Slow broadband is leading to rural depopulation

The link with below-par broadband might not seem obvious, but it’s causing concern at the highest levels of Government

Monday, 28 February, 2022

For centuries, the competing merits of town and country have pulled segments of the population around our green and pleasant land.

In recent years, we’ve seen the pandemic and resultant changes in working patterns leading to suburban flight from the big cities.

Yet at the same time, a link is emerging between slow broadband and rural depopulation, especially among younger residents.

But could getting a fast broadband connection really be a key driver in determining whether you live in a rural or urban area?

Studying the data

A survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the countryside charity CPRE recently reported that only two in five young rural residents planned to be there in five years’ time.

Among the people planning to leave, a lack of affordable housing and the risks of isolation were the two biggest concerns.

Another recurring theme was the issue of slow broadband, with dependable connectivity almost as important as the three primary domestic utilities of gas, electricity and water.

“Broadband in the countryside has been treated as an afterthought for too long”, says the CPRE’s chief executive Crispin Truman. And the figures certainly back up his assertion.

As we reported back in 2020, of the UK’s 650 Parliamentary constituencies, the fastest average connections are invariably in cities like Belfast and Leeds.

The lowest average connections are all in rural regions – Rhondda, Argyll, Mid Ulster. And there are good reasons why.

When a full fibre broadband company cables a hundred yards of urban street, they’re running connections past dozens of houses.

If that street is lined with flats, they could potentially reach hundreds of homes.

And if the street is currently undergoing residential construction, it’s possible to pre-cable homes affordably and without causing significant disruption.

By contrast, cabling a hundred yards of rural lane might only pass a handful of properties. And to reach them, it could be necessary to run cables for stretches of unpopulated road.

It’s easy to see why this isn’t cost-effective for private companies who have shareholders, or newer industry arrivals reliant on deep-pocketed investors for every infrastructure project.

It’s also easy to see why the prospect of dependable high speed broadband could help attract someone from a poorly-connected rural property to a fibre-equipped home in the smoke.

That’s before you consider the other advantages of urban living – vibrant nightlife, superior transport links and an endless array of coffee shops and cafés.

Making the most of it

If you’re reading this article on a sluggish rural ADSL connection, enviously looking at the broadband speeds offered in urban regions, there are options at your disposal.

We’ve previously written about the hugely popular Community Fibre Partnership scheme, which allows rural residents to band together and get funding for high-speed fibre broadband.

A backlog of ongoing projects has temporarily paused new applications to the scheme, but more will be accepted in the near future.

Satellite broadband is rapidly growing in both popularity and availability, as projects including the UK’s own OneWeb take shape.

Another option is mobile broadband across the 4G network. With many major cities not in receipt of 5G connectivity yet, performance is modest but generally dependable.

Finally, there are plenty of ways to optimise connectivity while working from home in a rural region, including hardwiring desktop computers, conducting overnight uploads and compressing files.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!