Hull and Highlands worst for superfast broadband availability

People living in Kingston upon Hull in East Yorkshire are still some of the most badly served in the UK in terms of access to so-called superfast broadband services, according to constituency-level data on average broadband speeds released by the government.

Based on a thorough analysis on Ofcom’s annual release of data on broadband connectivity and speeds at postcode level – which forms part of the Connected Nations report – the government’s statistics show that 33% of properties in the constituency of Kingston upon Hull East are unable to receive a broadband service of over 10Mbps, the eligibility criteria for the planned Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Hull is a unique case in the UK because it is the only place in the country never covered by BT’s network during its days as a monopoly provider. It is served instead by KCOM (formerly Kingston Communications), which is currently investing £60m in a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) roll-out, promising top-end speeds of 250Mbps on a product called Lightstream.

However, because other providers have not invested in Hull, despite the advances KCOM is making in its roll-out, it is starting from a much lower base than the rest of the country, hence it frequently emerges towards the bottom end of the rankings.

In the majority of constituencies, less than 2% of lines are unable to receive a 10Mbps service. But in addition to Hull, the percentages for the Scottish Highlands and Islands constituencies of Orkney and Shetland (25%), Ross, Skye and Lochaber (25%), and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (20%) were much higher than average. In the constituencies of Ceredigion and Montgomeryshire in Wales, 18% were unable to receive a 10Mbps service, and elsewhere in Scotland, Caithness, Berwickshire, Argyll and Bute, and Dumfriesshire were also poorly served.

The government found that the average download speed for fixed broadband lines across the country was 44.6Mbps as of May 2017, up from 37.8Mbps in May 2016. For those with superfast lines – over 30Mbps by Ofcom’s definition – the average speed shot up to 77.3Mbps, but for those without, it was just 11.8Mbps. Just over 2% of lines still received speeds of under 2Mbps, 24% received 2-10Mbps, and 49% over 30Mbps.

The good news for residents of Hull East looking to move to constituencies with ultrafast broadband is that they won’t have to travel too far – the constituencies of York Outer and York Central, which are covered by an ultrafast FTTP network developed by TalkTalk with assistance from CityFibre and Sky, now receive average download speeds of 128.9Mbps and 82.4Mbps respectively.

The other constituencies with the highest average speeds were, in order, Great Grimsby, West Dunbartonshire, Gillingham and Rainham, Redcar, Lincoln, Stockton North, Bristol South, and Aldershot. Those with the lowest were, again, Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and Orkney and Shetland. Reflecting long-standing issues with broadband provision in the capital, the City of London and Westminster itself were also in the bottom five.

The government pointed out that average download speeds are subject to a range of different factors beyond mere availability, such as take-up – where fewer residents subscribe to such services, the average will be pushed down – and distance to cabinets on fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services.

Meanwhile, a ComRes survey of 1,427 British adults conducted for Citizens Advice found that 60% of people had experienced slow service or a break in their broadband connection in the past 12 months, and the number of people who said this had an impact on their ability to carry out essential tasks, such as working remotely, increased to 24%, with younger age groups reporting more problems.

“People now rely on their broadband and mobile connection for the day-to-day running of their lives, yet the majority continue to face significant disruptions that can waste their time and stop them from being able to pay their bills, bank online, study, work or connect with family and friends,” said Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy.

Guy called for the government to use its upcoming consumer greenpaper as an “opportunity to strengthen the voices of telecoms consumers by establishing a consumer advocate in broadband and mobile markets, to reflect how essential these services are”.

Citizens Advice found that 33% of people felt the government was not taking into account the interests of ordinary service users.