/ Technology

Rural vs urban broadband speeds – the divide widens

Woman in field using laptop with cows

Three-quarters of Brits use the internet every day. However, 17% of homes still aren’t connected at all. And one problem is that the divide between urban and rural broadband speeds is widening…

Ofcom recently reported that the average broadband speed increased by 64% between May 2012 and 2013, and yet the average speed between urban and rural broadband has widened.

There are also a substantial amount of people who remain disconnected.

According to the Office of National Statistics, four million British homes still aren’t connected to the net.

Just not interested in the internet?

As it gets easier and more secure to use the internet for routine tasks, I’m surprised to see that the majority (59%) of those four million Brits say that they just don’t see the need to get online. Will the government’s plans to educate people on the benefits of the internet improve this?

The good news is that speeds are up according to Ofcom, which is partly due to more households using a fibre optic or cable connection (up 12%). In May 2013 the average UK speed was 14.7Mbit/s – 64% faster than at the same point in 2012.

However, the availability of superfast connections remains limited in rural areas and this looks to be accentuating the rural divide.

The rural divide has widened

The gap between average broadband speeds in rural and urban areas has almost doubled over the last year – from 9.5Mbit/s to 16.5Mbit/s.

And it isn’t just the lack of fibre optic or cable that’s slowing our countryside down – your good old ADSL connections are also slower. This is because the nearest telephone exchange is often further away from homes in rural areas compared to people who live in cities. However, it is worth noting that average rural speeds, which now sit at 9.9Mbit/s, are increasing at a faster rate than urban speeds.

Do we really need superfast speeds?

The government has plans to improve broadband in rural areas, with the goal of giving 95% of UK households access to superfast speeds by 2017, with a minimum service of 2Mbit/s available to all.

The question is whether internet providers will continue to concentrate on speed rather than coverage. Will faster internet get more people online? Do we all need to be using (and paying for!) superfast connections? Surely what most internet users want is a reliable connection, offering a decent speed and at a fair price?

Do you suffer from super-slow download speeds? Are you tempted by superfast broadband?


The emphasis should be on coverage , those who live in rural communities with no broadband or <2 Mbps broadband are severely disadvantaged especially if they have children who almost require internet access for schoolwork. These households are also likely to have few local amenities, no public transport and probably high electric or oil heating bills.


I’m on 20Mb (speedtest rates it at 20.53 download and 1.15 upload) which was upgraded from 10Mb for “free”, although there were 3 price hikes between being told of the doubling and actually getting it.

Speed isn’t as important as reliability for me, I just wish it was 24/7 365 days a year. Unfortunately its not, I don’t think I’ve ever had a whole year free of issues. The last issue being just over a week ago and no internet for best part of day.

I’ve been “online” for almost 25 years now, yet my parents still aren’t and they have no desire to be so “enabled”


I can’t understand why it should be a matter of astonishment that 17% of homes are not connected to the internet. While the internet is useful, it is not indispensable and I don’t think there should be too much pressure to get everybody connected, although I agree that it is absolutely essential that every household should be able to access fast broadband if it wants to. Using a computer at home represents a considerable expense, taking into account the cost of paper, ink, ISP subscription, and electricity. People who have plenty of time and not much money can manage very well without one – for the time being at least, but increasingly there are penalties for paper transactions which for utilities should be outlawed in my opinion. People without broadband shouldn’t have to pay more to receive paper bills for a telephone service! I agree with Rarrar that access to fast broadband in rural areas should be a priority because of the disadvantages already experienced in remote locations. I predict that many people will actually withdraw from the internet as time goes by and their circumstances change.


John Ward writes: “I can’t understand why it should be a matter of astonishment that 17% of homes are not connected to the internet. While the internet is useful, it is not indispensable..”

It becomes more indispensable with time, however. Unfortunately, not everything advances with the same pace. Today, for example, I find that the “new” Which? web site has become unusable for me, serving blanks pages when I click on certain, *indispensable* links… Why should Which?, of all organisations, leave some of their members behind?

Katharine says:
12 August 2013

I’m on 1.3MB (if I’m lucky). Appallingly slow, and I’m 10 miles from Bristol! Hardly in the middle of nowhere.

cyberdoyle says:
13 August 2013

The scandal is that councils are giving the incumbent the funding to make the divide even wider. The money is going to patch up openreach cabinets, they call it ‘fibre broadband’ but it isn’t, they are making it go through the old phone lines to keep us tied to this monopoly for another decade. Those who don’t live near a cab will still get very slow speeds and many will remain on dial up. Lots of people only have a landline for broadband, they use mobiles for calls, and this is what BT intend us to carry on paying for. Its all a scam. Its time we had some fibre, moral and optic.


Harriet – You quote ONS data but your link is to a BBC article apparently quoting ONS data. They also do not provide a link to the original work by the ONS or the date when the research was carried out and how derived. I expect better from Which? and the BBC.

“Researchers said the advent of 4G mobile speeds had helped boost the number of us getting online. ” Seems a statement hanging in mid-air and one is left with the impressio of more data collected by a “survey” to boost a particular aim. In case anyone has doubts about the medias use of “surveys” I recommend Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Medicine” where he illustrates at length the bogusness of many surveys and how the media is only too happy to fill space with them..

However there appears to be a possible fundamental flaw in trying to link the measurement of households on-line to people using mobile phones to access the Internet. My children and my nephews and nieces I suspect have their bill sent to their old home address whilst living somewhere else in short-term accommodation.


Hi Dieseltaylor,

Here’s a link to the top line that the ONS provide on the stats, sorry I didn’t include it before – http://whi.ch/17mp9qj

From that page you can also download the spreadsheet of results. These results suggest that when asking people what their household internet connection was, mobile broadband accessed through a handset was an option for people to choose. I guess this would cover people who perhaps don’t have fixed broadband but only use their mobiles regardless of where the paper version of their bill gets sent.