The UK ‘digital divide’: Are you one of the lucky ones with fibre broadband?

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has just published the results of its strategic review of UK digital communications and it makes for interesting reading for BT.  It proposes large-scale investment to roll out more ‘fibre to the premise’ networks to homes and businesses, and a reduction in the UK’s reliance on BT Openreach.  Ofcom also says that BT must open its cable network and allow competition in order to improve UK broadband connections.  Openreach should have greater independence from BT, taking its own decisions on investments and strategy, says Ofcom.

We all know that communication services are now fundamental to our businesses (the report confirms this for 83% of UK SMEs), but yet almost a third of us do not have access to superfast broadband.

It’s disappointing to read that there is a persistent digital divide in the UK between those with the fastest broadband technologies, and those without.  The report states that 2.4 million households and small businesses, around 8% of all UK premises, cannot access a broadband speed of 10 Mbit per second.  Apparently the UK has 83% coverage of superfast fixed broadband (coverage of outdoor premises), based on the latest May 2015 data. However, in rural areas this is just 37%, while it rises to 88% in urban areas.

Coupled with that, mobile 4G is shown as having 46% coverage across the UK overall, reaching just over half of all premises in urban areas but just 4% in rural areas.

As a small business ourselves, we’ve suffered from poor broadband service, especially as we’re currently located in a more rural setting.  Luckily though, fibre was rolled out in our area recently, so we’ve been able to upgrade and get access to a much faster connection, which is critical for us as we rely on providing detailed customer webinars (which requires a fast upload speed) to demonstrate our property reporting software.  We’re also keen to see better service for 3G, never mind 4G!  As regular commuters, it’s a constant source of disappointment to find so many signal ‘blackspots’ up and down the A1/M1.

Ofcom says it will work with UK Government to make ‘decent, affordable broadband a universal right’ for every home and business in the UK.

The report also says that people and businesses will need highly effective mobile services across the UK to access information and entertainment services on the move, and to enhance productivity. The Ofcom vision over the next 10 years is for everyone in the UK to enjoy fast, reliable broadband services, and for the UK to be a world leader in the availability and capability of its digital networks.

Personally I think we have a long way to go, but let’s hope we’re on that fast-track road so that all SMEs can benefit from better communication services to help grow and sustain their businesses.

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