Two schemes to help provide better broadband in rural areas

In May 2020, Ofcom published its annual report (you can read a summary with commentary on ISPreview, here) which suggested that the average broadband download rate in the UK was 64Mbps and the average upload speed 14Mbps. As with so many things, you get different figures from different sources. This report from Speedtest looked at global internet speeds in 2020 and claimed that the UK’s average download speed was about 81Mbps: this puts us a not very creditable 47th place with average speeds roughly similar to those in Estonia and Russia and some way behind countries with which the UK is often compared such as Germany, Spain, France and the USA. According to these figures, there are 17 countries whose average speed is more twice the UK’s.

For some residents and business owners, however, particularly in rural areas such as Upper Lambourn, speeds of 64Mbps or 81Mbps, or anything approaching these, are about an unattainable as a journey to the moon. Nor will it be any comfort for them to know that West Berkshire is, according to Howard Woollaston, WBC’s Executive Portfolio Holder for Internal Governance (and also Lambourn’s ward member), “near the top of the national league table in terms of Superfast coverage with levels of 96.2%.” There are still pockets of digital deprivation where trying to run a business and home-school children, as is now necessary, is effectively impossible. Over the last decade or so, various companies have agreed to complete that part of the network: for one reason or another, this has never happened. If one were to gather together all the documents, emails and meeting notes relating to this tangled story (and I know one person who has kept many of them) they would make a small book, although so far one without a happy ending.

However, two schemes, with government funding, are currently available which are designed to help people living in rural areas get better broadband. Note that the first requires that applications be made by the end of March 2021.

Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme

Up to £1,500 per home and up to £3,500 is available for each small to medium size business (SME) to support the costs of installing gigabit-capable broadband. Funding is provided through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. Gigabit-capable broadband offers the fastest and most reliable speeds available of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps). Final speeds depend on the package purchased but the aim is to provide enough capacity for now and for the future.

To qualify for the scheme, you must:

  • Live in a rural area;
  • Be unable to get broadband speeds of 100Mbps;
  • Apply as a group of two or more premises.

Check your eligibility for the scheme by completing the postcode check and then follow the simple step-by-step guide located on the Superfast Berkshire website

You must have applied for this scheme by 31 March 2021.

Universal Service Obligation

If you’re receiving 10Mbps or less, you may be eligible for the Universal Service Scheme. For more details and to check your postcode for eligibility, click here.

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4 Responses

  1. As you say the fatal flaw in that idea is that the mobile signal is also crap here!
    We have tried it with various mobile operators who have produced some very expensive kit and the result is always the same. As soon as you put it under any pressure with multiple activity it falls over!
    We are exploring some sort of radio signal system at the moment but I don’t hold out much hope of that being much more reliable.
    We keep going round in circles and finishing up nowhere!

  2. There are a few areas where signal strength is poor. However, as a community that’s also quite easy to solve as through boosters and external antennas. It obviously adds some cost but per household its still way less than paying as a community for cable to be installed.
    One approach would be for the community to approach say Vodafone and do a business deal with them. Unlimited mobile broadband can then be around

  3. Thanks for the article. My local community looked at this (9 houses) a while ago and the companies involved simply seem to take the voucher money then add their own costs on top. So set up costs per house even with vouchers are high (very high). Also contracts for provision of broadband where also way above normal figures you see on comparison sites.
    So much so that we did not go ahead but I’ve now seen several use mobile broadband. (It just requires a 4G 4G+ or 5G signal). It delivers around 40 down and 20 up but usually has little up front costs and you can negotiate deals as there are many suppliers.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Adrian. The economics of grants do often work as you suggest and I don’t know if there is any regulatory way of the costs being kept down. For some residents, though, this might be about the last chance to get any government support as I understand this might be the last such scheme. In addition, I think that Upper Lambourn suffers from not having a good mobile signal either. I think more or less everything has been tried there but the area is still stuck at 1990s’ speeds.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale