I was very excited yesterday when I saw that Ofcom had published a great interactive map showing (among other things) availability of broadband in the UK. It meant that I could have a go at seeing what the relationship is between broadband availability and internet use.
A couple of weeks ago I published a slideshare presentation with the most up-to-date stats on internet use from ONS and Ofcom, and in here (slide 13) is the regional breakdown of internet use – that’s people who say they have ever used the internet. Internet use is about people using the internet as is broadband take-up which is people buying broadband going into their houses. Broadband availability is showing if there are any pipes going past their doors.
The benefit of the Ofcom map is that it is now at local administration level – with the exception of London which remains as a big blob at regional level.
So the highest regions for internet use (people) are London and the South East at 85.6% according to ONS. This is supported by the Ofcom broadband take-up data with Brighton and Hove having the highest take-up with 80% of people connected. Just look at the map (chose the radio button for broadband take-up) and you can see that London, the South East, and most of Southern “middle England” are all above average on broadband take-up.
However the punchline is that this data shows that the real story is that internet use is a much more complex issue than broadband availability. It’s a tale of two different issues: People AND Pipes.
Firstly, areas with “poor” broadband availability (less pipes) are still in mid to high table for internet use: Shetland Islands has 0% superfast broadband and 19.9% of the households have less than 2 Mbits/sec however they have a 71% take-up; Rutland has 0% superfast broadband availability and 22.1% at <2Mbits/sec but a high 74% take-up making it in the top 10% of areas for take-up in the UK. This story is about pipes, for these areas investment in infrastructure could make a difference to take-up, and almost certainly a high impact on the quality of the surfing experience.
Secondly, however, we have areas of the country such as the North East of England where ONS shows that only 77.3% of the people have ever used the internet and this story is now about people, non-use of the internet in these areas has little to do with infrastructure. For example, Middlesbrough has 91% availability of superfast broadband, only 9.6% of houses get <2Mbits/sec and yet only 58% of houses have taken-up broadband putting it in the lowest 10% in terms of take-up. This is very clearly seen in large parts of the bottom third of places regarding broadband take-up, lots of places with “good” broadband availability have the lowest take-up: Sandwell 55% of people use broadband, South Tyneside 57%, Stoke-on-Trent 58%, Barnsley 59%, Liverpool 59%. Here it’s not the infrastructure that is making the difference, this story is about people, persuading people of the benefits of the internet and supporting them to get the skills and confidence they need to use it.
So, it’s a tale of two very different issues: Cumbria has less pipes yet more people online, Hartlepool has more pipes and less people online. It’s clear that investment needs to continue to be in both building infrastructure and supporting people if we’re to have a truly connected nation.