23/08/2012 11:45 | By Matt Farrington-Smith, editor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Does the UK really need faster broadband?

Should a faster UK broadband service be a priority or should we concentrate on getting the whole country connected first?



Following Jeremy Hunt's pledge that UK broadband is 'to be fastest in Europe by 2015', MSN questioned whether Mr Hunt has truly got his priorities right.

A router connected to a broadband-enabled BT socket. Image Martin Keene, PA


We ran a poll on MSN UK and asked what YOU thought was the most important:

Superfast broadband in big towns and cities OR wider broadband coverage throughout the UK.

You voted for wider coverage in your thousands - 5,121 (a massive 82 per cent) and we happen to agree also. Why should a select few benefit from increased speeds if there are some parts of the country still stuck in the dark (tech) ages?


Our columnist Duncan Jefferies wrote an excellent opinion piece on this very subject and expressed his hopes that Mr Hunt gets everyone connected first.

Duncan noted: "Although most people in urban areas now have access to half-way decent broadband speeds, many in the countryside still lack a basic 1Mbps connection. That means no iPlayer, no online gaming, no Skype - all the wonders of the web 2.0 world are but a dream to these poor folk. In some cases, they're still using 56k modems. Dial-up! In 2012! It's the equivalent of having to ride to work on a Penny-farthing."

Various figures in the telecoms industry share these sentiments, but appreciate that the fresh emphasis that Jeremy Hunt has placed on the UK's broadband service is at least an acknowledgement of its importance. However Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com also states that "in terms of actual delivery, [Hunt] does not announce any changes in funding or project direction."

He goes on to state that: "The goal to be the fastest major European country with regards to broadband is a noble goal, and one that we are sure will be debated very hotly in 2015."


Ethernet network cabling. Image Daniel Law, PA

Julia Stent, a telecoms expert at uSwitch.com - the popular broadband and telephone comparison switching service - has relayed fears that the UK broadband speed targets may be a step too far.

According to uSwitch.com's findings the average UK broadband download speed has increased by 16 per cent from 6.74 Mbps to 7.84 Mbps year-on-year. But despite this, three in ten (29 per cent) postcodes still have broadband download speeds below 3 Mbps.

Julia accuses the culture secretary of having "tunnel-vision": "While it's encouraging that the Government is recognising the nation's need for speed and taking steps to bring the UK into the broadband fast lane, it's important that we don't end up with a two-tier service."

She continues: "The danger is that the culture secretary's tunnel-vision emphasis on average speed addresses levels of demand from consumers and businesses for faster connections, but doesn't take rural areas into account - many of these areas are still suffering from patchy service and pitifully slow speeds even in the fibre optic age.

The fact of the matter is that providers are rolling out super-fast broadband to urban areas where demand is highest, but there is still a huge disparity between rural and urban broadband speeds. It's vital that those in remote areas are also high up on the culture secretary's agenda."


Duncan's own experience corroborates this - "Even though I live in London, one of the largest cities in the world, my 24Mbps broadband connection usually maxes out at around a quarter of that speed, thanks, I imagine, to the ageing fixed line telephone cables that connect my house to the internet. It's like paying for a 1000cc motorbike, only to find it has a speed limiter permanently fitted."

Were you one of the thousands who casted their vote? Let us know in the comments whether you're all for the culture secretary's plans or fearful that it will lead to the "two tier" system industry experts are predicting.


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