Broadband sharpens north/south divide

Updated: 

Picture of the Angel of the NorthPA

New research from uSwitch suggests that although broadband speeds are improving overall nationally (with Milton Keynes in particular speeding up), a fifth of us are still getting below 2Mbps.

This would mean taking 100 minutes to download a high quality film - that would be about as long as it takes to watch the film afterwards. Things are actually slowing down in Scotland: see that old North/South divide cropping up again?

The top five best performing towns are:

Town/City

Average Download Speed (Mbps)

Jan-Jun 2012

London

13.262

Belfast

11.315

Liverpool

11.154

Milton Keynes

10.6

Swindon

10.415



The worst are:

Town/City

Average Download Speed (Mbps)

Jan-Jun 2012

Norwich

5.336

Aberdeen

5.786

York

6.402

Ipswich

6.778

Stoke-on-Trent

7.038


What's really striking, though, is the disparity between the improvement in the South and the improvement in the North. Scotland's provision actually slowing down is a bit of an embarrassment.

In fact of the top five locations for falling broadband speeds, only Telford is not in the Midlands or further North (it's in Shropshire). The others are West Bromwich, Dudley, Edinburgh and Bolton.

Increases


There is of course a lot to celebrate. Overall speeds are up some 16% on average which brings the UK back into an area in which it can be genuinely competitive with other countries. However, as Julia Stent, uSwitch's Telecoms expert points out: "The ongoing concern is that there is clearly a divide between the service being received by people in the South East of England and by those in Scotland. We cannot afford to see a 'speed-gap' develop between the north and south, or between England and Scotland. More needs to be done to make sure that everyone in the UK has access to the best possible broadband speeds that they can."

Arguably it's not just England and Scotland but conurbations and rural areas. This is ironic because the great promise about broadband was that it would make those same rural areas more equal. As long ago as 1995, Bill Gates was writing in his book "The Road Ahead" that the Information Superhighway (as it was then called) would bring business and digital activity to rural areas to a greater extent than had ever been achieved before.

The Government has its targets including broadband for all, but in May this year the London School of Economics said there would be a £1bn shortfall - some will blame the current administration for cutting the so-called "broadband tax" which would have gone onto every phone bill under their predecessors; others will dismiss that as unrealistic and unfair in the first place.

Other countries have done better. It's notable that in the Far East it's relatively easy whether you're mobile or staying put to download or stream an entire movie in real time. We're also getting equipment like iPads and phones which have been calibrated to use 4G Internet when it arrives, only to find that our flavour of the next generation of Internet is going to be incompatible with those elsewhere in the world so the gadgets may not actually work.

Various attempts have been made to get the private sector involved in providing broadband to rural communities; unfortunately the general conclusion is that these are companies rather than charities so a large number of initiatives have foundered. The Milton Keynes experiment could be promising, however; fibreoptic Internet was introduced to the whole town and its average broadband speed shot up as a result.

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