Not just rural but urban areas too put up with slow broadband: Ofcom

Some people living in urban areas are still putting up with very low broadband speeds, according to an Ofcom study that reveals a varying picture of coverage and take-up across major cities.

While lower broadband availability, take-up and speeds are commonly associated with rural areas – something Ofcom has researched before – the new study aimed to understand whether cities had similar problems.

The results show that superfast broadband coverage varies widely between major urban areas, with Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland the best performing city for superfast broadband availability at 99%. 

The research examined 11 UK cities, and found wide variations in the proportion of premises on a relatively slow broadband connection (2 Mbit/s and below). For example, people in Cardiff and Inverness were twice as likely to be on a slower connection than those in London or Birmingham.

Coverage of faster, ‘next-generation’ networks also varied between the cities, though in most it is now around 90%. While almost everyone in Northern Ireland’s largest cities had access to superfast broadband, in Glasgow one-in-three people did not.

The findings were not consistent across all of the cities in the study. Many factors may influence the take-up and coverage of faster broadband, including the cost of deployment, the quality of historic infrastructure and local planning rules.

This variation between cities, and their characteristics, underlines the complexity of the challenges they may face in encouraging take-up of superfast broadband. The report recommends that policy makers should take these unique factors into account when addressing barriers to take-up and availability of superfast broadband in different cities.

There are already signs that availability is being addressed in many areas. For example, BTannounced in January an extra £50 million investment to bring more fibre to cities.

The study also found superfast broadband was less-widely available in those parts of the cities with low income. For example, in the most income-deprived areas of Manchester, superfast broadband availability was 80.6%, compared with 86% across the entire city.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “Access to fast broadband is an important part of modern life, and a source of economic growth and investment across the UK.

“We know from previous research that rural areas often lack fast broadband coverage, something the Government is helping to address with public funding.”

Ofcom has also proposed new requirements on BT to promote competition in the growing market for superfast broadband customers.

The rules would mean that BT has to maintain a sufficient margin between its wholesale and retail superfast broadband charges to allow other operators profitably to match its prices.

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