/ Technology

Your universal right to broadband, even in rural areas

Broadband on country lane

Are you in a rural area still waiting for decent broadband? You may be in luck. The Government has announced plans to put broadband access on a similar footing to essential services, like water and electricity.

The Government plans to introduce a new universal service obligation for broadband. This’ll give you the legal right to request an ‘affordable’ connection to broadband with speeds of at least 10Mbps. And that’s no matter where you live.

So if you’re in one of the unlucky two million homes that doesn’t have access to the net, you’ll be able to demand a decent broadband connection.

At the announcement, Prime Minister David Cameron said:

‘Access to the internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right – absolutely fundamental to life in 21st century Britain. That is why I’m announcing a giant leap in my digital mission for Britain.

‘Just as our forebears effectively brought gas, electricity and water to all, we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it.’

Broadband speeds in rural areas

It’s a big claim and one that should be good news for Which? Convo commenter David Mitchell, who told us last week:

‘I live in rural Suffolk and have struggled for years with a broadband download speed of around 1mbs. Upload sometimes dwindled to Zero. The county council has a contract with BT to upgrade this ‘uneconomic’ area with the help of government cash but progress is glacially slow and the latest timetable is for us to get a speed of 2mbps by the end of 2017.’

We’ll be keeping an eye out for more news on the universal service obligation and what it will mean for people without access. There will also no doubt be questions about the cost of reaching 10mbps countrywide and who will pay. Whatever the case, it will be important that the cost is transparent and doesn’t spiral out of control.

Are you struggling to get speeds anywhere close to 10Mbps? Are you pleased to see the Government take this issue seriously? As soon as we know more about when you’ll be able to exercise your new rights, we’ll let you know.

Useful links

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Use our free tool to test your broadband speed


I’d like a mobile phone signal !

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O2 have/had a product called BoostBox which connects to broadband and allows better mobile reception in poor areas. Whether this is available for private users I do not know. Cost was about £150 I think, but if reception is really poor I think you can negotiate this down. Best to ring O2 and see what current state is..
Privately, when my transmitter is down and their re-route gives poor signal, you can get an Iphone app called TU Go, which uses broadband signal. This obviously depends on the quality of your signal, and if, like mine it hasn’t dropped out!

David P says:
29 November 2015

Too right! I see ads for 6g mobiles and laugh. We struggle to get 3g locally and have to wander round in the garden. Do we live on the moon? No – somewhere between Oxford and Banbury.

We have been with Talktalk for three years and I started with Tiscali. The service they provide is poor and download speeds pathetic. If I have called there service center with technical problems the staff have been very polite and helpful. But they just dont deliver. I am going end the contract and continue to use my IPhone to tether to the net

I live in Cornwall and have so called “superfast” broadband with 22 Mbps. Is this the fastest one can expect? It is certainly better than many other parts of the country.

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I live about 1/2 mile from the cabinet and I am paying for BT Infinity. When I had a speed of 10mps the internet dropped off every 3-4 mins due to the copper cable from the cabinet to my home being unable to sustain the impulse. The only remedy they could offer was a maximum speed of 7mps. It usually is about 4-5mps! Will BT do anything about it? NO! Will BT reduce my subscription due to the speed falling far short of the 39mps they promised? NO. If I could find a better supplier I would.

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Michael pocklington says:
19 November 2015

There is no mobile phone signal where I live.

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Here in rural Wiltshire we would love ANY mobile signal and a broadband speed sufficient to use our smart TV. Promised fibre optic about a month ago when the box in our village went up and running we heard today that we couldn’t have it as BT hadn’t put enough capacity in the box. Roll on progress, David Cameron !

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For 4 months I struggled to get download of .6M. I was later told that my speed had been capped. I now get 10 times that speed with .6M upload which is not great but workable.

So, the government thinks broadband should be put on a similar footing to essential services like water and electricity. About time too, but that shouldn’t just extend to providing a broadband connection in the first place. It should also cover restoring service after a fault. The report in the latest Which? magazine on “the broadband waiting game” is one of the most weak-knee’d I have ever seen from CA. No one would consider it acceptable to wait a week for the electricity supply to be restored after a fault, but Ofcom and CA apparently think that’s OK for broadband. It isn’t. Save in exceptional conditions, electricity companies manage to fix faults in a few hours, and OpenReach should be required to do the same.
Repair is even more urgent for those of us who live in areas with no mobile coverage (and yes, there are still hundreds of thousands of us), because loss of telephone/broadband leaves us unable to communicate with anyone (or for anyone to communicate with us) except by snail mail.

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Absence of high speed broadband or its temporary loss is not, surely, in the scheme of things, missing an “essential” service. Energy for heating, water, housing, food are on my list of essentials. Broadband is more and more useful, its loss inconvenient or very inconvenient, but not life-threatening and if I had the choice as to where to spend limited taxpayers money it would be on health, education, support for energy housing and food before I even thought about broadband.

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duncan, I don’t disagree but I simply point out that whilst it is a very desirable service to my mind it is not essential. Live in the sticks with no bus service but there is no universal obligation to provide transport. Many (all?) services have a telephone alternative – govt (I recently sorted my car tax that way), banking, switching energy suppliers. Not as quick or efficient, but still available. It is simply deciding priorities for spending my taxes. Many people make a choice of living in the country, with its many attractions, but may lack broadband; if it is essential, then choose a country area where it is available. One contributor mentioned having to travel from their rural home to a town to run an internet business. Seems like a lifestyle choice came first (and why not) but I’m not then keen on subsidising that choice.
Only slightly grumpy today.

i have just had a letter from B.T. saying I can expect to get 1Mb

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This is like going back sixty years to the days of the ‘party line’ from the GPO telephone exchange! Slow progress to fast broadband.

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Been pondering the original premise of this topic (which has wandered, somewhat) and I started to wonder if Cameron will back up his rhetoric with action.

We’re lucky to live in an area where the great Victorian Engineers, most notably Thomas Telford but others also, constructed astonishing tunnels, bridges, roads and canals through extremely inhospitable terrain. In those days, of course, such projects were primarily in furtherance of trade links, and so were paid for by private investors or, in rare cases, the Crown. But the Railways required more, since negotiating with every landowner would have been a herculean task, and so Acts of Parliament were passed enabling ‘fair’ compensation to be paid, while CPOs took care of acquiring the land.

Railways, roads and bridges are necessary and many essential services use them and, although I originally questioned whether anyone could describe a decent Broadband connection as ‘essential’, I kept a diary for 24 hours to see what proportion of my time is Broadband dependent. To my surprise (and without boring everyone with the minutiae) I discovered that I actively use BB for roughly 5.7 hours per day.

Before anyone suggests I should procure a life, I should point out that most of that wasn’t clicking away on this forum. From booking train tickets, to ordering electrical items, ordering food, obtaining piano transcriptions, reading music, turning equipment on and off, watching TV, talking face to face with our children when they’re on the other side of the world, listening to Radio 3, getting hold of manuals for various things, booking surgery appointments and a lot more I suspect our lives would be immensely poorer without Broadband. We’d certainly have a lot less time to do the things we really enjoy.

In a nutshell, I’ve discovered it’s not simply hype: we’re moving – inexorably – towards a connected society and we expect to be able to do the things we do in the same way we expect clean water to be delivered when we turn on the tap. Although, as we have a spring, that’s not perhaps the best comparison…

But if the Government is to make good on its rhetoric then they will have to be prepared to sidestep the multiplicity of obstacles to laying fibre – including the funding issues – and ensure that everyone in the UK is able to connect at least fairly closely to a fibre-enabled cabinet. Because society is only going to become more BB dependent – not less.

Well said Ian. There is another ingredient in the pot and that is Ofcom. Other contributors have overlooked the Regulator’s crucial role in [among other things] preventing the exploitation of monopoly positions, supervising tariff structures to ensure fairness, promoting the development of the network and the upgrading of the technology, and setting the Universal Service Obligation that is designed to obtain consumer benefits and the achievement of the other objectives.

Broadband is a two-way street and its extension to the ‘not spots’ is not just of benefit to the small enterprise in a remote location that might want to send updates to its small number of existing customers but to the thousands of potential new customers who might want to browse its product range and possibly send an order [which they will not do if their transmission is at dial-up speed with added interruptions]. That’s only one example of the massive potential enhancement of service and life in general that better connectivity brings about. Therefore it needs to done expeditiously and the cost recovered across the industry so that fibre is provided within affordable reach – the affordability related not the to cost of that particular stretch of infrastructure but the actual line connexion and the ongoing tariff. In global terms , there are not many paces in the UK that can truly be termed ‘remote’, a bit isolated perhaps but not unconnectible.

Incidentally, BT and other network providers do have the benefit of various GPO, Telegraph, and Telecommunications Acts to enable them to place installations where they are required, to enter and cross land, and to acquire land compulsorily if necessary to facilitate the service provision, so there need be no blockages to this policy intention.

Sometimes I fear that this Conversation is trying to talk the project out through assuming obstacles that don’t exist.

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Thank you Duncan, but where there’s a will there’s a way so the occasional diversion shouldn’t disrupt the whole programme.

If the Government really believe access to broadband to be on a par with access to mains water and/or electricity, then it should be easy and obvious for them to pass legislation to restructure our national telecoms industry, to follow “best practice” examples set by either of these two other key infrastructure industries.

BTW, have either David Cameron or Teresa May already mentioned that this development will soon be required as a precursor to the compulsory installation of new smart “telescreens” in all of our homes?

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Mark Mayhew says:
27 November 2015

The frustrating part in all of this is the continued unfairness with the ISPs pricing structure. As an obvious example, why should anyone on a download speed of less that 2 Mbps be expected to pay the same tariff as someone receiving (say) 17Mbps on a like for like standard package via ASDL? The regulator should have crawled all over this a long time ago. In addition it seems preposterous that utility service providers and others can also be allowed to charge customers if their preference is to continue to receive paper bills when the consumer cannot actually view or download their bill online because of their poor connection? We all know that there are serious limitations on what you can do on a sub 2Mbps connection but the possibilities are almost endless on 17Mbps and above. Given that 2020 is a long way off, the regulator (Ofcom) should impose the need for a tiered pricing structure on ISPs linked to the service that they actually deliver. I work from home on a 1.3 Mbps connection and probably spend 12hrs a day online. We are separated from the main village because of a dual carriageway. The main village (approx. 2 miles away) receives speeds of up to 45 Mbps by being connected to the nearest exchange whilst we remain on a 1.3Mbps service due to being connected to another far in the distance exchange across country.

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Mark Mayhew says:
1 December 2015

Duncan. Thanks. I am with BT paying £36 for a basic phone / BB package plus line rental. As far as I know, I am connected to a fibre cabinet. It is the same one that I was connected to at my old house. I know it was upgraded a few years ago. My old house was 500 metres from the local exchange and I was receiving 19Mbps via ASDL 4 years ago in the days before superfast and before anyone had considered the digital wilderness faced by rural communities! We are now just 3 miles away from that location by road but down a country lane and our house is surrounded by trees so Wi Fi etc not practical. Acres of woodland / agricultural fields separate our lane from the exchange by direct route. My frustration is I know what 19Mbps can deliver Vs 1.3 Mbps. I cannot even perform company E – learning at home as the videos do not stream. Our old house now receives 70Mbps so from a selfish viewpoint the BDUK investment priorities seem all wrong. Why upgrade a very good connection to a super fast connection as a priority and leave a very poor connection still very poor 4 years on. If I have to put up with it for a further 3 – 5 years so be it but that has to be reflected in fairness of price offered by the ISP based on service standard. I suspect that this is all to do with achieving government targets and pacifying company shareholders but If we flip the coin on this, our rural farmers do not restrict the access to food to city dwellers because they are “too far away” from where the crops are harversted and where the farmers fuel costs are too high to transport them? Our local power network have also recently upgraded all our overhead power cables – all completed free of charge and at minimal disruption to me as a consumer and all in the interests of improving service. It does show what can be achieved. If I knew then what I know now, we would not have moved here.

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The street cabinet to which my phone line is connected has been high speed broadband enabled for 3 years. I live over 2 miles from the cabinet and so only receive about 0.8Mbps. My local council (Hampshire) has announced plans for upgrades running up to 2020, but my area isn’t included.

I was excited to recieve an email from the Council inviting me to apply for a free installation of satellite broadband about a month ago. I applied but I won’t be taking up the offer now I have studied the details.

The recommended offer is for 50Gb of data per month for £65. My current slow broadband offers unlimited data and is sufficient for email and web browsing so long as no one else in the house is online and one is patient. That costs about £26 per month and I would still need the landline as the mobile phone signal is also poor.

I look forward one day to being able to stream TV via the internet like most people can already do. In the mean time I’ll just have to wait it seems even though I am paying for up to 17Mbps and recieving 1/20th of the service.

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It’s possible for those on long runs from the cabinet that part of the rollout may include putting additional cabinets in, this has happened in a few locations so far there’s also the possibility of fttc dslams being fitted to poles instead of cabs the equipment exists it’s just down to whether BT will roll it out.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

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A decent mobile signal would be good, yes there’s various bodges using your own broadband but…. Trouble is an application goes in & all the nimbys come out. We’re lucky our fttc went live Dec 14 we now get 58Mbps which is amazing I hope the rollout continue for those with terrible ADSL. Keep an eye on roadworks.org as you can find info on the roadworks BT will do to enable your cabinet, also don’t register and wait for an update from BT, they emailed me to tell me fttc was available 12 months AFTER I got it!

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Morning Duncan, as you can see your comment is now up. All URLs automatically place the comment in moderation, we try and get the posts approved as soon as possible.

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I live 1 mile from the centre of our town, not rural in any way. I live in the black country no way you can say that is rural, my town is Walsall and any room in the house beside the kitchen no signal. Because of medical condition I have regular stays at hospital and as soon as I walk through front door of hospital I lose all communication to the outside world, no signal at all. Being urban can’t be any worse than this oh my service supplier is a large and we’ll know one, it’s not tesco or the local hardware shops service oh no this is O2.

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Rural Broadband has been installed on the cheap in Surrey. BT upgraded the links between the exchange and green boxes, but not the long overhead transmission cables which are still kilometres of copper cable.

My broadband speed has increased from 2Mb to 3.25Mb which is not impressive when speeds of 20 plus Mb are boasted. I was also promised a hub upgrade by BT from their call centre, who never supplied it

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what seems to be wrong is that there is no competition on small exchanges

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Clive Hope says:
31 January 2016

I would like to be able to use my mobile phone to receive or make calls which I am unable to so at the present time.

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