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 193.

    The list of counties getting this today says it all.
    You are fine if you are rural and vote tory, but if you vote for any other party you had better wait.
    Rural Scotland has awful broadband, should I vote tory?

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    For all the people moaning about BT, remember they have just spent £800 million on their TV franchise in the hope of winning a few Sky customers (fail).

    Sky high speed broadband is great by the way...30 meg no problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Roll out is pathetic and useless. This is the basic infrastructure of the next bit of the future, not one stupid rail line, hs2. Get it done. Fibre everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Isn't something like 60% of web traffic just bots. Maybe limiting their use would provide benefit for people in reduce contention?

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    My family and friends living in rural areas such as Somerset, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Northamptonshire. are lucky to get 1Mb down and 265Kb up. They have been complaining for years with no dates for an improvement. Their urban counterparts are mostly with Virgin and get between 60Mb/6Mb and 120Mb/12Mb. I'll be getting 150Mb/15Mb at no extra cost early next year. We need a nationalised network!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    154 Angry Duck, i know companies who can sell you an unlimited satellite broadband service, yes unlimited (well fair use policy, as is everyone else's) for £30 a month. So yep, pretty much sorted, if you be bothered to stop moaning, and actually do something about it

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Just move if you dont like it

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    I live in the East Midlands, 5 minutes up the road and 5 minutes down the road enjoy BT fibre and Vigin Media. We are stuck on a

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    78 makes a good point. Compare gas. Those who were not connected in the big rollout are bypassed ever after, and have to make do with oil/ electric/ bottled gas, which are all a lot more expensive and less desirable for a variety of reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Why are people with slow speed forced to pay the same as those with ultra fast broadband? If BT had to charge proportionate to the service they give, like everyu other business, they would roll out improvements a lot faster

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    My situation is the same as a lot of folks who have left comments. Despite living in 'Superfast' Cornwall and only being 2.5K from the Fibre cabinet we have seen zero improvement in our broadband. We are promised improvements before April 2014 but my expectations are very low.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Quote//169. ziggyboy
    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!!//

    For 90% of the UK BT is the de facto provider so it is true to say the TAX PAYERS do pay BT


  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I live in a small Scottish town and I recently had "superfast" broadband advertised.

    i'm supposed to get up to 200mbps, and I do, but the internet works for perhaps 2 mintues before crashing and refusing to connect for 20. BT says it's "line trouble". I'm ready to move to Korea, just for internet that ACTUALLY WORKS

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Running a small web/media business is difficult when download speeds 'top' at 0.5 Mbps (advertised 5Mbps).

    I now drive 2 hours each day (away from customers) and set up a mobile office for faster broadband - it actually saves me so much time!
    eg I download a 100MB file in seconds on a towns 30Mbps cable connection - the same file takes over 10 hours from my home office in a remote rural village.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    How much did BT spend on winning sports rights of access? How much should BT have spent on wiring up the whole of the UK with super fast broadband? . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I live in rural County Down and live 1.9 miles from the nearest green cabinet. This means 0.7 mb speed for fibre optic. Standard ADSL is faster at 1.5 mb. Needless to say,I've stuck with standard broadband for the time being.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    i live in bogey tracey,devon
    here we have been promised fibre broadband for four months.
    every time i check it has slipped - without any info from bt.
    despite checking with bt, i now expect fibre access to be some time before april 2014
    don't believe what your local bt people tell you - expect it to take much longer.
    we have now been waiting for four months..without a word or apology
    who knows?

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    All the Government and BT want to do is to give us these big headlines that makes it look like Britain is one of the leading countries in the Super fast broad band stakes but in reality like most people here I struggling to get 1 -2 mbs and like others I live I a relatively large town but I have also been told that "it is not commercially viable to upgrade your exchange"

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    In this insane race for higher “pipe” speeds, everybody seems to forget two things: (1) having a faster connection doesn't speed the server up at the other end, and this will be the limiting factor in many, if not most cases; (2) ISPs like BT throttle your bandwidth when you’re downloading, which is what I imagine a majority of people will want higher speeds for. All a bit of a con, really.


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