Rural broadband 'stuck on B-road not technological superhighway'
Broadband plans need to be far more ambitious, a Westcountry business leader has warned, as a new report on broadband speed reveals the ever-increasing digital divide between town and city.
Average speeds in urban areas have now grown to 26 megabits per second (Mbps), the study by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator shows, but the countryside lags behind at 9.9Mbps with many not even connected.
There is now concern that the target figure of 25Mbps for 95% of premises, expected by 2014 in Cornwall and 2016 in Devon and Somerset, is nowhere near ambitious enough to make the region a serious global competitor.
Tim Jones, director of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said innovative firms could be left "scratching along" in the in the slow lane of digital communication, while rivals elsewhere enjoy ten-times the transfer rates.
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The Government must begin thinking about new wireless 4G and 5G networks now to keep up with technological innovation, he argues
"We are not setting our ambitions high enough and the vast power of the rural economy will only be realised when we make a quantum leap," he added.
"I am not decrying the work that has been done but we have got to start thinking immediately about the next round of technological capacity.
"In two years' time 25Mbps could be an Old Testament moment, in superhighway terms it is a B-road."
Average broadband speeds in the whole of the UK have increased by 64% in the past 12 months and more than doubled – from 7.6Mbps to 14.7Mbps – in the two years to May 2013. The gap between average broadband speeds in urban and rural areas has widened from 9.5Mb in May 2011 to 16.5Mb in May 2013.
The gulf is the result of investment in superfast broadband, which initially was reserved for the most densely populated urban areas.
Meanwhile, rural dwellers with ADSL broadband – which travels down copper phone lines rather than fibre optic cable – typically get much slower speeds than they would in a town, as homes are usually much further from the local telephone exchange.
Traditional phone lines, which were never designed with broadband in mind, are prone to loss of speed the further a connection has to travel.
Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk, said there were broadband "haves" and broadband "have nots".
The Countryside Alliance, which has been campaigning for mobile phone reception to be improved in rural areas, says the continuing divide was "very bad news" for homes and businesses.
Head of policy Sarah Lee added: "Improvements in broadband provision are even more important to the recovery of British economy than better transport links.
"But once again those who live in rural areas are missing out."