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!"

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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 113.

    I live in a rural community and currently get about 0.4 meg. YES I chose to live here and as such I dont expect to get what someone in a more populated area would but it is disgraceful that BT are happy to charge me the same price as someone 5 miles away who gets speeds over 10 times faster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Not to worry, "Big Society" will take care of it.
    This is what happens when the government washes its hands of governing. Roll on 2015 and the next election, Tories are toast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    @102. EmersonV
    I get 60 meg, ha ha ha, don't live in some rural backwater, or if you do prepare to pay the cost, you voted for it to be private don't moan when no company wants to layout the costs because the return is poor.
    I live in the countryside and I didn't vote for "it" to be private, did anybody?
    What are you talking about??????

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    We live just outside London in the bustling commuter belt. Recently got 'BT Infinity'. The only thing that's infinite is my anger, and my disappointment. We get 3mbps on a GOOD day. It's terrible. They talk about giving rural areas super fast broadband. How about starting with the places in which people ACTUALLY live!?

  • Comment number 109.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Here in 'rural' Somerset (4 miles from Bridgwater / 11 miles from Taunton) 2 to 3 meg is a red letter day; drop outs are a regular daily event and the weekend before last we had 12 hours that reminded me of dial up !! SMART TV, iPlayer etc. is just a dream with no forecast of any improvement any time soon. We get lots of sales calls from satellite based service providers but the cost is pants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    No. I live in a Cheshire town, and for whatever reason, ours is the one cabinet not being upgraded. 20 years ago, I criticised Mercury (now Virgin) for not installing fibre to the home. They said it was too expensive. We're all paying for the lack of foresight now. Gigabit broadband should be the target.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I live in the LE4 area of Leicester.I may get 1 Meg on a good day because BT won't replace the copper cables.Cable company refused permission by the council to dig up paving slabs but Severn Trent allowed to,and replace with a great slab of tarmac.This is the same council that said all its councilors needed a top of the range ipad ,paid for by us tax payers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    @52 "Or is this yet another lifestyle subsidy by urban folk?"

    Like your lifestyle ability to eat a wide and nutritious range of food is subsidised by the rural folk that grow it for you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    are we getting there? Absolutely not. Areas that already have very fast broadband are getting more options, as it's the easy path, areas that have historically been less profitable are still missing out. Nothing has changed at all.

    Fibre that was put in for our town's Olympic hosting is laid in the road, unused... No high speed broadband here, even thou the infrastructure is all in place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I'm in West Cornwall, about 3 miles from St Ives. I've had 75meg down and about 17meg upload for nearly two years now. It's very reliable and BT seem to have done a great job. We may have had to wait years for the service, but here in the far West Superfast is real and has had a very wide take-up - both domestic and businesses. Both my married daughters have it and they love it. No complaints.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I get 60 meg, ha ha ha, don't live in some rural backwater, or if you do prepare to pay the cost, you voted for it to be private don't moan when no company wants to layout the costs because the return is poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    For my village - 2000 households - 'superfast' broadband will not be available before 2017. The entire village is 2 miles from the exchange in a field on a copper wire connection, which the metal thieves have stolen 3 times in recent years.

    Optic fibre has no scrap value, BT, yet the copper wire is replaced every time. Mad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    "Super-fast" Broadband is something of a misnomer........ although I guess it depends on your definition of "super-fast."
    I have little faith in decent broadband speeds ever being delivered, Britain doesn't exactly have a very good history when it comes to IT projects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    10 years ago, living in the Netherlands they had the speeds there then that we do only now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    'Superfast Broadband' - one of the biggest hypes of th 21st C! So far.

    I used to have Sky's 'analogue' service because we live in Westminster and until recently no ISP could even provide genuine 'digital' let alone fibreoptic!

    Now BT have now sold us their 'Superfast Fibreoptic Broadband'. You've guessed it - it's less reliable and often slower than Sky's ISDN 2.5 horsepower analogue!

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Super fast broadband?
    Do these people even know the meaning of the words.
    So many other countries have 100 mb.+ while this government brags about 10-15.for a few IF your lucky.
    This country is pathetic in it's IT values.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    We as a country no longer show any effort to lead the world in ANYTHING, as we used to. No decision on much-needed airport growth,HST half-hearted,roads already clogged may be upgraded in time for them to be clogged when finally improved.Etc Etc Etc. Fast Broadband is no different.
    We have no dynamism. Imagine UK integrating the old East Germany, then subsidising the EU,having the best economy ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    My daughter lives in Rotherhithe, just across the river from Canary Wharf; she gets 1.2Mps download at best, This Country is a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I compare this with HS2.
    While a small number of people will get ultra fast internet speeds, the majority of us are wondering when we will get the speeds promised to us years ago?
    Why BT think I would want to pay a premium to upgrade to a faster network when they can’t even give me the speed available under current technology is beyond me.
    Department of Culture, you are having a laugh


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