Urban and rural digital connectivity gap begins to narrow

Farming and rural businesses have been in desperate need of improved connectivity for years
Farming and rural businesses have been in desperate need of improved connectivity for years

The gap between urban and rural broadband performance is narrowing, according to a new study by Ofcom, but campaigners say this is 'just the start' after years of poor connectivity.

Data shows that the 9% difference between the proportion of urban (74%) and rural (65%) home broadband lines, with an average evening peak-time speed of 30 Mbit/s or higher in March 2021, was lower than the 12% difference recorded in November 2019.

This comes as the availability and take-up of superfast, ultrafast and gigabit services have increased in rural areas of the country.

However, the difference between the March 2021 proportions of urban (5%) and rural (17%) broadband lines, with an average 8-10pm peak-time actual download speed of less than 10 Mbit/s (12pp), was unchanged since November 2019, when the respective urban and rural figures were 10% and 22%.

Although the difference between average urban and rural peak-time download speeds is declining, average peak-time download speeds in urban areas (55.1 Mbit/s) were still a third higher than those in rural areas (41.3 Mbit/s) in March 2021.

While the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) welcomed the figures as a step in the right direction, it warned the rural economy was still being held back by poor broadband.

“While obvious progress is being made, there needs to be universal coverage where everyone, irrespective of where they live or work, has access to an affordable and effective connection," said Mark Bridgeman, CLA president.

"It will mean jobs and wealth can be created in areas often blighted by deprivation, and younger families can find it viable to live in rural communities that urgently need it.

“21st century digital connectivity is paramount to rural business owners and workers succeeding in the future – and the CLA will continue to lobby government for exactly this.”

Farming groups say poor rural connectivity is still an issue for businesses, many of which do not have access to fast and reliable broadband.

The NFU recently said that improving digital connectivity would open up opportunities for British farming businesses.

Deputy President Stuart Roberts said: “Good internet connections are so important for a whole range of tasks on the farm – everything from banking to managing suppliers and logistics – as well as for health and well-being.

“Investment in rural Britain not only brings about obvious benefits to food production but can have massive benefits for the whole country.

"This then delivers back to the wider rural economy creating jobs and boosting economic growth."

Mr Roberts added that the government and the telecommunications industry should also aim for total gigabit coverage in the future.

“Farm businesses must meet their huge potential; not only by increasing their productivity as food producers but in helping to tackle climate change and delivering on our net zero ambitions.

"We will continue working with stakeholders within the Agricultural Productivity Task Force and others to campaign for investment in our country’s digital infrastructure."