Some of Britain’s streets have such slow broadband speeds that it can take up to 15 hours just to download a high-definition quality film, according to a uSwitch report after conducting a consumer speed test earlier this year.
Although slower speeds are common in rural areas, the report also found a surprising number of urban regions suffering from slow connections, despite being only a short distance from areas with much faster speeds.
Llantarnam Road in Cwmbran, South Wales, is the 13th worst place in the UK for broadband connectivity – despite Cwmbran being a reasonably sized town – with an average download speed of just 1.10 Mbps (Megabytes per second). At this speed, simply downloading a music album takes about half an hour.
And that’s nowhere near as bad as the situation in Erw Fawr, Henryd in Conwy (also in Wales), where the average speed is a snail’s paced 0.60 Mbps, less than one-thirtieth of the UK average according to Ofcom’s figures. This is despite advertised speeds of up to 16 Mbps.
There is some good news for the residents of Llantarnam Road at least – the Superfast Cymru programme says the area is scheduled to receive fibre-optic broadband in 2015, with work beginning in March. Erw Fawr may, it seems, may be waiting a bit longer.
But the problem isn’t simply one of accessibility. Although there are places in the UK where superfast broadband just isn’t available, other streets that came high on the list of slow connections are in fact passed by a fibre-optic connection already.
Wheatley Road in Essex showed average speeds of 0.60 Mbps like Erw Fawr. But unlike the Welsh street, Wheatley Road is actually connected to both BT Infinity and Virgin Media, and available speeds can reach a truly superfast 100 Mbps.
It seems, however, that residents aren’t taking advantage of the service they could be getting. For some British households, fibre-optic broadband is simply too great a monthly expenditure.
Despite increasingly being seen as ‘the fourth utility’ and even, according to one consumer survey, ‘a human right’, prices that can top £30 per month (not including line rental) are often too much for families on a tight budget.
Add this to consumer reports of difficulties in switching providers, poor customer service and frequent technical problems, and it’s no wonder that so many are reluctant to take the plunge into superfast.
So the issue, from a consumer perspective, is twofold. Either fast broadband isn’t available at all, or the customer is plagued with so much expense and so many uncertainties that they are put off, and instead stick with services that fall ever further behind.
The broadband industry is under increasing pressure to make a real effort going forward, to improve accessibility, infrastructure and customer service, and reduce prices. Otherwise, this two-tier offering is set to continue.