Connectivity gulf between urban and rural areas affecting all areas of life, report warns
The UK is becoming rapidly divided amongst urban communities with access to high-speed broadband and those rural areas without, new research has claimed.
This lack of proper connectivity is so severe that some rural areas face losing swathes of young people who were born there as they instead move to built-up areas to pursue more technological jobs and lives, and is also making the same areas less appealing for retirees to move to.
Overall, more than one million people in Britain are excluded or face challenges in engaging in normal online activities because they live in remote rural areas not linked up with high-speed broadband, said a study into internet access by the dot.rural RCUK Digital Economy Research Hub at the University of Aberdeen, and the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.
The study, entitled ‘Two-Speed Britain: Rural Internet Use’, found that in urban areas just five percent of those sampled had an average broadband speed below 6.3 Mbits/sec.
However, in deep rural areas, over half (53 percent) of people were unable to achieve this modest speed at which an album of 10 songs would typically take about one minute to download, 200 photographs a little over four minutes, and a movie about 18 minutes.
It is warning that, despite the huge amount of investment provided by the government to try and improve connectivity across the UK, the ‘digital gap’ between the two types of areas is actually widening rather than closing.
“This report clearly demonstrates there is a growing social and economic gap between those who are connected and those who are not, the ‘digitally excluded’,” said Professor John Farrington of the University of Aberdeen and lead author of the report. “It is generally seen in differences between remote rural internet use on the one hand, and less remote, rural and urban internet use on the other.
The report found that the gap is most pronounced in upland areas of Scotland, Wales and England, but also in many areas in lowland rural Britain. It affects 1.3 million people in deep rural Britain, and many more in less remote areas with poor Internet connection.
“This broadband speed gap between urban and especially deep rural areas is widening: it will begin to narrow as superfast reaches more rural areas but better-connected, mostly urban, areas will also increase speeds at a high rate,” added Professor Farringdon. “This means faster areas will probably continue to get faster, faster with slow speed areas left lagging behind”
The report also notes that rural businesses are effectively being penalised because they are unable to take advantage of the commercial efficiencies afforded by the Internet. This means that many still have to resort to using costly paper systems, such as in the farming sector, where there is a push to move administration such as sheep registrations online.
“All these issues can potentially create a new tipping point for digitally poorly connected rural areas, including: losing businesses; adding to farming’s costs; making out-migration more likely for young people; and in-migration less likely for retirees or the economically active,” Professor Farringdon said.
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