Rural SMEs majorly disadvantaged by digital divide, shows report

More than one million homes and offices still struggle to get a “decent” broadband connection, according to a new report.

Communications regulator Ofcom said the digital divide is steadily improving, but further action is needed to improve broadband and mobile coverage for people in rural areas.

In its new report, Connected Nations 2017, it found that around four per cent of the nation still cannot get the broadband speeds needed to meet their typical needs. But the overall number of people affected by sluggish speeds has fallen from 1.6 million to 1.1 million.

It is rural towns and villages which are most affected, with around 17 per cent of all countryside premises unable to get good broadband. This is compared to just two per cent in urban areas.

With the growing demand for digital across all areas of business, the need for a strong broadband connection is imperative for business success. Around 2.7 million (84 per cent) of businesses now have access to “superfast” broadband, rising from 1.9 million the year previous. But with speeds now available in excess of 30mb/s (megabits per second), it is unfortunate that a large number of businesses are achieving less than a third of that, with 230,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggling with speeds of under 10mb/s.

Steve Unger, Chief Technology Officer at Ofcom, said: “Broadband coverage is improving, but our findings show there’s still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need.

“Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work. So we are supporting plans for universal broadband, and promoting investment in full-fibre technology that can provide ultrafast, reliable connections.”