A Tale of Two Issues – People & Pipes

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.



3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Issues – People & Pipes

  1. Helen – do you actually know what you call ‘pipes’ are? It’s connectivity to cabinets and exchanges which are distance related that affects the speed.

  2. I think these statistics are showing quite clearly that the internet is a lot more useful in rural areas. People can see the benefits and cost savings from un-needed journeys to libraries miles away and banks etc. It is vital to get the pipes to these people, as they need it more than urban ones and are ready for a faster more robust service than they are currently getting. Yup, the facts speak for themselves. But unfortunately it seems that to those who have, more will be given, and the digital divide grows ever wider.All it needs is for fibre to be run to the hardest to reach places, the people already know how to use the internet, the next bill gates or zuchenberg may be residing on a farm with dial up at this very moment… .. there is no point in spending public money to get BET to them, its a patched up expensive copper solution and is not futureproof, any money should be spent on getting an upgradeable path and it has to be symmetrical from the word go.Once the rural areas get fibre then market forces will do the rest. That is the area we should concentrate on in our quest for digital inclusion in a digital britain.chris

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