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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    167.The Genius
    Fast broadband is fine if companies told the truth, most say unlimited and most are not. also there is no need for super fast broadband like 30 to100meg if your just browsing and sending emails

    Just browsing and emails are 20th century.

    The push now is online TV. TV via an aerial/dish is dying out.

    Thus you need the speeds of fibre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I live in a Leicestershire village and receive 2mbps download speed. This isn't enough to stream on-demand TV. Our local Telephone Exchange is not scheduled to be upgraded to Fibre any time soon.

    BT have instead of upgrading its network invested all of its money in BT Sport and BT Television - prioritising profits for its shareholders over upgrading its network - and we have no alternative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    It's not just the rural communities that are suffering, even those of us that live in towns and cities are being left on the back-burner all due to profit margins! We live in north London in a well populated area but have been told by BT that is it not viable for them to upgrade our local box (200 yds) to fibre broadband.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    And there was silly old me blaming AOL for my poor BB connection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    164. Terry. Breathtaking is all I can say.

    BT is a private company sold by the Tories in the 80's and is not supported by the taxpayer in any shape or form.

    Please get your FACTS correct!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Rejoice? Really? I would sooner have NO internet access at all than dealing with BT and other such corporate swindlers. I'd like my internet to be faster, but at the prices they charge? no thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Fast broadband is fine if companies told the truth, most say unlimited and most are not. also there is no need for super fast broadband like 30 to100meg if your just browsing and sending emails, its only needed for downloading and the way its going at the moment stopping people from downloading what is the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    as an example my "cabled" area will soon be getting an upgrade to 150+Mbps

    And you sound excited about it. How much is that going to cost you per month £40, £50, £60, more?

    Meanwhile the likes of South Korea have been enjoying speeds in excess of 150mb for decades, and for a fraction of the cost we pay here!!

    If the UK really wanted to we could do the same, regardless of BT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Can someone define (in numerical terms) what 'Superfast' is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    The only reason why BT are providing such services, subsidised by the tax payers, is so that they can shamelessly exploit their own attempts to compete with Sky

    And there is just not enough profit from supposedly "isolated comunities", so they are the last to see any improvements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I should be complaining like most of you but I'm not and I live in a very rural area.

    The new roll out of Superfast Broadband will terminate five miles from where I live. However, I will still get my Broadband service I just won't be able to meet myself coming back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    We've alrady got superfast ....... buffering ......... BT Infinity here in ...... wait ...... London. It's really ........ ........... ........... ........... great but ..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    lanberis - the village "supposedly" has fibre in place but we - living on the other side of the lake - probably wont. Our average speed is < 2.5mb and that is only after nearly 12 months of complaining to BT! At its worst, we were seeing

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    It's all very well comparing our broadband in the UK with say France or Germany: congratulations to BT for achieving this at least. But the real comparison surely must be with countries like South Korea, where dizzying speeds have be achieved. We are simply not in their league.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    There are still many rural communities who are not celebrating today - despite the fact that fibre is in villages a few miles away and the local cabinet has all the prerequisites for fibre we are still suffering on poor quality non-copper cables giving a maximum speed of 1.1 MB on a good day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Many here seem to forget that BT had it's hands tied behind it's back by Ofcom to allow fair competition. However, I'm not aware of any other company apart from Telewest, now defunct which invested in fibre optics.

    All service providers have to piggyback on the BT network to provide their services therefore if we get rid of BT we won't have a telephone service never mind Broadband.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    #151. ziggyboy

    That may be true at a national backbone level, but the bottleneck that is being discussed here is the so called "last mile".
    Companies like Virgin have bought into old C&W cable infrastructure which affords them greater speeds to the customer, as an example my "cabled" area will soon be getting an upgrade to 150+Mbps not the pithy "upto" speeds of the telephone line services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    We are so lucky that some years ago local businessmen decided not to wait until BT got around to putting broadband in to our rural villages and installed a wireless WAN over a large area. The result is that today we have a system giving about 17mb both down and up. Because there is no dependency on a physical phone line I avoid the £15 or so BT charge for landlines and just have a Skype-in number

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    The problem is that BT have been given a virtual monopoly on providing broadband services.

    BT are the remnant of the unionised parastatal that does not even understand the meaning of service never mind being able to deliver it.

    Efforts to allow private companies to install broadband have been thwarted by councils determined to prop up BT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.


    If you did your research you would see that this is limited and therefore still useless, I will use more than 15GB a month which will cost upward of £60

    so not really sorted is it, oh and BT wont do anything about my problems because......"I'm not a customer" what a disgrace!


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