/ 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)

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 🙂

Meanwhile, we live too far away from our exchange to get ADSL at all – we’d welcome BT being given an incentive to deploy fibre to the cabinet or a later version of ADSL (ADSL 4??) that will carry over a longer length of copper – I believe this is used in some arts of the US.

So we continue using our satellite broadband, fortunately the installation cost being subsidised by the Scottish Goverenment’s Broadband Reach project.

Might I suggest ten minutes researching why people (in all continents) have been migrating from the country to the cities for many generations?

It will no doubt explain why the big investments are in cities.

Social History!

Waveney Boy says:
30 March 2012

Regarding your valid point about the residual length of copper wire continuing to have a disastrous effect on broadband speed beyond the end-of-fibre point…
Suffolk’s ITT will, we are told, include a requirement that alternative technologies (OK, they’ll never match FTTP speeds…) be proposed to solve this problem for all affected premises. There has also been a public statement that such solutions must be deployed in the very early stages of roll-out, not as a catch-up once everywhere else has been maxed out with fibre. We’ll see.

NickNick says:
31 March 2012

Unfortunately, BT is already the winner of the Suffolk ITT, and they haven’t even started the process. So it doesn’t matter what they ‘want’ they will get whatever BT ‘wants’ to give them. They will give some platitudes about ‘alternative’ methods so that Suffolk and BDUK aren’t seen as completely and uttterly incompetent (just basic incompetent instead).

Only BT and Fujitsu are left in the BDUK framework, and Fujitsu (probably under pressure from BT) have pulled out of every NGA procurement they have ever taken part in.

Only an Incumbent can have a chance of making a Business Case the way that BDUK is running the process, which is BT and Virgin, and Virgin doesn’t have any spare cash at the moment.

It could be done differently, but it would seem not having millions of pounds to ‘lobby’ Ofcom and BDUK has stopped anyone else having a chance.

We live in the sticks of Central Scotland and can’t stream TV, whether live or not, with unreliable connections generally. The benefits of ultra-fast broadband does seem very marginal compared to having no viable connection at all.

tmax says:
31 March 2012

i live in the outback of lincolnshire when will we get broardband better than 0.328 mb/s

Ben1 says:
31 March 2012

Milton Keynes, 0.9mb max on my line, Infinity on my exchange but not available on my line. I give a wry smile when people complain about only getting 2 or 3 mb.

NickNick says:
31 March 2012

Milton Keynes has a bit of a unique problem. Aluminium. A lot of the lines in MK are Aluminium rather than Copper and this has a big effect on what broadband speed you can get.

If BT does ever get around to replacement of the Aluminium, you might actually jump the queue to fibre (and I mean real fibre here with fibre to your house – not the ‘lie’ of BT’s “fibreoptic broadband” which is only fibre to the cabinet with copper (or Aluminium) from there)

frederick w worth says:
31 March 2012

My wife and I live in Somerton, still known as a village, I am phisically disabled and unable to work.
therefore the internet is my only connection, to the world, and it is painfully slow.

derek griffiths says:
31 March 2012

my broadband connection speed is .4 mbps is this the slowest ever ? and BT have just increased their broadband charges, what a rip off

leslie says:
31 March 2012

I Live in the country in N.Ireland and I would like broadband to be faster too but as i don,t even get 1.mb of speed and I can,t watch live T.V when will we get faster speeds as it is a nightmare as it keeps going down and the wait to get on is soo bad

D Neale says:
1 April 2012

Here in Gloucestershire we are lucky to get 1Mbps, Yes 1 !!!! and this is only on a good day!!!
Come on, lets wake up & be reasonable.

derek griffiths says:
1 April 2012

I dont know if d.neale realises that d.griffiths is only getting .4 mbps, easy to miss the ” point” but point 4, this is near weymouth in dorset,the bt broadband helpline pictures are useless as they keep on freezing, what am i paying for.

Lay fiber optic cables in UKs ready made tunnels for a very low cost – sewers and drains.

Robert Campbell says:
4 April 2012

I was wondering why I can get BT’s Infinity broadband and other places not so far away can’t. I realise that the fibre-optic cable goes to the local cabinet, but yet I thought I was really in the sticks. I was talking to an ex-BT engineer tonight. Apparently, in N Ireland, the Education dept paid and organised for the schools to have a fibre connection, but initially this connection could only be used for schools. More recently, others have been able to use it as well. And yes, there are two primary schools close to me. Is this explanation correct?

Martin Rayner says:
6 July 2012

Here in Windermere last night my broadband speed was 0.7Mbp. Cumbria is a mountain range surrounded by people. Road across Cumbria 1.5 hours, rail 3 hours, no airports to speak of. Our only future is 100 Mbp broadband provided mainly by fibre. The Council have spent 18 months negotiating with BT and Fujitsu only to find they won’t commit to providing 90% of the homes with broadband. That’s what the government specified. We also have poor mobile signal and limited digital radio. Come on London, be fair, you may need our rain one of these days!

David in Coates says:
6 July 2012

I find that this whole broadband programme frustrating, in this village of 400+ we can get 1mbps until school is out and all we ever hear is of Government and Glos. County initiatives but nothing ever happens in our area nor are any plans published. I suspect as we are 3 miles from the exchange we will never get a reasonable service as it is just too difficult for BT and too expensive for the authorities.

I am a long-retired ex-BT employee (Sales) and have have read various articles in our Pensioners’ Magazine and elsewhere about this vexed subject. There was supposed to be a collaboration with Sky about the feasibility of BB by Satellite but I gathered there was a problem with the upload direction having to be via wires at least partially. Yet we have constant on-the-spot reporting by the Broadcasters from all over the world using apparently hand-held equipment and all by satellite with scarcely any bother over delay or speech synchrony.
My assessment is that there are numerous well-heeled people who prefer to live in a rural environment as well as many more numerous who were born to it and have “lived with it” and made a living there (notably in agriculture and horticulture who could really do with fast BB) or simply can’t afford to move elsewhere. Either way, they all suffer from this syndrome of frustration about ‘rural broadband’. Even in the 1980s BT was prophesying that soon we we would all soon be able to work from home, such would be the excellence of modern technology.
It seems quite logical that just as broadcasting by satellite has been a success so too could Internet by satellite and it would cure many other people’s problems with the vagaries of wired and partially fibre optic networks. But it would require a dedicated satellite or space on an existing one that has its footprint to include the whole of the British Isles and Ireland.
The Government keeps making soothing noises about improving the rurals’ lot, where even the weekly shopping is a serious cost factor if by road for each shopper instead of via the Internet, and also the excellence of our IT Industry, but isn’t it time that the results of any feasibility studies done on this topic (by whomsoever) and the true cost evaluations were made publicly known ? And all in layman’s language ! If the Government’s ambition is for the nation to be an exemplar of the IT age then we should have serious discussions about this especially the true potential cost to the consumer. What is the size of the rural population in relation to the whole and also to the urban (we have recently had a census)?
An extension of this problem is that there are many more people without computers than are assumed to exist, especially amongst the aging rural population, and education about this medium and its undoubted benefits to them is overdue there.
We need to rally round this discussion NOW.

Chris Newby-Robson says:
12 July 2012

We struggle with around 2 Meg connection speed in a small village 20 miles from Cambridge. I despair whether we will ever get decent broadband unless we create our own Community Broadband organisation. The reason…… Cumbria rejecting all tenders under BDUK, EU Commission investigating the bidding terms of BDUK, Fujitsu allegedly pulling out of tendering process leaving only BT.

Wht should we pay the incumbent telecoms operator to do something they should already be doing? Why should they be able (under the present tender terms) to monopolise the infrastructure that public money is paying for? If public money is subsidising the installation then BT should operate it it as a common carrier and give equal access to all parties, and pay the going rate itself.

BT were gifted the public infrastructure when they were privatised, as the cost of privatisation in no way reflected the true cost of installing the infrastructure they were gifted, unlike Virgin Cable and their predecessors who raised their own finance to install the cable networks.

So BT now have no moral or commercial right to monopolise this and Ofcom (toothless tiger) are fools for not more rigorously protecting the public ownership and right over this infrastructure. Successive governments also!

It now seems (if you believe the conspiracy theorists amongst us) that BT have leant on Fujitsu (a major supplier to BT) to withdraw from tendering under BDUK, leaving BT alone to Hoover up the public money for carrying out work that they should be forced to do as a consequence of their monopoly position.

Simply just a law enforcing a universal commitment for BT to provide Superfast Broadband everywhere in the UK!


Chris Newby-Robson says:
12 July 2012

Sorry my final sentence should read…….

The really Simple solution. Enact a law enforcing a universal commitment on BT to provide Broadband at “xx” speed to every premise in the UK.


john says:
19 July 2012

we cant get broadband as we are to far away, we live in a cottage inside Kielder forest and must use sat broadband, not very good.
bt still INSIST we can get it, and wont refund anything, yet openreach laugh when they get the ticket to install broadband, its unreal! 14 mile from exchange and even I know we cant have it, but BT still insist, we aksed if we can have it before we moved here, now £350,000 house with no broadband is annoying.