/ Technology

Ultra-fast broadband for big cities – what about the rest of us?

Now that the big headlines generated by last week’s Budget have died down, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the details. One titbit that interested me was the focus on broadband…

George Osborne announced that 10 cities are to become ‘super-connected’ with ultra-fast broadband and wi-fi as part of a £100 million investment.

My first thought was, what on earth is ultra-fast broadband? Apparently it will bring speeds up to 300Mbps compared to mere 100Mbps superfast speeds.

So who are these lucky cities? Well residents of Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle can rest safe in the knowledge that the broadband gods are looking fondly on them.

This decision is part of the government’s ‘reforms to support growth’, aimed at putting the UK on a path of sustainable, long-term growth. To this end it’s clearly aimed at making these cities attractive to businesses as well as consumers.

In his speech the Chancellor pointed out that we need to compete with countries like Korea and Singapore. In these countries, it’s not unheard of for fibre networks to offer speeds of up to 1Gbps for all residents.

What about people outside of these cities?

However, is the government’s planned investment unfair to those who live outside of these cities? Despite the UK’s biggest cities already having pretty good broadband coverage anyway, this will further widen the digital divide between these cities and the rest of the country.

Then again, although it feels a bit unfair to choose just 10 places to pump money into, the Chancellor was quick to point out that this is supposed to complement the government’s existing plans to bring superfast broadband to 90% of the country by 2015.

A special mention should go to MP Simon Kirby, who argued for smaller towns to get some of this investment too. As MP for Brighton Kempton, his voice helped towards £50 million being allocated to smaller cities for the same purpose.

Don’t forget about less populated areas

After a little more thought, I’m glad the government is recognising the importance of broadband for the economic future of the UK. And it’s certainly no bad thing to improve our speeds so that we can compete with other countries.

I would, however, like to make a small plea – although we need to make broadband investments to attract big business into our cities, this should not filter money away from helping those in less populated areas.

Ultra-fast broadband might be important for the economy, but a decent minimum speed is important for everyone. The former should not come at expense of the latter.


It would be nice if I was even getting a mere 100Mbps service in London. As I’ve said before, I’m in Zone 2 and can only get 3.5Mbps. I get higher speeds at my previous home in the New Forest.

However, as much as I’d like to say – sort out decent speeds first, I wouldn’t mind there being a direct jump to 300Mbps, rather than a stroll to 20Mb, then to 50Mb, then to 100Mb and then to 300Mb.

Give me the boost please, but soon.


I believe that the logical way for ISPs to charge for broadband services is on the basis of individual requirements (both speed and amount of data transmission), so that those who need the fastest service pay more. The potential of gaining additional revenue would encourage ISPs to invest in providing faster services where needed.

I presume that it is possible to regulate speeds for individual customers because I once had my speed increased by a factor of three after contacting my ISP. It did take three attempts to achieve action, but the change was prompt and the speed was maintained thereafter.

If your neighbours are achieving faster speeds, Patrick, it might be worth having a word with your ISP.


No, it’s just this part of London doesn’t have very fast speeds, as described in this Convo: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/londons-broadband-lottery-makes-mockery-of-up-to-speeds/ I pay for up to 20Mbps

Robert Campbell says:
30 March 2012

I live out in the sticks of N Ireland. I’ve recently got BT’s Infinity broadband, with speeds around 17Mb/sec. This seems fast enough for me — I can stream live TV etc. Why would I need 300 Mb/sec?


Because people were asking the very same thing in the 80’s, when the days of acoustic couplers, then MODEMs were 28.8 k/bps, and then 56 k/bps, was seen as super fast.

It’s the same story: demand always rises to meet supply, road bypasses soon need a bypass for that bypass, which in turn needs widening, and so on ad infinitum.

ALWAYS get a connection far wider than you need. Why? Because you are, or soon will be, sharing that pipe with others at some point – this is known as contention ratio.

Waveney Boy says:
30 March 2012

A little negative about the future for rural broadband, Catherine! The national target of 90% UK coverage by 2015 with Superfast broadband (minimum of 24Mbps and typically up to 100Mbps and more), with 2 to 20Mbps for the rest, will be met mainly by private investment (e.g. BT, Virgin Media) where the capex is funded by increased revenue streams. However that will only cover about 2/3 of the population, mainly in the conurbations. The ‘Final Third’, almost entirely in sparsely populated rural areas, will be provided with superfast broadband with the aid of a £530M fund administered by Broadband Delivery UK, part of DCMS. Read this recent press release for current status.

Here in Suffolk the CC is driving a £42M project to meet the rural target. It’s funded a quarter each from BDUK and the CC itself, making it a commercial proposition for the winning bidder. Almost fifty of these projects around the country will be under way in 2012.

In the sticks we’ll never be served as well as urban dwellers (for example, the 2-20Mbps range for some users is disappointingly low) but this push in rural areas will give ALL residents access to internet services that we can currently only dream of. For example, Telehealth in all its forms will benefit the rural population greatly when new services develop without hindrance. SMEs will flourish, leading to economic growth where it’s desperately required.

All early days of course, but isn’t this good news?

NickNick says:
30 March 2012

Unfortunately, due the farce of the bidding process, all of the BDUK money will be going to BT. That means you are going to get a ‘whatever BT wants’ service as there will be no real competition (except where Virgin already exists). So if you are in the last 10%, or a long way from a BT cabinet then you will have to wait for ever to get even a ‘decent’ broadband service let alone ‘superfast’.

You will have to wait until the Govt decides it is time to give BT another big handout (probably in the next parliament, when the new Govt can blame the last one for the fiasco)


Hi Waveney Boy – I was trying my best not to be negative! I do mention (albeit rather briefly) the Governments existing plans, and that this new investment would be in addition.

It just sits a little uncomfortably with me that these additional investments for big cities are being announced at a time when many people in rural areas (including a number in this thread) are still getting speeds of less than 1Mbps. As you point out, plans are in place, and this is of course something to be positive about.

However, in my opinion, a minimum broadband standard for everyone should be the first priority over additional urban investments – particularly if there’s a spare £100 million going.

Graham Pye says:
7 April 2012

As usual, this mostly onlyapplies to England, and not Scotland where we are perhaps the most rural…

Of course the whole of Scotland could be ignored andstill meet the 90% population target 🙂