DCMS defends itself against claims it has misled the public in rural areas over availability of superfast connections
Almost half of homes and businesses in rural areas described as “live” on broadband maps are not connected for fast speeds, a campaigner has protested.
The premises have been “passed” by fibre networks capable of delivering speeds of 24Mbps, so are shaded green – “live and accepting orders” – on official maps. But 48% of them – believed to be serving around 1.5 million people – are stuck with speeds below 10Mbps and 22% of those cannot obtain speeds above 5Mbps.
Graham Long, chairman of the Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset campaign group, uncovered the figures and accused ministers of a carrying out a “deception” on people living and working in the countryside.
“This is one of the biggest confidence tricks played on the British public since the South Sea Bubble,” he said. “In urban areas, the passed but not connected effect is of the order of about 4% - but in rural areas it is 48%.”
He said the premises are missing out because, in order to receive 24Mbps – classed as a superfast connection – they must be no more than about 1.3km from a fibre-connected cabinet.
BT, which was awarded the £530 million contract to deliver the Government’s broadband programme, is only required to fit fibre to the cabinets – not to individual homes and businesses. Ageing copper wires run from the cabinets, which makes superfast speeds impossible after a distance of 1.3km. Speeds plunge even lower after 3.5km.
In each county, websites invite residents to tap in their postcodes to find out whether they live in an areas with a fibre-connected cabinet, or whether one will be installed soon. Areas shaded green are described as “live”, with residents told: “Cabinets serving your postcode are currently live and accepting orders for fibre.”
However, they are then told to “check with an internet service provider” to obtain an estimate for the expected line speed at that home or business.
Long said the fact that superfast speeds were impossible for 48% of rural 'premises passed' had only been come to light in the recent Connected Nation report by the regulator Ofcom.
He added: “The Government slaps itself on the back and says ‘job done’ on broadband, but this is a deception going on.”
The situation was also criticised by Jessie Norman, Conservative chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, when it grilled BT bosses this week. He said: “How can that possibly count as a home passed, when the person has no chance of getting a decent broadband signal?”
But the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) pointed out that only premises able to receive speeds of at least 24Mbps were counted in its success figures. Currently, almost 90% of homes and businesses have those superfast connections, with a target of 95% by the end of next year.
Furthermore, BT – or any other contractor – was only paid for every premises with 24MPbps speeds or above.
A DCMS spokesperson said: “If they are served by a fibre-connected cabinet, but live far enough away that they can’t get at least 24Mbps, then they’re not counted.”