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Just how big is the rural urban broadband divide in England?
Thursday 10 September 2015 11:37:56 by Andrew Ferguson

The rural/urban divide has always been a contentious one no matter what the core subject being debated and with 1 in 5 in the most rural parts of England still only able to access fixed line broadband at under 15 Mbps speeds it is no surprise that politicians mailbags are stretching as people write to complain they are not part of the 90% superfast picture. We would love to have included Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but we did not find any readily available data fitting the many councils into the standard classification system, you can track your local authorities coverage still using labs.thinkbroadband.com/local.

Superfast broadband coverage in terms the six standard rural urban classifications

The above chart was generated based on the data we held on 6th September 2015, and can be updated as we update our coverage data each week and if people express enough interest we can add this as another monthly stat we release.

The numbers not meeting the Universal Service Commitment look amazingly low compared to the level of speed complaints you find online, but when you consider 1.9% in the most rural category (R80) equates to 27,500 premises who are feeling ever more split away from modern society you can see why this statistically small group have such a large voice and it is growing as more services make the assumption everyone has fast Internet access 24/7.

Premises not reaching a 2 Mbps minimum speed in urban and rural areas

The Government is still working towards a voucher scheme to pay for the install of a satellite broadband service to be announced before the end of 2015 and as the FTTC roll-outs (with some tactical FTTP) continue it is looking more like the numbers needing to subscribe should not swamp satellite capacity, though there will be lots of questions over usage allowances, peak time performance and monthly costs.

thinkbroadband calculation of Superfast, USC, FTTP and Ultrafast Broadband Coverage across English rural and urban areas
figures as of 6th September 2015
Area % superfast
24 Mbps or faster
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% cable Ultrafast
Over 100 Mbps
Includes altnets
% Openreach/KC FTTP % Under 2 Mbps USC % Under 15 Mbps
Major Urban 94.1% 93.9% 72.2% 73.05% 0.68% 0.2% 3%
Large Urban 91.9% 91.5% 68.5% 69.47% 0.99% 0.2% 5.6%
Other Urban 93.1% 92.6% 62.8% 63.3% 0.69% 0.3% 4.3%
Significant Rural 86% 85% 38.9% 39.25% 0.29% 0.8% 9.6%
Rural-50 77.1% 75.6% 18.7% 19.49% 0.59% 1.2% 16.3%
Rural-80 72.2% 70.3% 9.3% 13.37% 3.34% 1.9% 20.4%

(Only the ultrafast column in this table includes the contribution from the altnets to the overall picture.)

What surprised even us is that the area of the UK with the highest proportion of FTTP (and this is native Openreach/KC FTTP) is the most rural segment and by a large margin. The ultrafast with altnet column is one we do not feature regularly, but will be a regular feature in 2016, it represents premises able to order a 100 Mbps or faster connection, so includes services like Openreach FTTP, KC FTTP, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, B4RN and the dominant Virgin Media.

As many readers will not be familiar with these rural/urban classifications, a quick explanation follows:

  • Major urban (MU)—districts with either 100,000 people or 50 per cent of their population living in urban areas with a population of more than 750,000 (e.g. Barnet London Borough).
  • Large urban (LU)—districts with either 50,000 people or 50 per cent of their population living in one of 17 urban areas with a population between 250,000 and 750,000 (e.g. Blackpool).
  • Other urban (OU)—districts with less than 26 per cent of their population living in rural settlements and larger market towns (e.g. Burnley).
  • Significant rural (SR)—districts with between 26 and 50 per cent of their population living in rural settlements and larger market towns (e.g. Calderdale District).
  • Rural-50 (R50)—districts with at least 50 per cent but less than 80 per cent of their population living in rural settlements and larger market towns (e.g. East Devon), and
  • Rural-80 (R80)—districts with at least 80 per cent of their population living in rural settlements and larger market towns (e.g. Cornwall).
Defra Rural Urban Classification System

We have used premises as our measure but the accepted definition of the rural/urban split in the UK is 18.5% rural, 81.5% urban in terms of population. For those wanting to create a simpler set of figures, the accepted method is to combine R50 and R80 into a single rural figure, leaving Significant Rural on its own, and combine the three urban metrics.

While the BDUK process is often called the final third project, or rural roll-out by some the reality has always been that it had the aim of reaching 90% superfast coverage initially, with extension projects to take it to 95%. A very important point that we believe is overlooked is that this is NOT 90% of every community, but 90% of the UK as a whole, so areas like London which are beyond 90% already can subsidise the coverage in the more rural parts.

While there has been talk of a broadband USO nothing has been put in place yet, the UK Government was considering 5 Mbps, Ofcom favours a 10 Mbps target but we have been tracking 15 Mbps coverage as for households it is a speed allowing a couple of video streams and other activity thus representing what the majority worry over and it is perhaps this metric that shows 1 in 5 rural premises are below this 15 Mbps metric that may be the driver of the volume of complaints, rather than just access to a basic 2 Mbps which is adequate for basic use. When tracking our more usual local authority stats the FTTC heavy roll-out generally makes a significant dent in this metric.

This latest analysis of English broadband coverage has been produced in reaction to a recent paper from Oxford University that appears to have relied on coverage data from Autumn 2013 and given the UK has added 5 percentage points of superfast coverage in 2015 alone we felt it important to produce something from the recent data. The headline claim being that in deep rural areas 53% could not achieve 6.3 Mbps, where as data that is just days old shows 20% achieve under 15 Mbps in the most rural Defra classification. If there is significant interest we can sit down and work to classify the other councils that form Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland following the Defra classification system.

Comments

Posted by TheEulerID about 1 year ago
"What surprised even us is that the area of the UK with the highest proportion of FTTP (and this is native Openreach/KC FTTP) is the most rural segment and by a large margin."

I'm not sure why that should be the case. FTTP is often the only viable way of delivering "superfast" in the more rural areas (at least in the absence of cost-effective FttRN solutions). Of course the FTTP has been overwhelmingly dependent on public funding.

In contrast, FTTC and cable delivery of superfast is both relatively cheap and rapid to deploy in urban areas, which is surely why there's not much urban fibre.
Posted by MCM999 about 1 year ago
How many properties does 3% Major Urban comprise and how does this compare to 20% Rural80? Whilst R80 as a percentage has 7x more unable to connect at more than 15MBps the 3% in MU and 5.6% in LU are significant numbers and shouldn't be ignored or forgotten especially as these areas tend not to have benefitted from BDUK or other Government or LA money.
Posted by cyberdoyle about 1 year ago
You can classify and produce statistics until you are blue in the face, but it won't alter the fact that this country is being incredibly short sighted in wasting public money patching up an old phone network to increase the profits of openreach, when we should be investing in altnets to drive competition and get everyone a fit for purpose connection and compete in a digital world. We're gonna end up a laughing stock at this rate.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
R50 and R80 combined cover 18.5% of the population. The rest is spread over the other categories.

The impact of the Project Lightning roll-out is an unknown, i.e. will they JUST overlap FTTC or will it also include some superfast infill in the urban areas.
Posted by MCM999 about 1 year ago
Using the mean is obviously incorrect and I don't know the relative weighting for the urban groups but if we take 5% of the urban categories as unable to connect at more than 15Mbps this amounts to more people than the 16-20% of those in R50 & R80 given the urban group is more than 4x the size of R50+R80.
Posted by PhilCoates about 1 year ago
Some of us in rural areas do understand the concept of BDUK i.e. most premises passed for the money available.

My concern is that Satellite (which I have)is being touted locally as a 'stop gap' until 'other technologies' are available.

Why spend the money subsidising Satellite installations in 27,500 premises instead of e.g. providing fixed wireless or 4G?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
Because satellite copes nicely with randomly spread premises, whereas a property down a 500 yard tree lined lane may only get 4G if the most is a on a big hill, or in the back garden.

That and the delivery time frame ticks the box.

If it was 27,500 in one single county then a targeted deployment of a dozen 4G masts might suffice.

Annual wayleave costs for a mobile mast seem to be around £5k to £10k, which if just 10 homes in range makes ongoing running without subsidy look unlikely.
Posted by TheEulerID about 1 year ago
Indeed, 4G is not a cheap technology to deploy to give wide area coverage. It has inherently shorted reach (at least for decent speeds).

The wholly grail of wireless solution of any sort which can provide both very high throughput and wide area coverage from a single antenna is a chimera. Much cheaper "mesh" solutions with wireless could well be more cost-effective.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Andrews Staff.
I think the above information is good and you are going to update weekly now the Post Codes have been changed thus identifying the customers under 2meg this will push the speed data up the Higheracky. The fibre perertration by passing the FTTC with overhead fibre will reduce many under 15 meg as the post codes are enabled.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
@blackmamba while Surrey has a small amount of FTTP overlay in FTTC areas, this is not yet repeated in any significant numbers elsewhere.

Be careful in projected a Surrey experience nationally.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Andrews Staff.
I take your point but with the new fibre filter on your system it will start to show the locations where Fiber is being used I do understand that Surrey is a year ahead in deployment.
Posted by Llety about 1 year ago
I keep being amazed that satellite is even considered a solution in a country where talking about rain is a national past time.. Light rain makes little difference, heavy rain caused a 8MB link to drop to a few K. Even the wrong sort of cloud would cut the speed in 1/2.

"Sorry I can't deliver the work I committed to because it rained"

Sat dish on scrap heap, waste of grant money and our time.

Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
Yeah we should definitely be spending money on altnets. What could go wrong?

http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/09/unpaid-contractors-cast-shadow-over-fibre-gardens-cumbria-fttp-rollout.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Region

Ah. That. Perhaps best to play it safe initially and deliver services adequate for Joe Average's usage before worrying about trying to get a gigabit everywhere.
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
I've a cunning plan actually.

If the same FTTC that most urban areas are receiving isn't good enough for some for whom only FTTP is adequate, perhaps those in rural areas would like to give up some of their CAP payments to help fund it?

In this age of austerity thousands of taxpayers' money per premises passed to deliver a gigabit versus a hybrid solution seems churlish.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@Dixinormous - Interesting that you should mention the CAP system. Perhaps you should have a word with your metrosexual luvvies in Whitehall and let them know that there probably wouldn't be such a fuss over rural broadband if the Government wasn't so insistent on pursuing an online-only agenda. The CAP payments system being a case in point.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@Dixinormous - Whilst on the subject of the CAP, presumably you, your family and friends eat and drink? Where do you think it all comes from? Hint - think rural. Presumably you don't all live off foreign imports from beyond the boundaries of the EU?
Posted by Gadget about 1 year ago
So CD a simple calculation [amount of BDUK money on offer at the start] multiply by the [B4RN coverage] and divide by [B4RN costs including commercial cost of time and wayleaves] what proportion of the UK does that cover?
Posted by PhilCoates about 1 year ago
'Ah. That. Perhaps best to play it safe initially and deliver services adequate for Joe Average's usage before worrying about trying to get a gigabit everywhere.'

Problem is that Satellite rarely provides even Joe Averages usage for me. Running at sub-dial up speeds all day Sunday - it was foggy here.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@PhilCoates + @Llety - Unfortunately, the decision has already been made. Reference - George Osborne and Liz Truss, "A 10-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas" (August 2015).
"By the end of 2015, access to standard broadband will be available to anyone unable to get a service of at least 2Mbps. This will be made available through the option of satellite broadband, which will have the capability of delivering superfast speeds for those that want them."
A U-turn by the Government is highly unlikely.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@PhilCoates + @Llety - On a positive note.
"The government is also working closely with providers to explore how to extend superfast broadband beyond the current 95% target. It is investing in a series of market pilots to test alternative solutions. Lessons from the pilots will be published later in the year and decisions on further broadband rollout will be taken in the Spending Review in November."
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Phil.C
From your remarks ever your Solar Panels would have not produced power to run your router it must be very dark in your area.
Posted by Llety about 1 year ago
@ruralwire. I acknowledge you report the facts as they are, not how they should be.

If Truss and Osborne get enough stick from back benchers then a invisible U-turn will be made. It is down to people to hassle their M.P./A.M., don't go away and to not to accept a 5th rate solution which satellite is.
Posted by burble about 1 year ago
There seems to be a consensus that lack of superfast in rural areas applies to individual houses out in the sticks, this is certainly not the case where I live.
I can think of 6 villages around me, each of which has 100+ houses, none of which can get superfast.
One fibre enabled cabinet in each of these villages would enable over 1000 houses to have superfast. Do that over the county and there would be only a fraction of a percent not getting superfast.
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
@RuralWire I'm far from familiar with 'metrosexual luvvies in Whitehall' but thanks for the stereotype.

As I'm sure you are aware alongside subsidising European farming, or in many cases subsidising ownership of land, the EU also has import tariffs to further try and protect the sector.

Perhaps taking a minute to think about why EU farmers need heavy subsidies alongside market protections would be wise.

Either way enjoying the defensiveness and the attitude of entitlement to taxpayers' money. Thanks!
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
@RuralWire I get FTTC, funded privately, but apparently taxpayer funded hybrid broadband (which is what I explicitly referred to, not satellite) isn't enough and we should be paying thousands per premises for FTTP going by your response. The idea of funding yourselves seemed to elicit a negative response.

Presuambly next comes the demand for a metro service to every village, as London has one.

Your sense of entitlement is beyond comedy. I'm sure if we looked at funding per head the picture is far from urban getting everything, rural nothing.
Posted by nstrudwick about 1 year ago
The graphs are unreadable.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@Llety - I understand what you have said. My comments regarding satellite broadband were solely intended to draw attention to the Government's recent policy announcement, as the satellite broadband commitment for the hardest to reach areas was in the Conservative Party Manifesto 2015. Hopefully, the outcome of the Spending Review in November will offer better alternatives, such as fixed wireless, for a significant proportion of the final 5%.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@Dixinormous - Thank you for your short and informative lecture on the CAP and my sense of entitlement to taxpayers money. If the CAP is so objectionable to your urban sensibilities, then perhaps you should consider lobbying for change. If you are aggrieved by the mere thought of the UK remaining in the EU, then you will have your opportunity of voting NO in the forthcoming EU referendum. Bye the way, when and where did I state that I am entitled to FTTP at the taxpayers expense?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
The graphs are clickable and will expand for those that want to read the detail.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
@RuralWire they are looking at alternatives already for the final 5%, but the USC deadline is so tight the only way to meet it is satellite.

Unfortunately at least one pilot is likely to only have live users in October
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
andrew - Thanks for the information. That makes the current situation clearer.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
Thanks, it shows the progress, and given the underspends being reported and the begining of clawback more can be done.
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
@RuralWire My usage of the CAP was not necessary, but the underlying point remains - the expectation from some seems to be that the rest of the UK should subsidise superior services to those they receive.

Your intense defensiveness of the CAP certainly implies entitlement to taxpayers' money. I will definitely be voting 'out' in said referendum.

FWIW I object to most subsidies, let alone those with as many well-known issues as the CAP, and would rather pay more for products than be taxed to subsidise them. This isn't an 'urban sensibility'.
Posted by TheEulerID about 1 year ago
@andrew

"Unfortunately at least one pilot is likely to only have live users in October"

I would hope so. Dead users aren't much use. To be serious, are you saying that only one pilot will be live with users by October? Just for clarification.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
Only heard chatter from one wireless area, silence elsewhere

Posted by TheEulerID about 1 year ago
I see. I know that the framework BDUK project have been a bit inconsistent with reporting progress, but it would seem that the communication about the pilots is very restricted. Perhaps that's not surprising as, by their nature, they will be more experimental. Quite probably a lot of novel issues come up.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@Dixinormous - I am not a recipient, directly or indirectly, of any CAP payments or any other subsidies. However, as you say I am defensive, too defensive at times, of any mention of reforming the CAP due to the potential economic and social impact on farming families and communities here in rural North Yorkshire, as well as elsewhere. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about the CAP, amongst many other issues, in the run-up to the in-out referendum.
Posted by rorrocks about 1 year ago
The only people for whom satellite is a good solution are the politicians because it lets them tick the final box and crow about how everyone now has access to fast broadband, despite satellite already being so congested that the service is not fit for purpose some days. What makes it all the more galling is that the same government can so casually write off £1 billion of taxpayer money by selling off RBS shares at a massive discount to their friends in the city, a tiny fraction of which would be needed to subsidise decent terrestrial wireless for the final 5%.
Posted by PhilCoates about 1 year ago
@Blackmamba

Your post is as incomprehensible as usual. Solar panels? What are you on about?

I'm merely reporting on real world use of Satellite BB which is up and down like a whores drawers.

Fantastic if I was a nocturnal creature but utterly useless for daytime use or if its raining/snowing/foggy/windy/too hot/too cold etc.
Posted by Llety about 1 year ago
@PhiCoates I see you have some experience of Satellite, but you overstate its utility and reliability :-)

I challenge anyone who thinks Satellite is a viable solution to work from home for a week doing anything more than read email using it alone. An unreliable 0.2mb BT adsl line is more useful.
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
@RuralWire For my part apologies. Bringing the CAP into things was provocative and detracted from what I was trying to say - sorry.
Posted by RuralWire about 1 year ago
@Dixinormous - Apology accepted and I apologize for making ungracious comments which were entirely avoidable and wholly unwarranted.
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
@dixinonrmous If you want to equalise rural and urban tax subsidies those in the rural areas would be more than happy. Equalising the council tax support grant alone would trensfer enough funds from urban to rural areas to complete a proper superfast coverage.
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
Using the Defra definition of rural and urban does tend to mix up rural and urban as the ONS says "Most local authorities classed as rural will include urban populations and vice versa." using the more detailed definition at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/external-links/other/rural-urban-classification-2011-user-guide.html may show a deeper divide
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
If there is any value next step would be to work out classifications for Sco, NI, Wales but will leave further sub divisions to specific requests from regional press.

The current divisions should allow relatively easy comparisons with other metrics and will be interesting to if divide gets bigger or smaller
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
@Gerarda Urban areas have higher populations, some have relatively low employment rates or many on low pay. Given per head funding I'm not sure what there would be to 'equalise' but I'm not an expert on this.

Certainly in this urban area the need for welfare is sadly very high as is the unemployment rate.

I've no idea how council tax support grant could be considered a subsidy to authorities unless you think it's not being passed down.

Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
@Gerarda I'd also point out that BDUK has been on a county basis, and I seriously doubt that councils in relatively rural areas would spend on broadband given the extreme pressure local authority budgets in many areas, rural, urban and sub-urban, are under.
Posted by t0m5k1 about 1 year ago
Just getting pretty fed up with the whole kit & kabodle.
Seems like every where I live is a freeking not spot!
Now I'm stuck in Basingstoke (Amazingjoke) where half the town gets Virgin or 10Mbps+ xDSL & the other half can't get virgin or anything above 2mps on xDSL
Posted by fastman about 1 year ago
t0m5k1 SO Which cab are you on in Basingstoke then -- interesting then what about the 100 + FTTC cabinets that are deployed in Basingstoke
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
@dixinormous

I think you will find that broadband provision is well up most rural councils priorities. Council taxpayer pressure ensures it is.
Posted by michaels_perry about 1 year ago
I was in a rural location, 4.7 km from the exchange. Fibre-based services are still not available and the exchange is not yet equipped for fibre! It is ADSLMax only so many are struggling to achieve even 2 Mbps. That is the reality of rural gripes.
More follows:
Posted by michaels_perry about 1 year ago
Satellite may not be permitted by planning regulations, especially in listed building, conservation areas or where there is already an terrestrial aerial and a dish - only two such are allowed on any building accoring to the current Building Regulations, see http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/permission/commonprojects/antenna. This states that "there will be no more than two antennas on the property overall". So adding a third antenna/dish is not permitted.
Posted by michaelkenward about 1 year ago
I don't believe numbers quoted for people with access to high-speed broadband. Our exchange in a village in rural Sussex has FTTC, but my guess is that a fraction of the people it serves have anything beyond slow ADSL.

Few people in the village get fast broadband, let alone those a mile or so away. And yet BT will be able to count us all in its dubious numbers.

We are also victims of another scam. TalkTalk doesn't want people on ADSL. It has shifted us to an ISP I have never heard of. TalkTalk's average speeds will soar, while no one is getting faster broadband.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
@michaelkenward Which Sussex village, easy enough for us to check coverage.
Posted by fastman about 1 year ago
gerada most of those 100+ I referred in Basingstoke were funded by commercial a few were funded by BDUk
Posted by TheEulerID about 1 year ago
@michaelkenward

The 24mbps coverage figures are normally reported along with the more general "fibre enabled" ones. Sub 24mbps lines do not count towards the BDUK target.

Also, if you have a cabinet anywhere near the centre of the village, then it must surely be a fairly large one for most not to get at least 24mbps.

Of course the same is not true of outlier villages fed off a cabinet much over a km away (as is the case with the hamlet my brother lives in).

I'd take Andrew up on his offer (and he'll normally apply a conservative 30mbps analysis).
Posted by TheEulerID about 1 year ago
I should add that if the village has a lot of EO lines (and there hasn't been a network re-arrangement) then they won't get "superfast" either. It could easily be the case in a village with an exchange.

Also, the coverage figures are national. It is inevitable that it will not be spread evenly and there will be quite large not-spots. Dealing with those is a matter of both finance, and what people forget, available resources.
Posted by Bandit99 about 1 year ago
very subjective points made i live in a village in one district council and the exchange is 4 miles away in the adjoining district but the 2 will not cooperate in getting us faster broadband we are not expecting super-fast but would like something a bit better the BT box has been upgraded to a new one approximate 3.7 km away but we do not exist as far as any one is concerned both LA's give the standard script of you cant get superfast
Posted by fastman about 1 year ago
bandit 99 try and have a direct conversation
around your village with openreach see FAQ's
Posted by chrysalis about 1 year ago
are we still pretending rural areas are the losers in this divide?

95% of FTTP is in rural areas.
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
@chrysalis - only if you ignore the fact that the vast majority of FTTP comparable speed connections are installed by someone other than Openreach.

Including those the urban/rural divide is deepening rapidly.
Posted by Somerset about 1 year ago
While looking around for the details of areas I came across some government data:

Dependent variable: 'how happy did you feel yesterday?' rating on a scale from zero to ten

In rft_tcm77-366134.xls

Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
Yesterday located locations where FTTC/P has been provided that is under the 15 meg cut off from the CAB FTTC this only shows on the telephone number and the post code is blank. It could turn out that the outliners may will get the best option this work I think was carried out by BD/UK. I have checked one other site but I think the overhead fibre has not been provided yet.
Posted by Dixinormous about 1 year ago
The comments section of this website needs an ignore function :(
Posted by maxnrg about 1 year ago
As someone who lives in the 3% of urban areas that have less than 15mps (I'm probably in the bottom 1-2% with 4mps) I feel wholly abandonned by the current process for any chance of getting improved broadband. I'm 100% reliant on BT Openreach and they have no BDUK funding or any real motivation to improve my connection; I currently pay BTO 3 lots of line rental for less than 12 Mbps of bandwidth.

Get everyone up to 24-30 Mbps before wasting money on connections over 100Mbps I say...
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