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Countryside worst affected by slow broadband

Warwick Ashford

A third of UK homes have broadband speeds well below the national average, but rural areas fare the worst, according to research from price comparison site uSwitch.

Half of UK homes receive broadband speeds of 6.7Mbps or above, but a third rarely get speeds above 5Mbps, the research revealed.

The East Sussex village of Winchelsea was the slowest, with an average speed of 1.1Mbps, followed by Menstrie, Clackmannanshire (1.2Mbps), Askam in Furness, Cumbria (1.25Mbps) and St Bees, Cumbria (1.38Mbps). Hereford was the slowest city, with average speeds of 3.1Mbps.

Although other towns and cities such as Kilmarnock, Dumfries, Canterbury and Shrewsbury all average below 5Mbps, the research shows that slow broadband speeds are mostly concentrated around the UK's rural areas.

"That is why it is more important than ever that the government and local councils get moving on their schemes to bring superfast connections to the countryside," said Sarah Lee, head of policy for the Countryside Alliance, a long-term campaigner for faster rural broadband.

"A fast, secure and reliable broadband network ought to be seen by local and central government as having the same importance as a reliable gas, electricity or water supply," she said.

In October 2010, government named Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and the Highlands & Islands as pilot areas for rural superfast broadband networks, but a year later freedom of information requests by the Countryside Alliance revealed that very little work had been started, with some councils still preparing for the procurement stage.

At the time, The Countryside Alliance warned that unless the whole process of implementing rural broadband projects was simplified, the digital divide would keep growing.

The government has called for superfast broadband to be standard in most UK homes, and has pledged to make the UK the fastest broadband nation in Europe by 2015, with all homes getting speeds of at least 2Mbps.

Industry analysts said the uSwitch data, based 1.68 million speed tests carried out over the past six months, shows there is still a lot of work to be done.

The biggest problem is that getting faster broadband into hard-to-reach areas is an expensive exercise, said Piers Daniell, managing director of communications company Fluidata.  

He believes that private business has a role to play in overcoming this problem, which is why Fluidata has developed a rural broadband platform to enable ISPs to share the cost.

The company has also partnered with Independent Fibre Networks to boost connection speeds to new housing developments.

"Claims of fast fibre lines can mislead consumers, as in most cases the fibre only goes to the cabinet, not to the home, so your broadband speed will still be slower than some providers would have you believe," said Daniell.

The fibre to the home partnership, announced in January, uses the Independent Fibre Networks infrastructure and Fluidata’s wholly-owned national network to deliver superfast broadband through a choice of more than 40 ISPs to more than 50,000 newly built commercial and residential properties, in 20 sites in the UK.


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