UK’s digital divide fixed with innovation

Rural regions across the UK are largely disadvantaged by the digital divide - a result of the areas being too scantily populated to justify the costs of major internet service providers expanding their telecommunication networks to meet and support people living in those areas.

An analyst at Analysys Mason telecoms consulting firm, Matt Yardley, stated: “It’s simply a question of cost. Government could decide to do 100 per cent but it would be very expensive at the margin,” further noting that rural homes were more likely to be connected via satellite instead of full fibre cables.

The connectivity is so poor that it is insufficient to even stream a video, let alone support economic development and commercial businesses. The former head of the British Medical Association in Wales, Dr Philip Banfield, admitted that the e-commerce business that he and wife wanted to begin in Abergele, Debighshire, was let down by the incredibly slow internet speeds in the region.

The digital divide, however, has forced rural residents to take matters into their own hands by finding efficient and affordable solutions to their problems, without waiting for the support of major ISPs to kick in.

In Lancashire, through the B4LN project, residents in some communities have taken the initiative to dig their own trenches to lay new cables ahead of waiting for companies to invest in those areas. Similarly, in Tremeirchion, transmitters have been attached to the top of wind turbines to connect it to other antennas within a 79-mile region, bringing decent-quality internet to some of the most rural and coastal parts of the UK for the first time ever.

The UK’s telecommunications watchdog, Ofcom, revealed that roughly 619,000 homes in the country are unable to access even 10Mbps - the required amount to stream a video - with 110,000 of those costing too much to upgrade, despite the Government’s Universal Service Obligation initiative.

However, should residents in rural areas be innovative in their solutions, the digital divide can be slowly but surely closed. Not only did Dr Banfield say that he could stream movies and television shows, but he could also monitor the heart rate of newborns at the hospital 7 miles away from his home - the real benefit of bridging the gap.