The UK North and South Digital Broadband Penetration Divide

Broadband analyst firm Point Topic has highlighted how deep the digital broadband divide is between the North and the South of the UK. The research classed 68 cities, towns and districts as having high broadband penetration, but only 3 of these are North and West of a line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel.This map highlights how the southern half of the country has stronger broadband penetration, such as in the prosperous London Boroughs and towns such as Norwich, Watford, Bristol and Plymouth. At the opposite end are areas with low or very low take-up, such as Northern Ireland, the North East and the Midlands.

It's noted that the areas with low take-up (both north and south) are more widely distributed and have low population densities, where many homes are a long way from their local telephone exchange (e.g. Northern Ireland and the Derbyshire Dales). Take-up is also weak in low-density population areas that suffer from industrial decline; former mining areas in the North East, the East Midlands and Wales play a big part.

Interestingly Scotland appears to do better than some might expect, which is partly because of the different telecoms geography. Scotland has far more telephone exchanges per head of population than the rest of the UK, many of them serving small communities. Scotland's government has also spent millions upon improving broadband availability, which includes a wealth of satellite and wireless solutions that have sadly not been included here.

Overall 17.3% of the UK population live in areas where broadband penetration is high or very high and only 8.8% in areas where it is low or very low. The great majority (45.4 million people, 74% of the population) live in the more typical areas with medium penetration, somewhere between 22 and 35 broadband lines per 100 people.

The research, though interesting, will probably not come as a surprise to anybody (except maybe Scotland). It has always been the case that areas with a greater population and stronger markets tend to get the best and fastest services first, while the rest of the country is forced to play second fiddle.

Presently the UK government hopes to solve this by "committing" to make a minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps available to everybody by 2012. However this map shows that the service will need to be about more than speed, it will also need to be affordable so that those on low incomes find it attractive enough to warrant greater adoption.

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