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UK Digital Divide Between Urban and Rural Broadband Quality Getting Wider

Posted: 24th Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
point topicNew research from Point Topic has revealed that the UK Digital Divide between rural and urban areas is continuing to grow, especially when it comes to the quality and performance of broadband ISP services. The study suggests that "radical action" will need to be taken if rural towns and villages are to avoid being left behind in the slow lane.

Point Topic reached its conclusion by using their database of UK broadband geography to calculate the percentage coverage of six different measures of broadband infrastructure.
The Six Measures of Broadband Infrastructure Quality / Availability
1. Local-loop unbundling ( LLU ) service availability.
2. BT telephone exchanges enabled for its 21st Century Network (21CN).
3. Access to the Virgin Media cable network.
4. Broadband ISP services of at least 2Mbps downstream.
5. Next Generation Access (NGA) super-fast broadband services as of end-2010.
6. Projected NGA services for end-2015.
Sadly Point Topic's measure of broadband infrastructure coverage found that urban areas of Britain scored 67% as of mid-2010, yet rural areas only managed a meagre 25%. This is best illustrated with the aid of a graph.

uk urban versus rural broadband quality digital divide 2010

The study predicts that the gap between rural and urban areas will increase over the coming years, effectively doubling every 2 years. This should not come as much of a surprise, with Private Sector Investment naturally bringing the new generation of "super-fast" broadband solutions to the most economically viable urban areas first.

However, deploying such speeds to rural areas is an entirely different kettle of fish. Point Topic warns that ISPs face many obstacles. Similarly, the governments £830m pot of cash, which is expected to last until 2017, may now not be enough to do the job.

Point Topic's Chief Analyst, Tim Johnson, said:

"Our analysis of the rural-urban digital divide doesn’t paint a rosy picture. The higher speeds which people will expect and need in future will simply not be available in the countryside unless radical action is taken.

There are too many questions left unanswered. How can a small operator deploy a network when there is a real concern they’ll be gazumped by a BT or Virgin deployment as yet unannounced? How can small operators afford to pay extortionate rates on any fibre they do install and still make the numbers add up? How can the county councils or the local economic partnerships get any funding or sign any partners without adequate information?

The Coalition has got to address these issues urgently if it wants to get a good broadband infrastructure in Britain. Hopefully the broadband strategy paper to be published in December will make a start. But their retreat from tackling the grossly unfair fibre tax has been bitterly disappointing already. They’ve got a lot of ground to make up if they really want ‘the best broadband in Europe’ by the time of the next election."

If our current survey is anything to go by then most people would appear to agree that the government's plan to make a minimum broadband download speed of 2Mbps available to everybody by 2015 is simply not adequate enough.

However, delivering super-fast speeds to rural areas doesn't need to be expensive. Fibrestream and others have already proven that it can be done with very little tax payers' money (sometimes none at all).

Fostering a fairer system of Fibre Taxation would be the only way to make such an approach more viable on a national scale, which the government appears reluctant to entertain.
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