Broadband News

The 10 largest rural areas and their broadband coverage - updated

Our last major round up of the differences in rural and urban broadband coverage was back in February and we are taking a slightly different angle this time. We are going to list the levels of coverage for the 10 local authorities that have the largest number of rural premises.

The reference points to judge these 10 areas on is that as of 27th May the urban level of superfast coverage in Great Britain is 98.4% (an increase of 0.2 percentage points in 3 months) and in the rural segment this drops to 87% (an increase of 0.6).

The trigger for this latest round-up is the launch of an inquiry into rural broadband and digital only services by The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Submissions can be made until 24th June 2019.

thinkbroadband analysis of broadband coverage in the 10 largest rural areas in Great Britain
In descending order of number of premises - figures 25th May 2019

Figures only count premises in postcodes identified as rural by ONS

Rural Area% full and partial fibre based
i.e. VDSL2, or
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster
FTTP, cable,
Full Fibre All Providers
% Under 2 Mbps download% Under 10 Mbps download% Below USO
10 Mbps download
1 Mbps upload
ADSL2+ does not count as USO compliant
Norfolk 232,757 premises  96.7% 86.7% 2.1% 1.8% 2% 6.5% 7.4%
Devon 205,830 premises 94.4% 83.7% 7.4% 4.8% 3.2%

8.8% 11.3%
Kent 195,278 premises 97.5% 84.9% 13.9% 7.8% 1.7%  6.9% 7%
Essex 180,819 premises 92.6% 83.4% 12.7% 5.6%  1.6% 7.1% 10.8%
Cornwall 167,094 premises 97.8% 88.1% 27.8% 27.4% 1.4% 4.7% 5.2%
North Yorkshire 164,129 premises 97% 84.7% 7.3% 6.1% 4.2%  9.3% 9.7%
Lincolnshire 161,923 premises 98.1% 85.2% 12.9% 3%  3.8% 8.3% 8.3%
Cambridgeshire 145,383 premises 99.5% 94% 37.4% 10.9%  1.2%  2.9% 2.9%
Hampshire 143,138 premises 95.7% 83.9% 20.4% 8.9%  2.3%  7.4% 9.1%
Suffolk 142,799 premises 98.3% 88.1%  5.4% 4.3% 1.6%  5% 5.4%

The above figures are of course just a snapshot of where things were on 25th May, so it is worth looking at the long term trends of how superfast coverage has changed in rural and urban Great Britain since 2012.

Plot of trend of increasing superfast broadband coverage in rural and urban GB
How rural and urban Great Britain superfast broadband coverage has changed since 2012

The chart shows that while overall in Great Britain rural areas have improved massively there is a slowing down in the pace of improvement and a lot of this is due to the increasing shift from VDSL2 as the prime technology to using lots more full fibre. The question is whether the current increase each year will continue or will it flatten out totally by 2021.

The broadband USO may help some of those currently still suffering under 10 Mbps speeds reach superfast speeds but a lot depends on the technology used for each USO request but there will also be those who receive USO help and only get speed improvements to 15 or 20 Mbps and thus be reliant on how the Government handles the 100% full fibre ambition by 2033.

The shift to digital services is perhaps most acutely felt by rural business and as we have the figures here is a quick summary of the business premises levels of superfast coverage in the same ten local authorities:

  • Norfolk rural business 78.5%
  • Devon 82.7%
  • Kent 70.4%
  • Essex 68.6%
  • Cornwall 84.5%
  • North Yorkshire 77.3%
  • Lincolnshire 75.3%
  • Cambridgeshire 77.5%
  • Hampshire 63.2%
  • Suffolk 79%

Not sure much more needs to be said beyond compare the business figures with the aggregate residential and business figures and you can see that business premises have it harder in terms of affordable superfast broadband connections.

Update Wednesday 29th May: We have had people ask what the figures are like in terms of the numbers without access to superfast rather than percentages and across Great Britain in the urban areas there 367,200 premises without a 30 Mbps or faster broadband option and in the rural areas for the same criteria it is 812,268 premises. 


Were areas in Scotland omitted from this list or simply did not qualify in the top 10 ?

  • Swac3
  • about 1 year ago

These just appear to be southern counties?

  • galacticz00
  • about 1 year ago

In terms of geography - the ten was chosen by ordering by largest number of premises that classified as rural.

Not sure that North Yorkshire will enjoy being called a southern county

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

Everyone South of the wall is a Southener.

  • darren_mccoy
  • about 1 year ago

darren_mccoy: I thought the north began at the m25 ;-)

  • Croft12
  • about 1 year ago

If you live in Northumberland which is in England then North Yorkshire is distinctly down south :-)

One suspects that the definition of rural is somewhat suspect. The idea that Kent has more "rural" properties than Northumberland makes me laugh. I am not sure that anything outside the odd farm house qualifies as rural in Kent in my view. More than 0.2 persons per hectare and you are not rural IMHO and 99% of Kent is therefore simply out of contention.

  • jabuzzard
  • about 1 year ago

Jab: sadly sprawl out from london has ruined much of the rural SE which is little more than commuter towns now ;-/

  • Croft12
  • about 1 year ago

Kent Urban 486,000 premises
Kent Rural 195,000 premises

Northumberland Urban 78700
Rural 78300

Everyone is of course free to define their own rural definitions, but I simply use the ONS classification of each postcode. The advantage that those comparing with other data sources can make comparisons.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

Like I said if Kent has 195k rural premises then the definition of rural is a steaming pile of brontosaurus droppings. Taking a look at the ONS definition a small town in the countryside is considered "rural" which in terms of delivering broadband, it is little different than a leafy suburb of a major conurbation and completely meaningless distinction.

I am sure the definition was drawn up by a city dweller that would have a heart attack if they actually went somewhere that was actually rural.

  • jabuzzard
  • about 1 year ago

Northumberland Hamlet Area Less Sparse 6,700
Hamlet Area Sparse 8,070

Kent Hamlet Area Less Sparse 34,500
Hamlet Area Sparse None

There are sub divisions - eight in total if you want more data to argue about.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

Still waiting for BTw to upgrade the rural exchange to 21CN, might well get decent 3G or even 4G before that happens! :P

  • 21again
  • about 1 year ago

Thats unlucky as the number of non WBC ADSL2+ exchanges is pretty small now

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

"The bb USO may help some of those currently still suffering under 10 Mbps speeds reach superfast speeds but a lot depends on the tech used for each USO request but there will also be those who receive USO help and only get speed improvements to 15 or 20 Mbps"

It's a USO of 10Mbps, without defining the technology (Ofcom deliberately wash their hands of that, oh we're "technology agnostic"!)it's a USO of just that ** 10Mbps ** not 15 or 20 Mbps,you're rose-tinting BT here.

Anyone already getting 6-8Mpbs, who in their right mind is going to pay circa £5K to be guaranteed 4Mbps extra? No one.

  • nofibre
  • about 1 year ago

While yes the USO is a 10 Mbps one, it is a 10 Mbps minimum connection speed and an ISP that deploys a connection for the USO that is limited to 10,000 Kbps downstream connection speed and 1,000 connection speed with no chance of people getting faster is not going to be popular.

4G is not going to create this kind of locking and other solutions which may include FTTP will certainly not.

As for people paying circa £5k extra - where did you pull that figure from?

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

There are numerous ways of meeting a 10Mbps threshold without any real re-engineering by BT, patching up instead.

There is a complete misconception by MPs/LocalGov officials that believe "BT will do the right thing", "BT will do the right thing for BT".

SuperfastCymru had several examples where longer lines that had sections of copper/(but applies to alu too) upgraded from 0.5mm to 0.9mm copper to 'just' meet target thresholds set by the contract

USO is 10Mbps for a reason, it fits in with BT *not* having to deploy any new real infrastructure,a higher USO of 30Mpbs would have prevented that

  • nofibre
  • about 1 year ago

Hi Broadband Watchers and nofibre.
By the the time this is introduced the USO in Surrey there will not many customers that will be under the 10 Meg as they Openreach has been fibre back cabling and introducing infill Cabs. TBB is showing 98% at 24 Meg in their lasted results.

  • Blackmamba
  • about 1 year ago

There will still be plenty of folks needing action under the USO though.

Here in Rural Southwest Scotland I am in a cluster of 7 properties (too small for an infill cabinet) and 3300m from the nearest cabinet (too expensive for private FTTPoD), in the shadow of a hill (marginal 4G signal) and bypassed by Virgin Media ("No plans to cable your area").

I have no idea what they will end up doing here but any news from ThinkBroadband is always appreciated and followed. We have the interminable wait for R100/USO while we watch the local towns get FTTP or G.Fast.

  • DanielCoffey
  • about 1 year ago

Scotland in theory R100 is meant to reach all, but timescales means some may be using USO (Even allowing for the 12 month plan exclusion of USO).

For most remote and 3.3km from a cabinet is not that remote unless its 3.3km to the next property too compared to some in Wales for example that got FTTP delivered. So if R100 goes FTTP it is possible but all depends on the contract being awarded.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

I always get told I'm very remote here in D&G, 3km to infill cabinet, 2.7km to next property towards the cabinet, and 4km from the exchange..

  • brianhe
  • about 1 year ago

Regarding your comment on application of USO,
“12 month plan exclusion of USO”

Does this mean that USO will not apply from end 2019?

I also live in a remote area (Highlands) and currently on an non-WBC 21cn exchange giving 0.5mb so particularly interested if we’re getting caught between the stools of competing initiatives
(USO, 21CN WBC and R100)

Will I be able to claim USO from 31sr Dec 2019?

  • jtscotland
  • about 1 year ago

The 12 month plan refers to the clause where if there is a known plan to deliver something that will bring a superfast option to you within the next 12 months you cannot invoke the USO

On the as from 31st December 2019 - no one has confirmed the start date yet, best description I can honestly give is from some date in 2020.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

jtscotland - "I also live in a remote area (Highlands) and currently on an non-WBC 21cn exchange giving 0.5mb..."

Out of interest, whereabouts in the Highlands? On North Skye, many exchanges still only offer ADSL max (or nothing!) and there never will be any for-profit competition... :-(

  • NorthSkye
  • about 1 year ago

Seems very odd that Cumbria and Northumberland are not included in that list. What's the reason for that please ?
No wonder we're not getting decent broadband if we're simply not registering with decision takers.

  • Ben66
  • about 1 year ago

Well the definition starts "most premises" so we have again a way by which the government can persuade itself that it is helping rural communities but in fact it is ignoring those in most isolated rural areas, who would benefit most because of their general lack of access to services and facilities. It is obviously more costly to help the more isolated areas of the UK but these are just the areas that need the greatest help from central government if they are to survive.

  • galacticz00
  • about 1 year ago

Not sure why people are thinking Government is making its decision based on this top 10, there are many more rural areas and ordering by other methods to produce a top 10.

The largest in terms of premises was used as a quick way to give a sample to show the issues, media and Government is free to ask for more detail on the other local areas missed out.


Cumbria 126,000 rural premises - 86.8% superfast coverage
Northumberland 78,000 rural premises - 86.3% superfast coverage

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

I could simply have listed the 10 with the worst superfast coverage but I think people would more surprised if the list was

South Tyneside
West Dunbartonshire

The largest being Bromley with 1,400 premises

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

@NorthSkye - I'm in Strathconon and on Exchange activate fixed 0.5mb (if we're lucky!)
S4gi project is implementing a 4G mast by year-end
I've asked OpenReach to check why they cant do a gap analysis between the 4G mast project wanting a fibre connection and upgrading our local exchanges at the same time...initial response 'we need to see the mast project complete before we consider any project overlap opportunities'
With R100 going back a year, it looks like 4G is the only option for the foreseeable future. It also probably means USO next March will use the 4g availability

  • jtscotland
  • about 1 year ago

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