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Poor, old and rural: The real losers in England’s superfast broadband race

Poor, old and disabled customers in London are as likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide as those living in rural Cumbria.

While the broadband digital divide appears to predominantly hit rural areas, people in city centres are falling behind too. Telecoms analysts PointTopic has published a report that looks at the take-up of superfast broadband across England in June last year. 

The Digital deprivation in England – the relative risk of non-adoption report reveals that it’s just as difficult to get parts of London connecting to superfast as it is rural Northumberland, Cumbria and Cornwall, for a number of reasons.  

Despite our proximity to the BT Tower, Recombu HQ couldn’t get superfast broadband from the nearby exchange

While those of us city dwellers are better positioned to ride the crest of the superfast broadband wave, the reality, the report argues, comes down to a number of factors. 

Point Topic has drawn up a BDDI (Broadband Digital Deprivation Index) which details the seven main factors which inhibit consumption of superfast broadband. 

These including your age, whether or not you have children living at home and perhaps most importantly if you can afford to pay for superfast broadband. 

Figures from the ONS (Office of National Statistics) show that in 2013, over half of the 7 million UK adults who had never used the internet were registered disabled.  

Considering these factors, Point Topic has identified some of the most ‘at risk’ areas of England. While generally speaking those living in city centres are less at risk, there are pockets of resistance to the superfast tide. 

The paper concludes that as the UK moves towards hitting its 98 per cent coverage goal, government attention needs to focus on more than just physical availability in rural areas to address other barriers to adoption. 

Government programmes such as the Digital Deal and Go ON UK are aimed at getting people living in social housing and people with limited IT knowledge connected to the internet. For those on benefits struggling to access vital services such as Universal Credit, ISPs offer low-cost packages some of which don’t require a credit check. 

Point Topic also argue that ISPs should adjust their business models appropriately to ensure superfast growth. Arguably this is exactly what BT, with its commercial rollout of FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) to two-thirds of the UK, is doing already. 

Rural fibre ISP Gigaclear won’t start digging unless it’s received a sufficient level of interest from local communities and Virgin Media expands its network by roughly 100,000 premises a year, based partially on where demand is highest. 

When that’s all said, the truth is some people simply can’t pay for or don’t want superfast broadband. Ofcom data from October 2013 shows that while superfast connections are available to 73 per cent of UK premises, not everyone’s biting yet. You can lead a horse to fibre, but you can’t make it sign up for Netflix. 

Image: GamMed64/Flickr

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