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Local authorities not up to speed with fast broadband delivery

It might be home to the Shard skyscraper, City Hall and Tate Modern, but the central London borough of Southwark has been named one of the 20 worst places in the UK for broadband speeds, in a list that stretches from Orkney to Bexhill-on-Sea.

An analysis of 719,000 speed tests by the consumer organisation Which? found that 11 local authority areas didn’t meet the minimum download speed proposed under the government’s so-called universal service obligation (USO), which anyone in the UK would be entitled to request.

These included Ryedale in North Yorkshire and Purbeck in Dorset, where the average recorded speed in both cases was 9Mbps, and Rother in East Sussex (which includes Bexhill-on-Sea) where it was 9.5Mbps. This compares with a minimum 10Mbps proposed under the USO.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has said a speed of 10Mbps is needed to enable consumers to fully participate in a digital society.

Of the 389 local authority areas surveyed, the three with the slowest speeds – between 6.3Mbps and 8.8Mbps – were all in Scotland: Orkney, Shetland and Highland. However, Which? said that while most of the slow download speeds were recorded in rural or more remote locations, many local authority areas in big cities were achieving below the national average.

The appearance of Southwark in the bottom 20 might be a surprise. With an average download speed of 10.4Mbps, it only just managed to exceed the proposed minimum. The borough includes a well-known broadband “not-spot”, Rotherhithe, where it was reported that as recently as last year thousands of residents were only receiving speeds of around 2Mbps.

By contrast, superfast broadband is defined as 24Mbps or more, while Which? has put the UK average speed at 17Mbps.

Other parts of London that were found to be lagging behind the UK average were Westminster (12.9Mbps), Lambeth (13.2Mbps), the City of London (13.4Mbps), Tower Hamlets (15Mbps) and Hackney (16Mbps).

The fastest local authority area for broadband speeds was Tamworth in the West Midlands, with an average speed of 30.4Mbps, followed by Reading in Berkshire; Adur, the West Sussex district that includes the town of Shoreham; and the London borough of Enfield.

In November 2015, the then prime minister David Cameron declared that “access to the internet shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be a right … we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it”. The government has also previously claimed that 95% of the country should have access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017.

In urban areas it is often blocks of flats that suffer slow speeds. This is because many of them have a dedicated line from the ground floor to the nearest telephone exchange, usually made of copper and which can run long distances, slowing the speed at which information travels.

“A slow broadband connection can have a huge impact on people’s ability to carry out basic online tasks such as banking and shopping online, as well streaming TV shows,” said Which?.