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SLOW broadband speeds are leaving rural areas in the digital Dark Ages – despite faster connections nationally.
The warning came as telecoms watchdog Ofcom published data showing average home broadband speeds are 22% faster than 12 months ago.
Average actual UK residential broadband speeds were 7.6Mbit/s in November 2011, compared with 6.2Mbit/s a year earlier, revel the latest figures.
This increase was mainly due to consumers moving to faster packages.
Yet the average speed remains much lower than the 10+Mbit/s advertised by providers supplying some 58% of residential broadband connections.
Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com, said the discrepancy between advertised and actual speeds would come as no surprise to many users..
But he added: "There's another elephant in the room that this data doesn't mention, the gaping divide between speeds in urban and rural areas."
Many people were languishing on slow connections despite millions of pounds of investment to bring broadband infrastructure into the 21st century.
"Many parts of Britain, and especially rural areas, are still operating in the broadband Dark Ages and are digitally isolated due to sluggish speeds and patchy coverage."
Speed tests carried out on uSwitch.com show that 27% of home broadband users have to make do with broadband connection speeds of less than 2Mbit/s.
At a speed of 1Mbit/s it would take around 12 hours to download a feature film and 45 minutes to download a music album.
Mr Doku said: "Continued investment in the broadband infrastructure is vital if the UK is to remain a major player on the world economic stage."
It was also crucial that investment was spread fairly across the country if Britain was to meet the government's target of the best broadband in Europe by 2015.
Previous Ofcom reports highlighted the often significant difference between advertised speeds and speeds actually received by consumers.
Guidance on the use of speed claims in broadband advertising will now come into force in April 2012.
Among other things, it requires that speed claims should be achievable by at least 10% of the relevant internet service provider's (ISP) customer base.
Where a significant proportion of customers are unlikely to receive advertised speeds, the range of speeds should be included in the advertisement.
In addition, the guidance will require any claims to be based on robust and reasonably representative data.
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