Some low-income households in urban areas are putting up with speeds of less than 2 Mbps, putting them in the digital slow lane – even compared to many rural areas.
Slow broadband is a problem commonly associated with rural parts of the UK, but new research suggests that some people living in urban areas are also putting up with slow speeds.
Superfast broadband coverage varies widely between major urban areas. For example, people in Cardiff and Inverness are twice as likely to be on a slow connection than those in London or Birmingham, according to the study of 11 UK cities by Analysis Mason on behalf of Ofcom.
Coverage of faster, ‘next-generation’ networks is now at around 90 per cent in most cities, but this varies widely too. While almost everyone in Northern Ireland’s largest cities had access to superfast broadband, in Glasgow one-in-three people did not.
Ofcom said that many factors may influence the take-up and coverage of faster broadband, including the cost of deployment, the quality of historic infrastructure and local planning rules. However, the proportion of premises on a relatively slow broadband connection tended to be higher in areas with lower incomes.
In Belfast for example, although almost all parts of the city have access to superfast broadband, around 5.9 per cent of connections in the poorest areas were below 2 Mbps, but this fell to just 2.2 per cent in areas with the highest incomes.
The study also found that superfast broadband was less-widely available in those parts of the cities with low income. For example, in the most income-deprived areas of Manchester, superfast broadband availability was 80.6 per cent, compared with 86 per cent across the entire city.
In Glasgow, the difference was even more marked. In the lowest income area, 57.8 per cent of premises had access to superfast broadband, which was lower than the city average of 67 per cent.
“The analysis has demonstrated marked relationships between socio-economic deprivation factors and broadband availability,” said Analysis Mason in its assessment of the figures.
“Policy makers seeking to identify ways to stimulate economic growth and investment should investigate broadband-related issues, such as lack of NGA (next-generation access) availability and problems with ‘less than 2Mbps’ connections.
“An assessment of the links between broadband and socio-economic factors such as income, education and crime can improve the understanding of the problems faced by individual UK cities.”
The government is already helping to address the lack of fast broadband coverage in rural areas with public funding, and there are also signs that availability is being addressed in many urban areas. For example, BT announced in January an extra £50million investment to bring more fibre to cities.