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All-Party Report Finds Poor Broadband Holding Back UK Rural Areas UPDATE

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 (4:56 pm) - Score 1,128
rural_broadband_countryside_c4l

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Rural Powerhouse has today published a new report that warns “Rural Britain is not a museum” and is being “held back” by, among many other things, “slow” broadband connectivity and the need to urgently improve 4G and 5G mobile infrastructure.

According to Ofcom’s data (here), 30Mbps+ capable fixed broadband coverage currently reaches 96% of the UK or 28.1m premises, but this falls to 83% in rural areas. Meanwhile, the number of premises that cannot get a “decent broadband” (10Mbps+) service is 0.4% or 123,000 premises and geographic 4G (mobile broadband) coverage currently sits at between 79-86%.

As for the latest generation of “gigabit-capable” (FTTP, DOCSIS 3.1+ etc.) fixed broadband technologies, some 47% of UK premises could access this by September 2021, but that drops to just 25% when looking at rural areas (rising to 50% for urban areas).

The new cross-party – ‘LEVELLING UP THE RURAL ECONOMY: an inquiry into rural productivity‘ – report highlights this and calls for improvements. “The urgency of improving infrastructure – particularly the delivery of full fibre broadband, 4G and 5G, and electrical connectivity – cannot be understated,” said the report.

We should point out that the report, which took evidence from more than 50 industry bodies, charities, campaign groups, companies, academics and business leaders, also covers a multitude of other areas (e.g. “poor planning policy, a minimalist skills agenda and an overly complex tax regime“) – digital infrastructure is only a minor part of it.

Julian Sturdy, Co-Chair of the APPG on Rural Business and MP for York Outer, said:

“This report sets out a comprehensive growth plan, one that will create jobs, spread opportunity and strengthen small towns and villages across the country. We recognise the unique set of challenges that the Government is facing at the moment, but this makes the need to grow and strengthen the rural economy more, not less important.”

Sadly, the report itself doesn’t make any solid or detailed recommendations for broadband and mobile infrastructure, instead restricting itself to highlighting the already well-known weaknesses. The Government will no doubt highlight that their £5bn Project Gigabit rollout aims to ensure that a minimum of 85%+ of UK premises can access a gigabit-capable broadband ISP connection by the end of 2025, before possibly reaching “nationwide” (c.99%) coverage by the end of 2030 (here and here).

In addition, there’s the industry-led £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to extend geographic 4G mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 (it may also help the 5G rollout). The scheme essentially involves both the reciprocal sharing of existing masts in certain areas and the demand-led building and sharing of new masts in others between the operators.

However, we should highlight that the 95% SRN target is only when service is available from at least one operator, while the UK coverage forecast for SRN completion for all operators (i.e. geographic areas where you’ll be able to take 4G from all four operators) is just 84% by the end of 2025. Some gaps in rural areas will thus remain, and that’s assuming these targets are achieved on time.

The government are currently also in the process of implementing, or debating, various related planning and policy changes to help foster further improvements to broadband and mobile coverage. In addition, they’re also still exploring broadband solutions for connecting those in the most remote communities (final 0.3% or c.100,000 premises), which would be too expensive for even Project Gigabit to solve.

In short, there’s room for further improvement, but the wheels do turn oh so slowly.

UPDATE 29th April 2022 @ 3:54pm

A comment from rural ISP Gigaclear.

Gareth Williams, CEO of Gigaclear, said:

“We at Gigaclear welcome the findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Rural Powerhouse report. Making life better for rural businesses and supporting the rural powerhouse movement are principles our company is based upon. There is still a lot more work to be done to connect rural communities to fast, reliable broadband and reach at least 85% of the country by 2025 as per the revised Government’s target.

In our own 2021 Rural Business report we found that 85% of rural businesses define their current internet as ‘poor’. Indeed, one in five still have to work out of a café or other public space. Ultrafast internet connection was top of the list when asked what would have the biggest positive impact on post-pandemic businesses recovery. Despite having one of the most advanced and sophisticated economies in the world, there are still areas of the UK where internet speeds are unable to meet basic needs such as sending an email or opening a webpage. This is unacceptable and can no longer continue to go unnoticed.

The vast majority of the homes and businesses we connect to our ultrafast broadband are in some of the most rural and hard-to-reach areas in the country. This is something I am very proud of, playing our part in helping reduce this rural divide.”

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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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14 Responses
  1. Steve says:

    Authors of a similar report also suggest the Supreme Pontiff has leanings towards a particular region of Italy, whilst at the same time drawing conclusions for hairy mammals depositing waste in tree dense areas…

  2. Anthony Goodman says:

    Did they seriously need a report to determine this? Every single person should get FTTP it is so much better than what is available previously. Wasting money on reports is not going to change the obvious they should instead be begging CityFibre to just install their service to rural areas (I would argue they are the best of the FTTP providers)

    1. Harold says:

      I was going to say the same thing! One wonders whether this “All Party Parliamentary Group” will then conclude:

      “And to that end, we recommend that we set up an interdepartmental all party committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions. The suggested committee will undertake several fact finding missions to explore broadband development in various nations such as, but not limited to how weather conditions may affect deployment of broadband in the Bahamas and Tahiti during the winter months, as well as the rollout of full fibre broadband in major cities and how this compares to our rollout in our rural communities.”

      And after a year of this, the ultimate conclusion in the All Party Parliamentary Report on Broadband will be to suggest increasing the definition of adequate broadband from 10Mbps to 20Mbps in the age of Gigabit broadband. Members of said Group will then retire to plush posts on the Boards of BT, Vodafone, Sky, TalkTalk etc.

    2. Pip[ says:

      No-one with an ounce of brains needs a report to state the obvious. However FTTP for everyone is an aspiration due to the expense. This can up to a point be remedied by improved 4G or 5G coverage in remote rural areas to at least improve their speeds as a start.

    3. A_Builder says:

      @Harold

      An almost perfect rephrase from Yes Minister!

  3. Tech3475 says:

    My brother is still annoyed that over a decade later he’s still only getting <=10mbps, he finds it barely useable at times, this is military housing and mobile is not an alternative.

    Even just FTTC would be a significant improvement.

  4. Peza says:

    Excellent, another waste of tax payers money useless report, only concluding what is already widely known with zero recommendations on how to resolve it. Fantastic use of MP’s and Civil Servants time. They must feel proud of themselves.

    1. John says:

      ^except labour has their own party gate too. Pretending only the party you don’t like is bad is arguing on bad faith

      Getting away from party gates and focusing on real issues is what the country needs

    2. PoliticalGenius says:

      Right because the fact the people you’re relying on to address those “real issues” were shown to lie, repeatedly and outright break the law shouldn’t be held to account. It’s not the parties that matter, as such, it’s the fact that the prime minister and countless other MP’s on both sides actively lied about it. Not just to the electorate but also in the House of Commons even when specifically challenged on it.

      Personally, I don’t want my representation, regardless of party, to be known liars and criminals (breaking the law makes you a criminal). If they have the capacity, attitude and lack of integrity to not just lie, but to lie repeatedly to everyone and to parliament I don’t want those people in that position. If they have shown the capacity to do that, then I know for damn certain they don’t have my best interests at heart.

  5. Anthony Goodman says:

    They probably will do that with OneWeb when it gets operational given the UK government owns a large chunk of it.

  6. Ben says:

    The rural community: “we urgently need better digital communications”

    Also the rural community: “we want to be paid more for wayleaves for communications infrastructure”, “we don’t want ugly communications infrastructure in our village”, etc.

    Sigh.

  7. Grimreaper says:

    I’ve been taking a holiday every year at a cottage in Bala, North Wales now for several years. Internet speeds there fell well below 512k in 2012, they still fall below 512k now and I suspect they will continue to do so in 2032 too. There isn’t even a 2G phone signal in the valley, so a fat lot of good talk about 5G will do. I’ve no idea how the people living in the village and the few farm based businesses manage – it must be like living in a distant, long forgotten era. This Country is great at talking up its infrastructure, but extremely slow coming out of the gate when it comes to actually doing anything about anything.

  8. Martin says:

    “Rural Britain is not a museum” tell that to some councillors and officials, especially those on planning committees.

  9. Gary H says:

    Gareth from Gigaclear in that statement about rural, unfortunately like many seem to do, connected the rural issue with a non related target.

    “to connect rural communities to fast, reliable broadband and reach at least 85% of the country by 2025 as per the revised Government’s target”

    targeting a high percentage favours building at speed in the densest population centres, It does not improve rural connections for the worst affected, in general it upgrades towns and large villages from FTTC to FTTP

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