Tuesday, 10 May 2016 06:34

Councils warn of digital 'twilight zone'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Councils warn of digital 'twilight zone'

RURAL communities face a 'digital twilight zone' unless minimum broadband standards move with the times, say local authorities.

It comes as the Local Government Association launches an Up to Speed campaign, which aims to ensure every resident and business has access to faster broadband.

The campaign includes a new speed test app so users can test their broadband and compare it with other speeds in their area.

Almost half of homes and businesses in rural areas cannot reach 10Mbps, said the LGA. Within two years, up to one million premises would still be without high-speed broadband.

    See also: Rural broadband 'by request only'

The government has pledged to give everybody the legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020.

This speed roughly allows a family to watch a high-definition film and a catch-up tv programme and make a video call simultaneously.

At the moment, however, many remote rural areas have well below 2Mbps during key periods, such as when children get home, during school holidays and after 6pm.

Local authorities were playing a pivotal role in extending fast broadband to as many residents as possible, said the LGA.

Councils were working with government to deliver superfast broadband to 95% of premises by 2017, with some areas planning to reach even more.

The government's pledge was a "significant step" in the right direction. But many councils were concerned that the fixed download speed of 10Mbps would quickly become outdated.

Forecasts suggested the average household would require 19Mbps by 2023, said the LGA.

It is calling for a new minimum standard based on a percentage of average national speeds. As the national average download speed increased over time, so too would the minimum standard.

Mark Hawthorne, of the LGA People and Places Board, said there was a real concern that rural households and businesses would be left lagging behind.

"Without this there is the real possibility of some areas – particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas - falling into a digital twilight zone.

"Broadband is a major driver behind growth and jobs and this is about making areas attractive to businesses who wouldn't otherwise locate there.

"Broadband is also a key way of enabling residents who are housebound to live independently.

The LGA has also called for clarification on whether the government will specify minimum standards for other elements of a good internet connection, such as upload speed.

Businesses see good upload speeds as critical for digital invoices, uploading large files to the cloud, or publishing high-resolution images on customer-facing websites.

Slow upload speeds meant these processes often took considerably longer and lead to online systems crashing or timing out, said the LGA.

"Achieving 10Mbps should just be the start and something to build on because demand for and availability of faster speeds continues to grow," said councillor Hawthorne.

"For the farmer applying for funding, the small business processing its invoices or the GP checking the availability of medicines, broadband is communities' lifeblood."

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