The UK scorecard for broadband coverage has just got a lot better if the latest data from Ofcom is correct. In 2011, the coverage of 2 Mbps standard broadband was listed by Ofcom as 86%, this rose in November 2012 to a figure of 89.9%, but now in just six months has seen a significant jump to 95.3% according to the latest figures from the regulator.
The truth is buried deeper into the report, page 87 to be precise, which tells us we need to stop comparing the figures to the previous data as the methodology has totally changed.
"Data on the availability of standard and superfast broadband differ from what was reported in the “Infrastructure Report, 2012 update.” The estimates in this report were calculated by considering a postcode not to have standard broadband if the median or mean average speed of connected premises in that postcode was less than 2 Mbit/s. If a postcode had an average/median speed of less than 2 Mbp/s, all premises in it were assumed to be at risk of experiencing low speed. This calculation differs from the “Infrastructure Report, 2012 update,” where a postcode was considered not to have standard broadband if any connected line in it experienced a speed below 2 Mbit/s. The underlying data file on broadband speeds provided information on the number of residential and small-business lines with a broadband connection in each postcode. This information was not provided for those postcodes with only large businesses or where there were fewer than three residential or small-business lines for reasons of confidentiality. The restriction to postcodes with a minimum of three connected lines also explains the slight discrepancies in the number of premises with superfast-broadband availability."Ofcom note on changes to how 2 Mbps coverage is measured (our emphasis)
The previous system of labelling a postcode as slow if data suggested one property was slow could be seen as giving a pessimistic figure, or from the view of people living in those areas it could be seen as a more realistic figure. Certainly the new system is politically more pleasing when you want to report a figure of 99.99% can get 2 Mbps broadband. In fact Ofcom has started to say 'Headline download speeds of at least 2 Mbit/s are available in almost all premises in the UK.'.
Even with the new system almost halving the number of properties not meeting the Universal Service Commitment figure, the situation is still not just a rural problem, there are 24,131 urban properties in Greater London listed as not meeting the 2 Mbps target. Interestingly while the talk around the BDUK and USC debate is often about rural areas, of the 1.2 million properties across the UK that cannot get 2 Mbps, some 423,751 are in semi-urban locations, 661,361 in rural locations and 156,725 in urban areas. To give an insight into the split that Ofcom is using for rural/urban, 35% of the UK population live in urban areas, 51% in semi-urban and 14% in rural areas.