The UK Government plans to offer more details over its “legal right to broadband” plan. Ministers have pledged to implement a new broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) that ensures everyone in Britain has a legal right to request minimum speeds of 10Mbps by 2020.
The measure, contained in the Digital Economy Bill, is targeted at rural communities where broadband speeds are significantly worse than in towns and cities.
Ofcom’s current data shows that internet speeds in rural areas are less than a third of those in urban areas. It shows that speeds for country dwellers have barely budged in the last three years, and that 75% of households are stuck on internet connections of 10Mb or slower.
It’s even worse in the most remote areas. Another survey from the NFU suggested that more than half of its members were suffering on speeds of less than 2Mb.
Meanwhile, Europe’s Digital Progress Report, from the European Commission, highlights just how far the UK’s rural broadband infrastructure lags behind the rest of the continent. Just 45.9% of British rural homes have access to superfast broadband, compared to 97% in The Netherlands, 89% in Switzerland, and approaching two-thirds in rural parts of former Eastern bloc states like Slovenia and Lithuania.
The causes of slow internet speeds mostly relate to location and infrastructure.
Most people in the UK get at least part of their broadband connection delivered over the copper telephone network. Even most fibre broadband services are actually only part fibre. The further your connection has to travel over copper lines, the slower it gets, so the the greater the distance you live from your nearest telephone exchange (for standard broadband) or street cabinet (for fibre), the slower your service will be.
In towns and cities these distances tend to be shorter, so the speeds are faster. In rural areas, the opposite is true.
To make matters worse, upgrades to the infrastructure often only occur where it is economically viable. This inevitably results in areas of low population density being excluded. Many rural exchanges and cabinets have not been upgraded to be able to provide faster broadband speeds.
Under a USO, any rural business owner who receives less than a minimum standard of service must have easy access to a mechanism that enables their connection or service to be improved. The legally set minimum standard must also be moved upwards on a regular basis to ensure that service levels keep pace with consumer and business demand.
Theresa May has already confirmed that the issue of poor connectivity in rural areas is a priority on the Government’s agenda. Speaking earlier this year at the Conservative Party conference, she said it is “not right” that half of the people living in the countryside, along with many small businesses, cannot get a “decent” broadband connection. She’s right.
Theresa May insisted that the government must be “prepared to intervene” if the market is “dysfunctional”.
Clearly the market is dysfunctional as, after many years of complaints, this problem still exists and blights the lives of many Countryside dwellers, as well as restraining economic growth that would pay for any changes many times over.
Country Squire Magazine are across this vital issue for the Countryside.
We now expect Government action which will be good for all of Britain’s post-Brexit economy. It is wholly unjust that a two-tier digital environment currently exists in Britain and we look to the Prime Minister to bash some heads together now to get this wholly solvable problem solved once and for all.
Our judgment so far: Great words. Now let’s see results. 3/10