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Some 5% of UK homes and businesses are still unable to access sufficiently fast broadband speeds, despite a marked rise over the past 12 months in the number that can.
According to the Connected Nations 2016 report from communications industry regulator Ofcom, 1.4 million homes and businesses across the country lack a decent broadband connection, which is defined as being 10Mbps or faster.
This is an improvement on last year’s figures, when 2.4 million homes and businesses – about 8% of UK properties – did not meet the 10Mbps requirement.
Ofcom’s report is designed to keep tabs on the UK’s telecoms and wireless networks and, in turn, monitor potential connectivity blackspots.
With this in mind, the report found that rural areas remained underserved by broadband connectivity, with about a quarter of properties – 920,000 – unable to access minimum connection speeds of 10Mbps or more.
The report also revealed an uptick in average broadband download speeds, which have risen by 28% from 29Mbps to 37Mbps, which Ofcom has attributed to people opting for faster broadband packages.
Although the picture is improving across the UK, the report said more needed to be done to ensure the final 5% of homes and businesses benefited from adequate broadband speeds, along with the rest of the country.
In line with this, Ofcom has made a series of technical recommendations to help inform the government’s decision-making process when working out how best to deliver a universal broadband service that can benefit the whole of the UK.
The recommendations focus on four areas – speed, eligibility, affordability and funding. The government will have the final say on how the service should be delivered, with Ofcom responsible for overseeing its implementation.
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The government has also indicated a preference for getting industry to finance the roll-out of its universal broadband service so that suppliers will have the option to recoup any “unfair costs” from a central fund containing contributions from a range of telcos.
“The universal service would ensure every home and small business in the country has the right to a decent, affordable broadband connection of 10Mbps or above by the end of the current parliament,” said Ofcom in a statement.
“Ofcom’s analysis shows that this speed is sufficient to meet the current needs of a typical household. The online activity of users who can access this speed is far less constrained than those who cannot.”
Ofcom is also keen to stress that its recommendations are not set in stone as regards its views on minimum broadband speed and capacity, to account for the fact that people’s connectivity requirements are likely to change over time.
“Households are likely to need greater speeds as new, data-hungry applications emerge,” the regulator said. “We will therefore monitor the universal service and recommend its minimum speed to rise when necessary.”
Echoed NIC report on 4G
The Connected Nations document also echoed some of the findings of this week’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) report on mobile connectivity by pointing out the continued shortfalls in 4G coverage across the UK.
Steve Unger, group director of Ofcom, said: “Mobile and broadband coverage continued to grow this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a good service. We think that is unacceptable.
“So we are challenging mobile operators to go beyond built-up areas and provide coverage across the UK’s countryside and transport networks. Today we have also provided technical advice to support the government’s plans for universal, decent broadband.”
Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms expert at broadband comparison site Cable.co.uk, said that although the report had done an admirable job of highlighting the areas of concern, it was light on detail about how they would be addressed.
“Ofcom is doing exactly as it should in its Connected Nations report – keeping close tabs on how it’s all going and highlighting to government areas of particular concern,” he said.
“It’s all very well pointing and saying ‘this many homes have rubbish broadband and diabolical mobile reception’, but the real question remains: How exactly, in each individual case, are we going to achieve that?”