David Walker campaiging for better broadband by a BT cabinet in West Felton
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Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane

15 years ago I was campaigning to get Broadband into Bridgnorth. I was concerned then about slow speeds were putting us at an economic disadvantage compared to other areas locally and globally. Fast forward 15 years and we still find Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane! This is despite all of the bluster from Shropshire Council about increasing investment. With the Coronavirus lockdown, more people than ever need good access and fast reliable speeds.

People at home using the internet for work, entertainment, schooling or to stay in touch is increasing demand on the internet with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane
People at home using the internet for work, entertainment, schooling or to stay in touch is increasing demand on the internet

People at home using the internet for work, entertainment or to stay in touch with friends and family is increasing demand on the internet. YouTube, Microsoft, NetFlix and a pile of online content providers throttled their services to help lighten the load. Coronavirus is going to bring about a huge shift in people’s habits. Many of which will become permanent in quite a big paradigm shift. After this is done many people will still want to work at home and enjoy their newfound work/life balance. Many more people will be ordering online. Will they all revert to shopping in town centres? Many more people are downloading films. Will they all revert to going to the cinema? Some will but many won’t. Many businesses were already shifting to online service provision and delivery. They are hardly likely to shift back to a more expensive and less effective model of service delivery. All of these shifts are bad news for the digital divide and those with poor or now access.

Until Shropshire Council pull their finger out, invest our money wisely and apply real pressure on providers and BT then Shropshire is destined to fall further behind the rest of the UK.

“With lockdown conditions unlikely to be lifted completely for some time to come, people across the country are getting used to working from home and are relying more than ever on the internet for keeping in touch and to provide entertainment as they observe social distancing guidelines.
Network resilience has been good during the crisis but sharing best practise on the way networks are operated and managed has taken on even greater importance.”

Malcolm Corbett, Independent Networks Co-operative Association’s CEO Rollout of Ultrafast Broadband Must Continue Despite COVID-19

The need for everybody in Shropshire to have good reliable fast broadband access is more important than ever.

On the 10th of March BT announced that it was launching their Gigabit home broadband service across the UK from the 1st of April. Excellent news until you see the details beyond the headline. BT’s new gigabit service will be available in hundreds of cities, towns and villages across the UK not everywhere. They plan to reach 50% of homes by 2025. On present form, Shropshire will in large part be after that.

To understand why Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane first we need to understand some broad definitions. For this, I will use the broadband grades defined by Ofcom.

Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO):

The Government launched Universal Service Obligation (USO) in 2015 to guarantee access for all by 2020. This came into force this year.
From 20 March 2020, if you can’t get a download speed of 10 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s, you can request an upgraded connection. You can make this USO request to BT – You don’t need to be a BT customer to do this.

Chart: Broadband Speed Definitions (Ofcom) and what that looks like with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane
Broadband Speed Definitions (Ofcom) and what that looks like.

Broadband Speed Definitions (Ofcom)

Decent Broadband
Services that supply actual internet download speeds of at least 10Mbps (Megabits per second)
This is the minimum level under the USO which started in March.

Superfast Broadband
Services that supply download speeds of at least 30Mbps

Ultrafast Broadband
Services that supply headline download speeds of at least 300Mbps

Gigabit Broadband
Services that can supply headline download speeds of up to or beyond 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) or 1000Mbps+

Shropshire in the broadband slow lane –
the broad picture for Shropshire

chart: Shropshire broadband speed access levels compared to UK & Surrey with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane
Shropshire broadband speed access levels compared to UK & Surrey.
Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane and behind on every measure
Source: thinkbroadband.com

The picture in Shropshire is not a pretty one. It wasn’t pretty 15 years ago. It isn’t pretty now. It hasn’t been a pretty one for ages and unless something fundamental happens this isn’t likely to change. Yes, we are getting better speeds over time and for many people Superfast broadband is fine. But as Coronavirus is proving lagging behind can be a real problem. There are still 1% broadband accounts who are getting less 2Mbps and 2.75% getting below the USO legal minimum! As services move online in spades these people will become increasingly isolated.

Access levels in Shropshire are way behind other parts of the country and the UK average. The access level for the now-standard Superfast Broadband in Shropshire is 93.71%. Nationally 96.24% can access Superfast Broadband. For Ultrafast Broadband (launched by BT in 2018) Shropshire is and Gigabit Broadband Shropshire is even further behind the rest of the country.

Shropshire’s average Broadband speed in the Shropshire Council area in 2018 was a paltry 30Mbps earning a rank of 290th.
The average in 2019 barely improved with Shropshire’s average Broadband speed was an equally paltry 37.8Mbps earning a rank of 285th.

Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane ranking 290th in 2018 for Average Mbps
Average Mbps in Shropshire Council area in 2018 was a pitiful 30Mbps putting Shropshire in 290th place
Source: Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2019 report
Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane ranking 285th in 2019 for Average Mbps
Average Mbps in Shropshire Council area in 2019 was an equally pitiful 37.8Mbps putting Shropshire in 285th place
Source: Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2019 report

What does this mean in West Felton and Whittington?

Whittington House main entrace off Garisson Avenue, Whittington
© Copyright Row17 and licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

You might naturally think that having BT’s National Network Management Centre in the Division would mean we have the best access in Shropshire. You also might think because we have Shropshire Council’s Deputy Leader and the Portfolio Holder for Economic Growth that would also mean we would have the best access in Shropshire. You would be wrong on both counts. Despite BT’s Whittington House being in the Division.

For the lucky few who live within 200-300 metres of a cabinet, they can get G.Fast Ultrafast Broadband. G.fast was launched by BT in 2017 but only got a commercial licence on the 1st of April 2020. G.Fast offers download speeds up to 330Mbps. However, this is likely to be eclipsed by BTs plans to roll out Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) across the UK.

On the maps you can see what grade of broadband customers can expect

There are a lot of not-spots with limited speeds still. These are unlikely to see fast speeds for a considerable time. For them the solution is Fixed Wireless Access.

Wired broadband connections around Whittington
Click here for the full map
Wired broadband connections around West Felton
Click here for the full map

Fixed Wireless Access.

For me, this is the only option. Whilst I live physically close to the cabinet in Queens Head the connection goes the long way around so we only get 7Mbps on a fibre broadband connection. I use SWS Broadband based in Bishops Castleif you use this referral code (RAF4851) you can get 1 month off. On their best package, I can get over 30Mbps. Shropshire Council cut an £11.2m deal with AirBand in 2017 but I can’t see where that money went. Fixed Wireless is a compromise. A wired broadband connection would always be preferable. 5G when it comes to rural areas will only be by businesses where they can get good connectivity. 5G isn’t a broad access channel.

When you look at the installation maps below for SWS and for Airband I have to wonder where the money went and if it would have been better spent with SWS instead.

SWS Broadband
SWS Broadband

So come on Shropshire Council… do something special to keep Shropshire out of the broadband slow lane.