Lockdowns 'highlight digital divide' in UK connectivity

Lockdowns 'highlight digital divide' in UK connectivity

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The lockdowns experienced throughout the UK in 2020 have highlighted the huge gap in connectivity across the country, with a clear digital divide emerging between those that have adequate home broadband to cope with the restrictions and those that don't.

This is according to research by Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), which found poor internet impeded many people's ability to work and stay connected through these periods. 

Overall, it revealed 62 per cent of homes experienced some form of connectivity issues during lockdown, such as being unable to get websites to load, poor streaming performance or failing to connect to video conferences.

It also noted that only 64 per cent of homes were able to routinely access a 'decent' broadband service - which is defined by Ofcom as download speeds of at least 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps or more.

Meanwhile, nearly a third (30 per cent) reported suffering from inadequate throughputs – download speeds lower than 2Mbps or upload speeds lower than 1Mbps.

This is much lower than official figures for decent broadband from the regulator, which suggests the vast majority of UK homes and businesses are able to receive these speeds.

Therefore, this may indicate people using older ADSL and fibre-to-the-cabinet connections experienced more slowdowns during lockdown as usage and network congestion increased among shared connections. However, there could be other factors that contribute to slow speeds on a device, such as poor in-home Wi-Fi.

GWS found this lack of performance is having a significant impact on people's lives. As well as resulting in lower productivity and poorer communication for home workers, it could be having an impact on many people's mental health.

Indeed, the study found over half of respondents (52 per cent) claimed they felt isolated at some point during the first national lockdown. 

Meanwhile, half of people admitted they worry about being judged by colleagues if their network doesn't offer good performance when on a video call, while 37 per cent admitted to questioning a co-worker's competence when they see them suffering from network issues.

This figure increased to 55 per cent in Greater London, suggesting people living and working in the capital are less tolerant of connectivity problems.

Overall, one in ten people said they have had a colleague comment on their poor connection during a voice or video call, with this percentage almost doubling among younger workers aged between 18 and 24, for whom good connectivity may be more of an expectation.

Commenting on the figures, chief executive of GWS Paul Carter said: "The fact that a third of homes in the UK don't have sufficient speeds to perform routine tasks is disappointing. It's a real eye-opener, particularly at a time when everyone is at home and relying on their networks more than ever.

"Like it or loathe it, life as we know it has changed and having a sufficient internet connection is essential for being able to work and live. Without reasonable throughputs, consumers risk feeling disconnected, frustrated and anxious."

However, he added that consumers in the UK should be aware that if they are suffering from poor connectivity, they have a right to request a decent broadband service from Ofcom. Mr Carter suggested this is a route many respondents in the study may need to consider.

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