Broadband: How well connected is the Midlands?

Credit: ITV News Central

Blog post from ITV News Central Correspondent Phil Brewster:

In researching this topic what’s been interesting is just how varied broadband coverage is across the Midlands and the UK.

Broadband speed is measured in Mbps, or megabits per second - the more you have, the easier it is to surf the web, download & upload material, play video games, or stream films & music etc.

In general our towns and cities have reasonable broadband coverage and speed. But there are also wide variations.

Broadband speed in three major cities in the East Midlands. Credit: ITV News Central

A survey by the comparison website uSwitch last year found one street in rural Staffordshire had average download speed of almost 80mbps.

But another street in Nottingham had speed of less than 1mbps - meaning it would take around 10 hours to download a 2-hour HD film.

Broadband speed in the three major cities in the West Midlands. Credit: ITV News Central

Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry believes high speed broadband is now as important as fresh running water:

Over the past decade or so some of the big telecoms providers have spent billions of pounds upgrading the country’s broadband network.

But many feared rural communities might miss out.

So in 2011 the government set up Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) which aims to provide 95% of the country with access to Superfast broadband & better mobile connectivity by the end of 2017.

In partnership with BT and local authorities hundreds of millions of pounds of public money is being spent to provide superfast broadband to the hardest to reach parts of the UK.

This involves what’s known as Fibre to The Cabinet (FTTC) - which is fibre optic cables being installed from the telephone exchange to the green roadside cabinets.

Many fear rural communities might miss out on high-speed broadband. Credit: ITV News Central

In theory this should provide speeds of potentially up to 80mbps. But there is a problem.

Much of the cable network from the cabinet to your home or business is still the traditional copper wiring which is not so good at transferring data over longer distances.

So for example - if you live or work near a green cabinet that’s been upgraded you may have the advertised speeds of 50, 80, 100mbps.

But if you live half a kilometre away that could drop to 30mbps. And if you live 3km or more from the cabinet that speed could be less than 10mbps.

Individuals or companies could opt to have Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) installed which could provide broadband speeds of potentially up to 300mbps.

But this can be expensive - costing £1000s of pounds.

Dan Howdle, an internet expert based in the Midlands, says for rural areas or properties a long way from a cabinet this is a major problem:

Some communities have decided to take matters into their own hands, and have clubbed together to pay to have fibre broadband installed in their area.

Others have opted to build their own not-for-profit network - digging the trenches & laying down the cables themselves.

The initial monthly cost to subscribers may be higher than current broadband providers, but in some cases the more people subscribe, the cheaper the monthly cost becomes. And the speeds can be anything from 300 mbps up to 1 gigabit.

Around 1.2 million homes will still be without access by the end of the year. Credit: PA Images

It looks likely the government will reach its target of providing superfast broadband coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of next year.

But this will still leave around 1.2 million homes without access to high-speed broadband. And the fear is that those areas will be left behind.

Many are now saying that having high-speed broadband should be the norm. Viewed as a 4th utility in the same way we think of having running water, or gas & electricity.

In the modern digital age, having a fast, reliable broadband network is vital for our economy if we’re to continue to compete with the rest of the world. Compared to much of Europe the UK fares quite well.

But compared to say South Korea, where broadband speeds of 800 mbps are almost standard, we’re still a long way behind.

Read more: Anger with cable box installation in front of church