Ofcom highlights growing broadband speed gap between rural and urban areas

Broadband speed

Internet speeds in rural areas are way behind those in major towns and cities, with Ofcom predicting the gap between the two will get worse before it gets better.

The regulator has published research looking at the average broadband speeds across the UK, and noted a 64 per cent rise in speeds since May 2012.

Its findings also revealed the number of residential broadband connections that can be classified as superfast has risen by five per cent in the six months from November 2012 to 19 per cent.

We are yet to see the full effect of Government measures to improve broadband availability in rural areas.

Meanwhile, 86 per cent of UK fixed-line residential broadband users are now on packages with advertised speeds of up to 10Mbit/s, up from 76 per cent in November 2012.

"The move to higher speeds is partly down to Virgin Media's network upgrade to double the speeds of most of its cable broadband customers," said Ofcom in a statement.

"As a result, the average speed on cable has nearly doubled over the last year from 18.0 Mbit/s to 34.9 Mbit/s."

However, while broadband speeds have increased overall, the difference between those offered to urban and rural web users has widened from 9.5 Mbit/s in May 2011 to 16.5 Mbit/s in May 2013, Ofcom's research shows.

"This is due to the lower availability of superfast broadband services in rural areas compared to urban areas, and because ADSL broadband speeds are also generally slower in rural areas because of the average line between the home and nearest telephone exchange needs to be longer," the Ofcom statement continued.

The organisation said this gap is set to grow in the short term, but should shrink over time, as initiatives like the Government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) kick in.

Claudio Pollack, consumer group director at Ofcom, said the explosion of mobile devices in the home is fuelling demand for faster broadband.

"Internet providers have responded by upgrading customers to higher speed services and launching new superfast packages," said Pollack.

"We are yet to see the full effect of Government measures to improve broadband availability in rural areas, which should also help to boost speeds," he added.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.