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 233.

    I really cant complain about BT I live in Milton Keynes and have a 330mb fibre (FTTP) service for £40 a month. It really makes the divide between haves and have nots quite startling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    My uncle who has a farm nr Kiddeminster has to limp along on 0.5mb after being promised faster broadband. apparently he is too far from the exchange(usual excuse) and they wont put in a repeater so he and all others in the area can have faster broadband. Its a joke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    I live in central london, half a mile from Parliament and only got BT fibre broadband 2 weeks ago!
    It's suppised to be 'up to 70 Mbs' with an estimate of 63 Mbs but I rarely get over 17Mbs.
    Of course it's all relative but shows you how far behind we are when it takes so long to roll this out even in the centre of the capital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    In our village, half the village has superfast broadband and the other has almost dial up speed. We live just across the road to superfast but BT tell us we can't have it as our cabinet is too far away!!! How does that work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I live 2 miles from the centre of Sheffield. I've been limping along at 0.5mbps for the last god knows how long (i don't see any improvement really since dial up!) due to the fact that virgin cables stop 200yds from my house, and i am 7 miles from my exchange (despite there being 2 closer to my house!). But finally, next monday, i will have infinity. AND REAL INTERNET!

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    BT are useless in every respect, they still have antique phone lines not capable of use in the modern world, BT must be forced to replace every underground cable, after all the theives still charge us full price for line "rental" I want a refund!

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Not this one again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    A bit of insight here to demonstrate costs:
    1 metre of duct (pipe the cable goes in)costs £120 in a road £60 if it's in the verge.
    2 Fibre cable is about £20/metre

    So 1km 2/3 mile will cost £80/140K to install then add end equipment costs and you see very quickly if you want to pay £30/40 per month subscription for fast Broadband you need a lot of takers!

    I'm a Telecoms Engineer

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    I live in a former mining village and we have fibre. Problem is that the phone line from the cabinet to the house is 1.3km long. According to the BT website this means I can't get superfast broadband. Complex issue isn't it?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Want superfast broadband? Then move out of your 16th century little villages and come to a 21st century city like london and stop your whinging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Where I live, BT couldn't care less (well BT couldn't care less wherever). 0.5 Mbps with a 'promise' of 95% super fast broadband coverage in the whole of Scotland by 2017. (Yeah right). Ofcom are as toothless as a new born baby, so nothing's going to change soon, if at all. It's more expensive but satellite broadband is really the only option for us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    MK10, cabinet in since July, replaced beginning of December due to leak...hopefully FTTC by 31st Dec...fingers crossed...and we're not rural either!

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Best broadband in Europe??? Sorry but you have a long long way to go for that!

    I moved to Estonia and get 100mb for 20 euros a month, unlimited and no hidden costs. Even in the rural areas they're getting around 20mb and the country is pretty much 90% forest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    I live in a village of 650 homes about 8 miles from Stafford - I can get 2mb with a trailing wind on my broadband. There are no plans for any upgrade and no cable. I am an IT worker and struggle to work from home. I can get a BT business account with no contention ratio which brings the speed up to 3-4MB but at £50+ a month it's a bit too much for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Broadband speeds should be consistent throughout the country not lightning fast in the cities and then at a snails pace in the countryside. This shouldn't be about increasing the speed of broadband in the cities, it should be about upgrading the areas which have poor connectivity first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    @39. uk_is_toast

    Yes BT refused, but dont worry as other local and smaller organisations raised funding to do it themselves.

    BUT then in the 11th hour BT jumped in and convinced the council to let them install the infrastructure instead!

    So question is why demand they get the contract now after refusing it so many times?! The other guys should demand compensation from BT I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.


    Someone I know suffering 2Mbs for years on Virgin over BT ADSL just switched to fibre through EE, cheaper than BT, promised 33.3/8Mbs and got 46/10Mbs paying less than Virgin previously.

    They did try to keep Virgin but with fibre - can't or won't do it. Their EE is cheaper than BT, almost as cheap as my Virgin cable, which is only 30/3Mbs now (£5 cheaper than 60Mbs though)

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    If businesses across the UK have easy access to super fast broadband of 1GB/second this will help them grow & create jobs. This particularly applies to areas outside of big cities.
    Sadly BT is only interested in home consumers (even in big cities!) and the needs of SMEs are not being met - a big wasted opportunity we will all live to regret, as new job growth slows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    I live in Bristol and whilst a lot of areas have nice fast fibre, I can only get 1.1MB, and I live in a new build home.

    A complete joke that there is no requirement for new homes to have fibre cables installed ready so when the cabinets are connected they will be fast speed - the Filton exchange is fibre enabled, but I am 'too far away' from the cabinet - no cable near me either :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Apparently my area now has 'superfast'
    Always encouraged to 'upgrade' but the cost is significant and then you get tied into another 12 month + contract! Good for BT
    If I could try, and it was worth the extra then perhaps I would get. BT will screw you royally if you pull out of a contract.
    Better still, shouldn't the higher speed be automatically made available with no extra costs or contracts?


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