Superfast broadband - are we getting there?


Today, according the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, is Super Switch On Day.

Rural communities across the UK are getting access to superfast broadband for the first time as fibre cabinets are switched on. "Rejoice!" is the message - we're on our way to achieving the government's ambition of giving the UK the best fast broadband in Europe. So should we believe the hype?

Well, scratch the surface of the press release and you find that what is being celebrated is superfast access for another 5000 homes and businesses in Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent and Medway, Cheshire, the Cotswolds and Shropshire. Great news for them - but not a huge number.

The government goes on to say that a total of 200,000 premises will have been given access by Christmas. That, by my reckoning, is 1% of UK households, and as the rural broadband programme is supposed to serve the 30% which will not be reached by the market, there is obviously quite a way to go.

We know that the whole programme has suffered repeated delays, and the original target of 90% coverage by 2015 has been modified - the plan now is to provide for 95% of homes by 2017.

And whenever I raise the issue, I get a flood of messages from people across the UK angry that they are still missing out on any kind of decent broadband connection.

Here are a few responses I got on Twitter today when I asked whether superfast broadband had arrived in rural areas:

"I live in central Edinburgh. No sign of any fast broadband. Only 500m from Scottish parliament. Too many cobbles!"

"Living in Rotherhithe, we are not expecting better than 3-4 megabits anytime soon, because of long exchange only lines."

"It'll reach Borsetshire before it reaches rural north Herefordshire."

"Far from it in north Monmouthshire. Can't even watch YouTube on TV at home!"

Start Quote

Looking at some research on how we compare with other countries - the news here is quite good”

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But I've also been looking at some research on how we compare with other countries - and, believe it or not, the news here is quite good. A report by the telecoms analysts Analysys Mason found that the UK was outperforming other major European economies in a number of areas, and was well placed to lead Europe by 2018.

Both access to superfast broadband and take-up were ahead of the likes of Germany, France and Italy. Now it has to be stressed that the report does not include countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, and it was commissioned by BT - which has won every local authority rural broadband contract so far.

But another research company Point Topic backs up the view that the UK is doing OK. Its report this summer predicted that the government's target of 95% coverage by 2017 would be achieved. Oliver Johnson from Point Topic says, "Although BT started late it is now living up to its promises. We will certainly be top of a number of metrics when it comes to comparing with the major European economies."

Many communities remain deeply frustrated by the slow pace of the rural broadband programme and the arguments over exactly which areas BT plans to cover. That in particular has caused a lot of anger for those trying to get community broadband projects off the ground. But, even though we often assume that we do these things worse than other countries, the evidence is that in villages in Bavaria or Brittany, you will hear the same moans about slow broadband.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Superfast? Europe? HA!

    How do we compare to East Asia, that's the question...

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Believe the hype?

    Why not.

    Every five years traitor politicians persuade millions of people to vote them back in despite the expenses fiddling, self pocket filling antics that they get up to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Let me add my name to the list of "hang superfast broadband, I would be happy with 2Mbps". (Not-rural) Somerset here. We are in sight of an exchange but due to the history of the overhead wiring we are plumbed into an exchange six miles away. Our neighbours with newer houses are connected to the local exchange but BT/Openreach refuse to run a cable 100yds to our house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Who really needs anything more than 10Mbps? Improving the ping (responsiveness) of the internet should be a bigger priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The real problem is that we are stuck on very old bits of copper wire that run into almost all the homes in the UK. They were never designed to carry data in the place, only to carry analogue voices.

    I now get 75Meg download speeds and I'm amazed at that, considering the two bits of crappy wire that come into my house - it's staggering it works at all !

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Superfast rural broadband? What about superfast urban broadband? Here in West Yorkshire I struggle to get above 3000 kbps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Until there's fibre-optic all the way into the house, we'll be stuck with variation in service according to how far you are from the junction box. Our service is supposed to be super-fast but we're nowhere near that level in reality. And we get throttled back at peak usage times as well, which slows us down even more. It's like being back in the early 90's. Pathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Why would BT bother putting any real effort in when they know they are guaranteed payment either way? Much better to delay and do a half assed job - then demand more subsidy in order to get the work done properly.

    The deal between BT & Huawei is also really concerning, they are way too close to the Chinese govt and we've given them an easy way into our systems (and let them inspect themselves!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    "Although BT started late it is now living up to its promises. We will certainly be top of a number of metrics when it comes to comparing with the major European economies."

    But rural broadband affecting a land area greater than Belgium will still be slow and BT will continue to oppose rural communities that try to fix it for themselves.

    Usual myopia from the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    relana, you do realise that cablfe fibre is contended at the aggregator.

    Virgin Cable 100meg service, on average runs at 8-10 meg for example. All down to usage of all those using the same exchange.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    In Tokyo they get 1Gpbs that's fast broadband we get excited over 38 mbps download speed. Laughable,.

    Who's Ipad have you stolen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Well, i've had superfast for over a decade. Thanks to cable fibre.

    I do pity anyone who has too make do with BT pathetic offerings. But they want to run it, but not pay for its installation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Superfast broadband only works facebook better on my ipad cos it's better than anyfink else. I could of got a android but that's not as good as apple with its app store is it Roary?


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