See how your area fares in access to high-speed internet

Dom Joly goes two days without phone or internet access

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Fast and reliable internet access is essential for work as well as leisure. The UK as a whole is slowly upgrading its broadband infrastructure and catching up with its international peers. But the picture varies significantly depending on where you live in the country. Government investment is seeking to rectify these imbalances, but for the time being some areas are far, far behind.

Think Broadband is the UK’s largest and longest-running broadband comparison site. Released on Monday, their annual State of Broadband report for 2022 laid bare the stark differences in internet speeds experienced by consumers around the UK.

The report states: “As the demand for fast and reliable connectivity continues to grow, it is more important than ever to stay up to date with the latest developments in this ever-evolving industry.”

The latest development is full-fibre. A cut above regular fibre connections – which still use copper wires for the final stretch into individual homes – fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) means data is transmitted using pulses of light down a strand of glass as thin as a hair all the way to the router.

With households now using 481GB of data a month on average, according to the communications regulator Ofcom, full-fibre has been deemed essential for families simultaneously streaming films, video conferencing, and online gaming.

This way of connecting to the internet is so much more efficient, that broadband can be up to 15 times faster. The median download speed for fixed broadband in the UK is currently 72.24 megabits per second (Mbps); full-fibre can achieve speeds of up 1,000Mbps.

Across the UK, just under half (47 percent) of all homes are connected to full-fibre broadband. However, access to the fastest speeds is unevenly distributed at the national and local levels.

The lowest rate of FTTP coverage in the union is found in Scotland, at just 43.6 percent. Wales and England aren’t far ahead, at 43.67 and 46.11 percent respectively.

Northern Ireland, on the other hand, is in a league of its own.

Despite having the smallest regional economy in the country, Northern Ireland boasts more than double the rate of full fibre coverage of other nations, with 89.33 percent of homes connected.

This distinction is also made clear at the local level, with 11 of the top 20 constituencies in terms of FTTP coverage being across the Irish Sea.

The overall crown, however, goes to Kingston upon Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the city being home to the top three parliamentary voting areas for full-fibre rollout, all with rates above 99.7 percent.

This was followed by Belfast East (96.4 percent), Coventry North West (95.4 percent) and Belfast West (95.2 percent). Northern Ireland is expected to reach 100 percent FTTP coverage by June 2024, according to the report.

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On the other end of the scale, just 2.7 percent of homes in Luton North had a full-fibre connection as of early 2023, followed by Southport in Merseyside (three percent) and Orkney and Shetland off the north coast of Scotland (3.9 percent).

Of the 20 constituencies with the lowest FTTP coverage, over a quarter were in Scotland.

According to the latest Connected Nations report by the communications regulator Ofcom, average broadband download speeds in Northern Ireland increased by 40 percent to 115 Mbps between 2021 and 2022.

The UK average download speed puts it 54th in the world in the January 2023 Speedtest Global Rankings, behind Colombia and the Philippines. Northern Ireland alone would rank a far higher 25th, ahead of Norway and Sweden.

The Government had set a target of giving 70 percent of UK households the opportunity to install 1,000Mbps download-capable connections by the end of 2022. As of February 23, it claims 73 percent of homes met this criteria.

Project Gigabit – former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s £5billion scheme to level up the country’s internet connectivity – aims to raise this threshold to over 90 percent by 2030.

Speaking on the plan’s progress over the winter last month Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said her mission was to “unlock the potential of technology to supercharge growth” for communities in “every corner of the country.”

These targets, however, fall short of actual FTTP coverage figures because of the low take-up of the technology, potentially owing to the high cost of upgrading to the fastest speed connections.

Ofcom’s Interactive Broadband Scorecard 2022 found the UK to have the second-most expensive high-speed broadband and landline bundles among a group of six peer countries – behind only the US with an average monthly cost of £53.82.

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