Poorer households are being left behind in the ‘broadband slow lane’ despite relying more heavily on the internet at a time of rising prices, a report has found.
According to the Local Government Association (LGA), households in the most deprived parts of England are less likely to be able to get fixed broadband which supports the fastest possible speeds. Access is 15 percentage points lower in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived, despite them using nearly 50 per cent more data than wealthier areas.
The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, has called for the appointment of a dedicated Digital Exclusion minister, who would be given direct government responsibility for a new strategy to close the gap between areas.
Last year, it emerged that the average UK home broadband download had hit nearly 60Mbit/s but the gap between UK households seeing the fastest and slowest speeds was widening as many customers upgraded to faster services.
Glasgow was identified as the city with the UK’s biggest broadband speed gap, with its quickest area getting speeds 866 times faster than the slowest, just four miles away.
Separate figures also show a strong relationship between having fixed broadband and higher earnings and educational achievement, such as being able to work from home or for schoolwork.
The LGA said a refreshed strategy is needed to ensure every part of the country can have future-proofed, gigabit-capable connections.
In its last manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to install full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband in every home and business across the UK by 2025. This pledge was later downgraded to just 85 per cent of premises in the UK, although MPs have questioned whether even this target is plausible considering the speed of the rollout.
Towns and cities continue to benefit from faster download and upload speed compared to rural areas, while those places with the best fixed broadband coverage tend also to have the best mobile coverage, the report finds.
Cllr Mark Hawthorne, digital connectivity spokesperson for the LGA, said: “The government has pledged to give every home and business access to the fastest possible broadband, but this report demonstrates the digital divide is still holding some back in the broadband slow lane.
“We need a complete refresh of the current digital inclusion strategy, which is nearly a decade old, with a minister in charge to oversee it and make sure no one is left behind.
“Reliable access to high-quality fixed and mobile broadband means that you can boost your skills, grow a business and enhance your job prospects, while also playing a vital role in reducing social isolation by keeping people in touch with family and friends.
“Councils want to make sure that, no matter which part of the country you live in or your circumstances, everyone can experience the transformational benefits that fast internet access can bring.”
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