Rural Broadband is Slower, Less Reliable but More Expensive in the UK

By: Jake Mellor
Updated: September 29, 2021
Rural Broadband speed analysis

If you live in a rural area of the UK and have broadband, you know how frustrating and inadequate it can be. Professionals working remotely in the countryside certainly got a crash course in slow internet speeds during the 2020 pandemic. 

The facts are indisputable, but why is rural broadband such a frustrating problem? Let’s explore the answers, and some potential solutions, below. 

The Problems with Rural Broadband

Broadband users in rural areas of the United Kingdom pay as much as 76% more than urban residents. To add insult to injury, the service is inferior to what they’d get for much less in the city. 

Different kinds of broadband face their own problems in rural areas. Two of these are ADSL broadband and fibre broadband. 

ADSL Broadband 

ADSL broadband tends to be extremely slow when used in remote areas. When you hear people talk about “standard broadband”, this is what they’re referring to. This kind of broadband uses one medium, that of copper wires. 

If you use this kind of broadband in more populated areas (such as cities), you may enjoy an average speed of 10 to 11 Mbps. In rural areas, however, it will be much slower. 

Fibre Broadband 

When you have fibre broadband, a high-speed fibre optic cable brings the signal originating in the exchange to the street cabinet. However, a copper wire is what the signal travels through for the remaining distance to your house. 

Some rural residents get fibre broadband hoping that it will help. Sadly, it sometimes doesn’t make much of a difference. This is especially true when your area has minimal ADSL speeds. 

Why Does Rural Broadband Have So Many Problems? 

An Ofcom report from 2018 shared that 677,000 homes in the United Kingdom have slow broadband incapable of getting to a minimum of 10Mbps. 

This is a worrying problem, as it’s impossible to enjoy average use of the internet with such a deficient speed. 

The root issue behind poorly performing and overly expensive broadband in rural areas is inadequate infrastructure, sometimes severely so. Broadband services in rural areas are almost invariably much slower than you would enjoy in a city. 

Even when you’re promised excellent “up to” speeds, you’ll almost certainly never experience them. 

Why is Rural Broadband so Expensive? 

To understand why there is so much variation in broadband prices across the UK, you’ve got to understand how the country is divided into separate broadband markets. There are two of them, and they’re referred to as simply Market A and Market B.

A bit less than ten per cent of the UK’s total population lives in Market A. This is the market where broadband tends to be costlier. If you live in a rural area and have high broadband prices, you are probably in Market A. 

If you are in Market A, you’ve probably noticed that many broadband deals and special advertised offers simply aren’t available to you. 

Residents of urban areas and some other more populated places are in Market B. Market B enjoys much more affordable broadband prices and superior speeds. Residents in Market B also have access to a lot more choices. 

One of the reasons why prices are lower in Market B is because of the many options. Competition brings down prices. 

Another reason why Market A is more expensive is because of a lack of infrastructure. Several major broadband service providers share fundamental infrastructure. BT Openreach maintains this infrastructure. 

Every individual broadband provider must pay fees for the use of the network infrastructure. 

When a provider has technology that it owns in an area, it doesn’t have to pay these fees. These savings are passed on, benefiting residents paying for broadband.  

When an area has a limited population, it’s not worth a provider’s while to add infrastructure there. Therefore, if they want to offer service, they must pay to use technology owned by someone else. 

How to Save Money on Your Rural Broadband

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that may help you reduce the amount of money you have to spend on your rural broadband. Let’s take a look at them below. 

Contact Your Provider

Sometimes just finding out all the options from your current provider can be helpful. 

Talk to them and find out your options, including whether there is any chance of an upgrade. Ascertain how your service could improve and whether you’re striking the best possible balance between service and cost. 

Look Into Independent Network Providers

If you don’t find the right solution with your current provider, think about going with an independent network provider. Contact a few and find out what they can offer in terms of service and cost. Get the details, making clear you are looking for better service than you have now. 

Learn about Fixed Wireless Broadband

Check your eligibility for fixed wireless broadband. With this type of broadband, a mast is installed on your property in a specific place. This is the medium through which the broadband is delivered. 

There are some parts of the country where you may be eligible for vouchers covering costs of hardware and set-up for fixed wireless broadband. 

Check Your Eligibility for Universal Service Obligation (USO) 

Contact KCOM or BT to find out if you’re eligible for the new scheme. Generally speaking, to be eligible, you must satisfy two requirements: 

  • You lack access to broadband of a decent quality 

  • You cannot be covered by any other public broadband scheme established by a government (the UK government or one of the devolved governments) over the next year

Get Together with Your Neighbours

Are your neighbours equally frustrated with their broadband service’s lack of performance and expense? Get together with them to take advantage of the Community Fibre Partnership option. Be aware, though, that some rural residents haven’t enjoyed adequate savings from this program. 

Good News for the Future

You’ll be pleased to know there is a government plan for every person in the UK to have 1Gb broadband by 2025. Even though currently, rural broadband is slower, less reliable but more expensive in the UK, there is hope for future improvement.