Lockdown home working 'highlights need for better broadband'

Lockdown home working 'highlights need for better broadband'

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The digital divide in the UK has been exposed by the sudden increase in home working caused by the lockdown of the past two months, and has highlighted the need for more work to be done to deliver high-speed connectivity to rural parts of the UK.

A report by BBC News found some workers in the west of England have been left unable to work effectively from home as a result of poor broadband speeds.

Blackdown Hills resident Lizzie Ginbey, who runs a graphic design and marketing business,  explained to the BBC that she has no choice but to go into the office to work in order to get a decent broadband connection, and even has to bring her children along so they can access the internet for home schooling.

"We have got fibre but it's such a long route to our house, about four miles, by the time it gets to us there's nothing left," she explained. "Being graphic designers, our file sizes are absolutely enormous and with home broadband it's just not sufficient to be able to cope."

Another local business, Middlewick Cottages, had paid £10,000 to install a fibre line after guests complained about poor internet speed and is still having to pay £600 a month for the service, despite having no bookings.

Owner Jill Barker said: "It was one of those things that we always got marked down on our review scores because the internet was so bad. People expected to have high speed internet and that became increasingly obvious as time went on and we had to do something."

While fibre broadband is being rolled out in the area as part of the publicly-funded Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) scheme, it has faced delays and numerous not-spots remain. 

However, it is not only in the west of England where poor connectivity had proved to be a problem during lockdown. In North Wales, Welsh Assembly member Darren Millar told Bayside Radio he has received many complaints from constituents who are struggling to work from home due to poor broadband.

He therefore called on the Welsh government to prioritise rolling out high-speed broadband to rural communities that have been particularly impacted by this issue. 

Politicians have also been affected, with one MP, Douglas Ross, explaining last week he took the decision to return to Westminster from his Moray constituency in north-east Scotland as connectivity issues meant he was unable to carry out his duties remotely.

Overall, Ofcom has claimed that the UK's broadband network has largely stood up to the demands caused by the coronavirus pandemic, noting that despite increases in traffic of up to 60 per cent, average download speeds have "largely held up". 

Figures released by the regulator showed the proportion of rural lines receiving at least superfast broadband during peak times continues to rise, from 44 per cent in 2018 to 56 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, the proportion of people not able to receive a decent connection  at peak times fell from 33 per cent to 22 per cent.

However, it noted that broadband speeds in rural areas still lag behind those in urban areas, acknowledging there is still work to be done to ensure the entire country can benefit from high-speed broadband.

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