A claim by the UK’s new Digital minister and Stourbridge MP Margot James that a major advance in superfast broadband services has been made across the UK has been overshadowed by an independent report that ranks the UK’s network as much slower and far more expensive than those of many other European nations.
Just a month after taking up her new role, Ms James embarked on a nationwide publicity campaign to celebrate the roll-out of fibre connectivity, announcing that the Government has reached a milestone in making speeds of 24 megabits per second available to more than 19 out of 20 UK homes and businesses by the end of 2017.
But a global industry report published just four months earlier branded the UK ‘a broadband laggard’ with speeds that ‘fall well short’ of those experienced in Germany, Spain, Sweden and Hungary and as more expensive than seven other European countries.
The analysis puts the UK in 31st place worldwide for speed with an average of just over 16Mbps, almost a third slower than the Govt’s official target benchmark.
In a series of interviews with local and regional newspapers, on radio stations across the south of England and through her social media accounts, the Stourbridge MP repeated that the Government has delivered on its promise to progress the roll out of an access-all-areas superfast fibre network.
In the Black Country, Ms James singled out Halesowen and Rowley Regis as broadband hotpots where ’99 per cent of homes and businesses can now access superfast broadband’.
But the claims of high performance contrast sharply with the findings of an international study coordinated by the US project M-Lab* that tested 63 million broadband connections over 12 months worldwide.
According to Dan Howell, consumer telecoms analyst for internet connectivity consultants cable.co.uk who took part in the study, global broadband speed tests show that the UK is ‘a broadband laggard’ with an actual average speed of 16.51Mbps that ranks it 31st in the world, trailing most of Europe, as well as Thailand and New Zealand.
On cost, the average monthly UK package price of £29.30 is almost 30 per cent more expensive than Europe’s cheapest but slower service in Italy where users pay an average £20.90 monthly. Also cheaper, as well as faster, is Germany (£24.64 monthly average).
According to the report, the UK falls well short of the average speeds enjoyed by Germany (18.8Mbps), Spain (19.6Mbps), Sweden (40Mbps) and Hungary (23Mbps). Outside Europe, the UK is bettered by nations including the US (20Mbps), Canada (18Mbps) and New Zealand (16.6Mbps).
A comparison of broadband pricing in 196 countries reveals vast global disparities in the cost of getting online, with the UK ranking only 62nd cheapest.
The speed data was collected over 12 months up to mid-2017 by M-Lab, a partnership between New America’s Open Technology Institute, Google Open Source Research, Princeton University’s PlanetLab, and other supporting partners, and collated for the UK by Cable.co.uk.
Dan Howdle said at the time the report was released: “These results offer us a fresh perspective on where we sit in the broadband world. Relatively speaking, we are near the top of the table. However, many of those ahead of us – some a long way ahead – are our neighbours both in the EU and wider Europe.”
Stourbridge and Black Country broadband users can test their own internet connection speeds using the M-Lab online comparison tool here and help monitor UK internet performance for improvements and shortcomings.
Could the Black Country have been ready for superfast broadband in 1990?
The UK’s notoriously slow and expensive internet connections can be traced back to a decision in 1990 by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to scrap a prototype BT fibre superfast network that would have made the UK a world leader in the technology, according to the company’s former technical chief.
The TechRadar IT news website reports that Mrs Thatcher instead opted to ’open up the market’ to US companies using the old copper wire system, in an interview with the BT technology guru driving change at the time, Dr Peter Cochrane.
Two BT factories that were poised to mass-produce fibre optic components for the UK were ordered to be closed, broken up and the manufacturing plant to make them was sold to Japanese and US companies Fujitsu and Hewlett Packard and shipped to Asia where they became the launchpad for the region’s fibre-optic developments.
Measuring the hidden costs of the UK’s slow, expensive internet access
A 20-year-old Briton earning the National Minimum Wage faces putting in over five hours of work just to pay for an average UK internet package every month. An internet connection is now effectively an essential requirement for in-work claimants to maintain a relationship with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government’s Universal Credit scheme. In April 2018, such a worker will see his or her statutory minimum pay increased by 15p an hour.
Below is the result of a random test of a typical broadband connection in Stourbridge, using M-Lab’s real-time download/upload checking tool. (Click on the image for a direct link to the M-Lab tool)
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