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County leaders express broadband grievance


Analysis by County Councils Network says slow speeds are undermining business potential of rural areas

Council leaders in rural areas have protested over slower broadband speeds, warning they are at a “competitive disadvantage” to cities just a few miles away.

The County Councils Network (CCN), a cross-party group within the Local Government Association, has said that non-urban counties account for all but four of the 79 areas without access to superfast broadband.

It has published an analysis showing that download speeds are up to three times faster in urban areas - with more than two thirds of England's counties below the national average of 45Mbps.

This contrasts with data from communications regulator Ofcom showing that 91% of homes and businesses in the UK now have access to broadband connections of up to 30Mbps. 

Some rural counties lag far behind neighbouring cities. For example, in North Yorkshire, residents receive an average speed of 30.2Mbps, compared with York's average of 102Mbps.

Ryedale, which includes part of the North York Moors, has average speeds of just 25.8Mbps, less than a fifth of those enjoyed in the city down the road.

Rural Dorset has average speeds of 26.9Mbps, less than half those in neighbouring Bournemouth (61.2Mbps). The slowest broadband in Britain is in West Devon, at just 21.8Mbps.

Economic fears

Councillor Philip Atkins, vice chair of CCN and leader of Staffordshire County Council, said the counties feared being unable to attract “the businesses of the future”, in the financial, tech, and communications sectors

“Counties are great places to live and work, but these figures show that businesses in shire counties and rural areas are being left at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.

“It cannot be right that in some areas, businesses and residents in a city less than 10 miles down the road from a rural county benefit from average download speeds of more than three times faster.

“While the Government has announced investment in this area, we remain concerned that digital infrastructure in counties isn’t getting the attention it desperately needs.”

USO factor

The report follows a change in the outlook for the universal service obligation (USO), the new legal right to a minimum broadband speed promised by the Government.

The Conservatives' general election manifesto said it would give people the right to request access to speeds of 10 Mbps, by 2020, for “every home and business in Britain”. But the Government then said that, in any property where the bill of connecting is more than £3,400, householders may have to pay the excess cost themselves. Around 60,000 – mainly rural - homes could be hit.

The Department of Trade and Industry responded that it was wrong to suggest that anybody “is going to miss out”.

"The universal service obligation means that remote rural communities can apply as a group to ensure they are connected without being subject to costs,” a spokesman said.

Image: by neiljaxx CC BY 2.0 via flickr

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