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Which? highlights broadband black spots

January 22, 2019

Parts of central London, Stroud, Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury were among the more surprising areas suffering from the worst broadband in the UK, according to Which? analysis of customer speed tests.

The consumer champion found that while rural Scotland and Wales still have Britain’s slowest average connection speeds, many local authority areas including in the capital and other urban areas are also enduring sluggish speeds.

The areas with the lowest speeds recorded overall included the Lake District, as well as parts of Scotland and Wales.

The Orkney islands (3Mbps), Allerdale (5.7Mbps), Shetland Islands (6.7Mbps), Argyll and Bute (7Mbps), Moray (7.1Mbps),  Fermanagh and Omagh (7.4Mbps) and Ceredigion (7.5 Mbps) were the worst affected local authority areas. By comparison, mid-table Coventry experienced an average speed more than twice as fast – at 16.3Mbps.

Broadband users in some of these areas might find it hard to carry out online banking or to use streaming services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer because of slow Internet.

Tower Hamlets (10.1Mbps), Westminster (10.8Mbps), Stroud (11.4Mbps), Tunbridge Wells (11.4Mbps), North East Derbyshire (11.5Mbps), and Canterbury (11.5Mbps) were also found to be lagging well behind other areas.

At the other end of the scale, Which? found that the fastest local authority area for broadband speeds was commuter borough Broxbourne with an average 32.5Mbps, which is considered superfast by both the Government (over 24Mbps) and Ofcom (over 30Mbps). To put this into context, this means that downloading a film in Canterbury will take around three times longer than it would in Broxbourne.

Other urban areas benefiting from fast Internet include Crawley (32.3Mbps), West Dunbartonshire in Scotland (29.6Mbps), Watford (29.5Mbps), Rushmore (28.9 Mbps), Nottingham (27.6Mbps) and Cambridge (27.3Mbps). Meanwhile, the fastest broadband in London was found in the borough of Harrow (26Mbps) followed by Barking and Dagenham (25.7Mbps) and Greenwich (23.6Mbps).

The research, using data from Which?’s own broadband speed checker, shows how people face a lottery when it comes to broadband connectivity – a situation that must be addressed if everyone is to enjoy access to a good service.

The UK Government has pledged to ensure a bare minimum connection speed of 10 Megabits per second across the country. There are additional schemes in place in Wales and Scotland.

The consumer champion’s data suggests residents in 15 UK local authority are failing to access these speeds.

Previous Which? research has shown that some households with sluggish broadband connections could get faster speeds – and save hundreds of pounds a year – by switching to a better package. Despite the growing availability of higher speed broadband, many people were still not taking up the fastest service available in their area, according to the regulator, Ofcom. Only 45 per cent of premises were signed up to superfast broadband despite the service being available to more than double that number, it said.

“Having a good broadband connection is a basic requirement for many important everyday tasks, so it is unacceptable that millions of people around the country are still struggling to get what they need,” commented Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services. The Government and the regulator must now press ahead with plans to provide a bare minimum connection speed of 10 Megabits in every household and make sure that no one is at a disadvantage because of where they live.”

Responding to the findings, Andrew Glover, the Chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK), suggested that ISPs have made significant progress in boosting broadband speeds in recent years, as Ofcom’s official figures show that across the UK, average download speeds have increased by 28 per cent over the past year to 46.2Mbps.

“The data used by Which? appears to be gathered from customer speed tests and therefore may not be fully representative of speeds available,” he contended. “Ofcom’s Boost Your Broadband campaign can show where faster connections are already available should customers want them, including some of the areas mentioned in the report.”

“Whilst some of this progress is highlighted by Which?, the report does indicate that there is still work to be done to ensure that no area in the UK is left behind. ISPA’s members are working hard to deliver quality broadband services to consumers across the UK, and are committed to rolling out the next generation of broadband infrastructure and services to those that need it. There are also a wide variety of new ISPs breaking into the industry to deliver new and innovative solutions. For those in true ‘not-spots’ the Broadband USO is due to be implemented by Ofcom in 2019, which will give everyone the legal right to request a 10Mbps connection.”

“Access to a decent broadband connection for rural communities is a serious problem,” declared Matt Powell, Editor at comparison site Broadband Genie. “But the rural broadband landscape is looking better, with only 2 per cent of properties now lacking access to 10Mbps+ broadband.

“The Universal Service Obligation (USO) will help those in the remaining 2 per cent who are not covered by other network upgrades, however the cost threshold of £3,400 will be a barrier for some premises unless they are willing to pay for expenses over this limit. In 2016 Ofcom estimated that a £3,400 threshold for a USO of 10Mbps download/1Mbps upload would leave 60,000 premises unserved. Some communities will be able to work around this by combining their funding for a connection which serves multiple properties, but others may have to pay a significant sum out of their own pocket, or explore alternatives such as satellite broadband. Mobile broadband may be an option for more rural homes and businesses in the near future as the forthcoming spectrum band auction for mobile services will obligate some bidders to expand into rural areas in order to provide fast mobile Internet.”

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