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Are rural areas being let down by poor internet connections?

Woman on tablet in field

Are rural areas being let down by poor internet connections?

For a country with the word ‘united’ in its name, the UK is not always the most equal of nations.

There can be a big difference in how something works from one city to the next, and whether it’s Londoners unhappy at their high cost of living, Scots and Welshmen disillusioned by what they perceive as apathy from Westminster, Northerners frustrated by the sluggish progress of the fabled ‘Northern Powerhouse’, or people in rural areas simply thinking the country has forgotten about them, everyone thinks their area is being short changed in some way.

For owners of businesses, whatever their industry, a website and reliable internet access has become a must, but there are still big disparities between broadband speeds and connectivity from one location to the next, which ultimately harms the business sector in the areas most affected.

Earlier this year, Ofcom published its annual Connected Nations report, detailing the spread of superfast broadband connections around the country. The most visible breakdown is this map, which gives a quick overview of what percentage of connections in each area are able to receive internet speeds of 30MB/s.

In our local area, the Wirral and West Cheshire communities don’t look too bad, with the percentages generally in the 80-90% region. Liverpool seems even better, with the Wavertree district actually the eighth best in the country for superfast availability.

As we move away from big cities though, speeds drop noticeably in the more rural areas. Not far from us in North and especially Central Wales, the percentage drops to little more than 50%. The big blind spot, however, is in Scotland, and in particular the Western Highlands, Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney.

An article published on HeraldScotland.com just last week highlighted the obstacles poor connections create for businesses in these remote, sparsely populated areas. Ben Wilson, the owner of a boating company on the Isle of Mull, complained that broadband speed is so slow on the island, he often finds it quicker when out at sea. With these outposts relying on industries like boating, fishing and tourism, this issue immediately puts businesses at a disadvantage, with Wilson describing it as “just another handicap to working on Mull.”

Small steps are being taken to address the rural-urban divide in internet availability, with BT keen to introduce fast broadband throughout the country by 2020, and a Daily Telegraph-led campaign to make basic broadband available nationwide piquing the attention of some MPs. For the time being, though, it does appear that the further businesses are from a sizeable city, the more intermittent the internet connection they have to work with.

John Murray
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