Lack of broadband availability in rural areas is a major
socio-economic issue in the UK:
- Well over 3 million homes in the UK have broadband
speeds of less than two megabits per second (2Mbps) and a
significant proportion of those can't get a broadband service at
all and must rely on dial up
- Notspots are not limited to rural areas, with many in
suburban areas and even streets in major towns (see
- These so called broadband "notspots" are a big policy
challenge for the government, which is committed to providing 2
Mb/s (Megabites per second) broadband access for all by the end of
With the DSL broadband technology, customers need to be within 4
km of their local telephone exchange in order to get a broadband
service with speeds of 2Mb/sec or more. And if they
live over 5 km from the exchange they are unlikely to be able to
receive broadband at all.
In addition all speeds are "up to" and vary depending on how many
users are online at the same time (a phenomenon known as
contention). At busy times, speeds will slow drastically, so
that an up to 2 Mb/s service may only deliver 0.25 Mb/s for
example, just when you want to use the internet most.
Ofcom's latest data published in March 2011 shows that:
- Average broadband speeds up 19% yoy to 6.2 Mbps - but rural
broadband customers very unlikely to have been party to this
- The most common ADSL packages deliver only 29% of the
advertised "up to" speed of 20 or 24 Mbps
- In contrast fibre-optic packages deliver an average of 90-96%
of speeds advertised in the case of Virgin Media and 78% of the
speed advertised in the case of BT Infinity
Charlie Ponsonby, CEO of Ofcom accredited
broadband comparison service Simplifydigital.com notes:
"Broadband access in rural areas is a huge problem as the web
is so key for kids' schooling, running businesses and simply
staying in touch with the world. Over 2 million homes either
cannot receive broadband at all, or are stuck with a broadband
connection of less than 2 Mbps, which makes many online activities
next to impossible."
But why are broadband speeds important? Simply put, your
broadband speed will determine how fast that you can download stuff
from the internet. Viewing web pages requires data to be
downloaded to your computer. Simple web surfing and emailing
uses relatively little data, but if you want to view video content,
which is appearing on many sites (including the Telegraph online),
it requires faster speeds to see a good quality picture. So
regular users of BBC iPlayer for example, rely on adequate
broadband speeds. So too do families with multiple users
(e.g. kids) who are downloading lots of
Charlie Ponsonby explains:
"Broadband speed is the basic determinant of any web
experience, as it controls how quickly and easily you can access
content of all sorts. The slowest "up to 2 Mbps" broadband
connection is about 40 times faster than a dial-up connection, but
itself is too slow for most households."
Why is broadband so slow in rural areas?
There are two ways of delivering broadband in the UK - so-called
DSL broadband which uses the existing copper phone lines and cable
(fibre-optic) broadband which uses specially laid cable.
The key constraint with DSL broadband is that the speed
deteriorates rapidly the further away you live from the local
telephone exchange. As a result dispersed rural broadband
users are often particularly poorly served. The table below
shows the broadband speed decay curve.
Since the telecoms market has been deregulated, broadband
providers can put their own equipment in local telephone exchanges
under a system known as local loop unbundling (LLU). This
encourages the installation of advanced broadband technology (which
allow the delivery of faster broadband over the copper network)
such as ADSL 2+.
There needs to be a high density of potential broadband customers
to merit investment in LLU by broadband providers. As a
result, few rural exchanges have been unbundled by broadband
providers. This also gives BT little incentive to install the
faster ADSL 2+ technology. As a result rural exchanges may
will be hit by a "double whammy" of basic ADSL technology and
customers living a long distance from the exchange.
|Broadband speed decay curve
|Distance from exchange
|% of advertised speed you should receive
Fibre-optic broadband speed does not degrade with distance from
the exchange, but very little fibre optic broadband is available in
rural areas. This is because the economics don't tend to work in
retail areas as the low density of potential customers would
deliver insufficient revenues to cover the cost.
Satellite broadband and other solutions to
Realistically you have three options, listed below. We
recommend getting satellite broadband as the most robust solution
(that is increasingly cost effective).
If you do not want to settle for a slow and clunky dial-up
connection you can:
- Firstly consider satellite broadband from a
company like Tooway. Recently costs have been coming down
significantly. The basic Tooway package offers 6 Mbps download
speed (and you will get very close to this speed) for £24.99 per
month with a £179.98 upfront install cost.
You can call the Simplifydigital independent experts to discuss
your satellite broadband options on 0800 840 5362.
Simplifydigital's London based experts help thousands of customers
every month and are available free from 8am to 8pm Monday to
Friday; 9am to 5:30pm on Saturday and 10am until 5pm on
Sunday. Alternatively, you can find them online at
- Consider a mobile broadband service, though this needs a
3G mobile signal to work well and so may also not be available in
your area mobile broadband does not require a home phone line as it
uses the mobile phone network accessed via a special "dongle"
- Come together as a community and get a broadband service
installed in your community. This is a major undertaking,
requiring capital and community organization. Though it is
possible as was demonstrated by the people of Lyddington in
Leicestershire who founded Rutland Telecom to provide 200 homes in
Lyddington with speeds of around 40Mbps.
There are also a limited number of niche broadband providers
offering local broadband services in rural areas. One such
niche provider is Beeline Broadband which has a very limited
wireless broadband service in Newton Upon Rawcliffe and Stape in
Yorkshire, for customers out of reach of conventional DSL broadband
Charlie Ponsonby notes:
"Satellite broadband is an increasingly cost effective way for
people in notspot areas to get an effective broadband
connection. Tooway, which provides a very good broadband
service is our pick of the satellite broadband deals."
Medium term changes to the rural broadband landscape
In the medium term, notspots may become a thing of the past as
there are other broadband technologies in development which could
overcome the problem. For example is developing a technology
called BET (Broadband Enabling Technology) which it hopes will
solve the problem by extending the broadband "range" from 5 km to
BET can provide broadband speeds between 1 and 2Mb/sec for notspot
homes currently saddled with dial-up and BT have stated that with
financial support from the government they could roll out the
technology to bring broadband to every home in the UK by
Trouble shooting - specific reasons which maybe preventing you
from getting broadband
Line length will effect your ability to get ADSL or your potential
ADSL speeds. Although you may be close to your nearest BT exchange
your line might in fact be using another exchange much further
Poor line quality
Poor line quality can be caused by several things such as bad
joins, corrosion and and water which will affect your copper pair's
ability to provide you will reliable connection.
Some telephone lines are provided partly over a fibre optic
connection which stops you being able to get a broadband
connection. This is known as TPON. Most areas within ADSL distance
of the exchange already have a copper overlay scheme in place which
may allow you to get broadband, however capacity can be strictly
Incompatible product on line
Products such as ISDN, RedCare and FeatureNet service will prevent
you from ordering ADSL on your BT line until they are
Poor internal wiring
If you have poor internal wiring for your telephone extensions
causing slow broadband speeds you may benefit from installing an
I-Plate. A BT I-Plate can improve your broadband speed by on
average around 1.5 meg and also improve the reliability of your
A DACS is a line sharing device that allows two telephone lines to
be provided over a single cable. Due to the way they work, they
stop broadband from working on the line. BT Openreach have a policy
of removing DACS if you order broadband and it is in place on your
line, however it may increase the order time. A DACS will not be
installed if broadband and a telephone line are ordered together in
a 'simultaneous provide'.
Notes to editors:
Simplifydigital.com offers a free and impartial "Switching
Support" service for anyone looking to get a digital TV, broadband
or phone package.
Its London-based impartial experts are available for free over
the phone, to answer all those tricky questions and match the
family's needs to the best deal available.
Simplifydigital.com's experts are available for free on 0800 1
388 388 seven days a week (Lines open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Saturday
9am-5:30pm; Sunday 10-5:30pm).
You can also use Simplifydigital.com's Ofcom accredited
comparison engine online at www.simplifydigital.com.