclear’s report and will consider its findings as we press on with our ambitious plans to boost businesses and stimulate investment in the UK’s countryside communities.”

Admittedly Gigaclear, which specialises in building FTTP broadband networks across rural communities in England, has somewhat of a vested interest here, although the problem of rural connectivity is nothing new. Many rural areas today can at least access faster connectivity than they could a few years back, but demand only ever goes in one direction (upwards) and those stuck in sub-30Mbps areas remain at a huge disadvantage.

We should point out that the survey itself doesn’t appear to have strictly defined what it means by “ultrafast internet,” which could have impacted the responses (i.e. open to interpretation), and it’s similarly unclear how representative the sample itself is of the wider UK market.

The Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme naturally aims to tackle some of this by expanding gigabit-capable broadband across the final 20% of predominantly rural premises. The project aims to ensure that such speeds reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and aspires to get “as close to 100% as possible,” albeit depending upon how the industry responds (i.e. so far only £1.2bn has been released).

On top of that, the £1bn Shared Rural Network project aims to push geographic 4G coverage up to 95% by the end of 2025 (here) and has recently been making some good early progress on its first phase of work (here and here). However, mobile coverage programmes for rural areas have a nasty history of under delivering, so it remains to be seen how this one pans out.

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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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19 Responses
  1. AnotherTim says:

    I didn’t take part in this survey, but I can state with confidence that a lot of rural areas still have ADSL as the only fixed line option – according to TBB almost 10% of properties in the Forest of Dean can’t get 10Mbps.
    Ironically, it was Gigaclear that were awarded the BDUK contract to build FTTP here over 4 years ago. They are finally making progress, but there is a problem for small rural businesses with the price. The cheapest Gigaclear business package is £100pm for a 100Mbps connection. That does include VAT, but many rural businesses have turnovers that are below the VAT threshold. So even when FTTP does become available it will be unaffordable for many small rural businesses.

    1. Fastman says:

      interesting

      Ironically, it was Gigaclear that were awarded the BDUK contract to build FTTP here over 4 years ago. They are finally making progress,

      you dont get paid under BDUK until you complete milestones afaik

    2. AnotherTim says:

      “you dont get paid under BDUK until you complete milestones afaik”

      No, and it likely to be more profitable to build to more densely populated areas that already have fast FTTC – which is what Gigaclear have been doing here. There is still no start date for some of the areas that are almost entirely sub-USO.

  2. John H says:

    I could have ADSL at 5 mb or FTTC at 2mb, why even bother to offer FTTC.

  3. Jackster says:

    Still waiting on BT to install fiber at my unit. A year on from installing it in the other ones on site.
    Currently use Smarty sim with unlimited data that gives me 15/4mbps.
    Not ideal for ecommerce seller…

    Even so, the packages on offer are all 24 month and I can’t be 100% sure I’m staying in business or staying at that location due to the current pandemic. Like wtf am I meant to do here.

    1. Fastman says:

      how did the other ones get done and who arranged fro them to be fibred. where the units also built at the same time or is your unit on a later build phase by the builder,

    2. Jackster says:

      @Fastman
      Not sure how it was all done.
      The new units all got it along with all of the other blocks of units.
      Just the original block without fiber for some reason.

  4. Martin says:

    So working in a very rural small village, 2-3 years ago Openreach upgraded all the residential properties in the village to FTTP, because there are only around 15-20 houses. This was a cheaper option than installing a FTTC cabinet due to the amount of houses.

    This was due to the village having really long copper lines and part of the village was linked to 1 exchange and the other part was linked to another exchange. Both exchanges are between 3-5 miles away so there was no chance of having any reasonable internet connection.

    However Openreach didn’t extend the FTTP network to a small industrial estate in the village, which is less than 100 yards away from residential houses that had FTTP installed. So the industrial estate has to rely on a wireless broadband connection which is limited to 10mb/s, which can be painful to use at times. So the village can get a gigabit connection but multiple businesses on the small industrial estate are limited to a very basic internet connection.

    It’s crazy that Openreach didn’t extend and future proof the industrial estate as well with FTTP.

    1. AnotherTim says:

      It may be that they didn’t want to provide FTTP to an industrial estate that might order a leased line?

    2. Martin says:

      It’s not possible for the industrial estate to have leased lines as there are no incoming copper lines at all. As it would have the same distance issues as the village before they put in FTTP. The village is very rural including the industrial estate.

    3. AnotherTim says:

      Proper leased lines don’t use copper, and don’t come from the exchange so the distance to the exchange is irrelevant.

    4. Fastman says:

      so how did get funded, Via BDUK or Via Community fibre partnership co funded by community , could be the community asked to exclude the units or chose not to include them or if covered by BDUK perhaps they already has a solution claimed on that postcode

      perhaps you can advise

  5. Damien says:

    Not just rural! I can’t get anything decent in a town centre!

  6. Mike says:

    Most people are just lazy and haven’t bothered to try 4G/Starlink.

    1. A says:

      You sure? Starlink is £99 per month and £500 upfront. You can leave any time but its still incredibly expensive. 4G is useless if there isn’t 4G service in the area.

  7. Gary says:

    Really ? I’d like to hear exactly how these rural businesses will benefit. What exactly is holding their business back that higher speed internet will cure.

    E commerce websites are hosted, payment solutions are hosted, so what are they missing on a ‘slow’ connection that would grow their business or improve their recovery ?

    1. Rural Business says:

      @Gary: You are obviously not on rural broadband.
      Video/VOIP and Landline Voice calls dropping or at best breaking up, presenting to clients is riddled with issues, data required for analysis and reporting taking days to upload/download or failing and having to restart, training content and video’s are not watchable. Everything takes 10x longer to achieve.
      Those are just the basics in my experience.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      Not all businesses are e-commerce shops. If they were, why would ANY business need fast broadband?

    3. Gary says:

      @RuralBusiness, What’s Obvious is you have no idea what broadband I’m on. And given my Rural location and additionally not being in a rural town or village but very much surrounded by fields we didn’t benefit from any improvement to our 1.2M adsl from the BDUK programme.

      I like 45% of the survey turned to a 4G solution to meet my needs. As Mark says in the article 20% of respondents don’t even know what tech they’re on so may well have a much improved connection already available.

      I’m not Saying there isn’t a divide or that those on the fringes of decent connectivity aren’t disadvantaged, but the usage you state, data upload/downloads presentations to clients online training don’t require Gigabit connectivity my own work plan has involved more online meetings and MS teams calls, Download/upload of tech and scope documentation and software, more than achievable on a half decent 4G connection.

      Plus echoing Mark, Gigaclear do have a vested interest in in promoting FTTP.

      I’m yet to be convinced we’ll see truly rural properties and businesses served by the Project Gigabit.. I personally think what we will see is the same ‘islands of connectivity’, village and town centric just the same as FTTC.

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