In a speech to close the Conservative Conference the Prime Minister Theresa May has highlighted the plight of broadband in rural areas, though as with many political speeches that touch on a technical areas the language used raises more questions than answers. Hopefully a transcript with appear on the Conservative website later today.
"Where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene
Where companies are exploiting the failures of the market in which they operate, where consumer choice is inhibited by deliberately complex pricing structures, we must set the market right.
It’s just not right, for example, that half of people living in rural areas, and so many small businesses, can’t get a decent broadband connection.
It’s just not right that two thirds of energy customers are stuck on the most expensive tariffs.
And it’s just not right that the housing market continues to fail working people either."Prime Minister Theresa May at Conservative Party Conference
If we make the assumption that decent broadband means superfast then it should be possible to compare the half of rural areas statement, and we believe that if the speech writers are using data from May 2015 this is the case, but now that the roll-outs have continued this figure has improved to around 75% for GB Rural areas, it does decrease around 1-2% once you factor in Northern Ireland. It is also possible that the speech is referring to what the ONS refer to as Hamlets which are still shy of 50% at 41-45% superfast coverage and may in many peoples minds be a better representation of rural Great Britain (Hamlets are improving up by 11 to 15% compared to May 2015).
Alas no promises of solutions appear to have been made in the speech, and who knows what the next year may bring in terms of changes. Ofcom has not yet adopted the full legal and functional separation of Openreach from the BT Group but still appears publically at least to be preferring a half-way house, with the option to go the more complex route if Openreach does not improve its service levels and availability of pure fibre services.
The problem Ofcom faces is if the focus politically is on the last 5 to 10% of the UK broadband wise, how does it regulate in a way that pleases those itching to compete in a market where pure fibre sells for less than ADSL and make their profits from TV bundles in the cities while also ensuring a national network that services even the most rural properties is not lagging in the speed arena. This is all on top of addressing the complaints about install times, fault resolution times and a myriad of other issues.
Update 8th October 2016 After The Guardian contacted us while in the process of fact checking the Prime Ministers recent speech and pointed us to the Ofcom report where apparently the figure used was sourced from (published December 2015 but using May 2015 data) we believe we have figured out definition of rural was using in the Prime Ministers speech and thus are able to find out how much things have changed since May 2015. The Ofcom report referred to 1.5 million premises with speeds under 10 Mbps as the best available to them and was 48% of rural areas, meaning that Ofcom was working under the premise that around 10% of the UK live and work in rural areas. The ONS GB Rural definition gives a figure of 23% for rural premises, and when you combine the four GB Hamlet and GB Village areas we have a total of 10.9% premises in rural areas, and using this definition and looking at our May 2015 rural/urban data we determined our data showed 46%. So how much have things changed since May 2015 for this group of 3 million premises, using our data it seems the number not able to get a 10 Mbps or better service has fallen from 46% to 23.6%. Clearly still a major problem for the 23.6% suffering slow connections in rural areas, but clearly a significant improvement.
As things stand today nationally there are 1.15 million premises (3.98%) we believe not able to get a connection better than 10 Mbps, and that is ignoring those with access to a fixed wireless service.