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Ofcom report highlights rural-urban broadband divide

Thursday, March 24th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

A new report from Ofcom has highlighted the gap between broadband speeds and urban and rural areas, with people in cities and towns getting speeds three times as fast as their rural counterparts.

The regulator's UK Home Broadband Performance report revealed that while average download speeds in rural areas were 13.7Mbps, those in urban areas were more than three times that, at 50.5Mbps.

The main reasons for the difference are the lower availability of fibre and cable broadband in rural areas and slower average ADSL and fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) connection speeds, Ofcom said.

There is a gap between the provision and performance of high-speed broadband services in urban and rural areas, the regulator said, which is mainly due to the difficulty in getting superfast services to rural homes.

The CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, said the report shone a line on the "shocking inequality in broadband provision", and people in rural areas had been "suffering for far too long".

Director of policy Christopher Price said: “Poor or non-existent broadband puts rural communities at a major disadvantage to competitors in urban areas, and the figures from Ofcom indicate that a massive 75% of fixed broadband connections in rural areas are receiving an average actual speed of less than 10Mbps.

"In England and Wales there are more than 600,000 rural businesses, who are also suffering, and this is one of the greatest barriers to growth in rural areas."

Ofcom published the figures as part of a report into the performance of fixed-line broadband delivered to UK residential consumers.

The research uses data from broadband availability information provider SamKnows, who tested connections of 2,000 consumers in November 2015.

Growing take-up

The average download speed increased from 22.8Mbps in November 2014 to 28.9Mbps the following year, Ofcom said, putting the 27% rise down to a growing take-up of higher-speed connections and increasing average speeds for those packages.

The figure is double that suggested by a recent report from Akamai, which put the average broadband speed in the UK at 13.9Mbps.

According to Ofcom, the proportion of connections faster than 10Mbps rose from 56% in 2014 to 61%.

But despite this average, the rise was much higher in urban areas (69%) than rural ones (25%), again highlighting a divide when it comes to connectivity.

The data also showed that while there was a rise in connections faster than 10Mbps, nearly four in 10 connections still averaged speeds slower than 10Mbps.

It comes just a day after the government launched a consultation into whether everyone in the UK should have a legal right to 10Mbps broadband.

Two in five broadband connections (42%) were superfast products – defined by Ofcom as connections with headline speeds of ‘up to’ 30Mbps or faster – with average speeds for these services increasing to 56.8Mbps.

The report, which compared the performance of 18 popular broadband packages from seven major providers, found that Virgin Media’s ‘up to 200Mbps’ package achieved the fastest download speed – averaging 174Mbps over a 24-hour period.

Virgin also claimed responsibility for the hike in the average broadband speed, saying the increase had mainly been driven by a 35% increase in speeds on its own cable network.

CEO Tom Mockridge said: “Unlucky for our rivals but lucky for our customers, for the 13th consecutive time Virgin Media is named by Ofcom as the fastest broadband network.

“While our rivals’ speeds are slipping backwards, Virgin Media’s investment in better broadband is pushing UK connectivity forwards.”

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