Ofcoms broadband digital divide report criticised

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has criticised Ofcom's recent 'Nations & Regions Communications Market 2008 (May)' report for claiming that the broadband divide between rural and urban areas had disappeared, which they state "beggars belief".

The report suggests that the take-up of broadband in rural areas is now higher than in the UK's cities. However, rural economy experts believe the report fails to take into account that broadband connections often do not deliver the high speeds advertised, and also that many rural businesses cannot get broadband at all because they are too far from their local telephone exchange:

CLA Deputy President William Worsley said: "Suggestions that the broadband divide has closed are simply not true. The digital divide is about availability and the fact remains that in a significant number of rural areas, ADSL broadband access is simply not available. The existing internet access speeds are often appallingly slow, hitting the viability of businesses.

Small rural businesses are really suffering because of this broadband divide. We are receiving an increasing number of calls from rural businesses asking for help because they cannot compete on an equal footing with often close neighbours who benefit from a cheap and reliable ADSL service."

The CLA Deputy President added: "People who would like to develop redundant buildings into small modern business units cannot do so without broadband access, even if all the other elements are in place.

We are worried that anyone reading coverage of the OFCOM report will get a distorted view of the true picture. Everything is not rosy with broadband in the countryside, despite OFCOM's wanton optimism."

We aired similar concerns in our coverage of the report, though many mainstream media outlets appeared to take the comments made by Ofcom's chief too literally, instead of seeing the bigger picture:

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive said: “Our report highlights a closing of the geographic digital divide in the UK. Rural households are today as well connected to broadband, as their urban neighbours.”

This is simply not the case, with many of those living in rural areas suffering from far slower speeds and being left at a serious disadvantage. In addition, putting aside people that still can't get a connection; those who can will often find that cheaper unbundled (LLU) lines do not even reach them. This results in higher service costs for lower performance.

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