Western Morning News

‘Slow broadband holds back working at home’

- MARTIN FREEMAN martin.freeman@reachplc.com

THE SOUTH West has some of the worst broadband speeds in the UK, potentiall­y hampering people trying to work from home during the lockdown, according to a new study.

Three districts in Devon are among the 12 locations with the slowest speeds, the research shows.

Average download speeds in Mid Devon are 21Mbps, the third-worst in the nation. Home workers in West Devon can expect an average of 23.1Mbps, the fifth-slowest, and those in North Devon are typically 24.3Mbps, 11th in the bottom dozen in the UK.

That contrasts with the London borough of Wandsworth, with an average speed of 95.1Mbps – the best in the UK. Also in the capital, Southwark takes second place (92.0Mbps), while Hull is third (73.4Mbps), the top location outside London.

In terms of value for money, all three Devon districts fare badly – the average monthly cost per 1Mbps is £1.42 in Mid Devon, while that in Wandsworth is typically just 33p, according to the estate agency comparison site getagent.co.uk, using data from Think Broadband and Numbeo.

While high speeds at home might seem a luxury in normal times, they are a vital tool for workers trying to make video calls online.

Graham Long, a Devon broadband campaigner and ex-industry expert, laid much of the blame on a publicly funded project that is years behind schedule.

“If Connecting Devon and Somerset had done their job properly and spent the £27 million they were allocated eight years ago we would not be in this situation now,” said Mr Long, a parish councillor in East Devon who advises the Blackdown Hills network of 38 of the lowest-tier authoritie­s across four district council areas, including Mid Devon.

Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), led by the two county councils, has had a series of setbacks, that began with trying to set up agreements with contractor­s. Last autumn contracts with Gigaclear were ended after the contractor failed to hit targets. CDS is now in the process of finding new contractor­s.

A CDS spokespers­on said: “CDS has already delivered superfast broadband access to over 300,000 homes and businesses – which is more than any other broadband programme in England.

“We have worked closely with the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency to launch a new procuremen­t process to identify new provider(s) to bring the benefits of faster broadband to more people and businesses in the region.

“CDS-funded contracts with Airband are progressin­g well, having delivered superfast broadband access to over 12,000 homes and businesses in north and West Devon so far, as well as a further 5,000 hard to reach properties in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks.

“We are preparing to launch a new collaborat­ion with Openreach to extend coverage in rural areas across Devon and Somerset thanks to the Government’s gainshare agreement, we are liaising with local communitie­s on our Community Challenge Funding and we are also working with BDUK on national broadband voucher schemes.”

Colby Short, founder and chief executive of GetAgent, said the coronaviru­s emergency highlighte­d the importance of high broadband speeds at home.

“What we’re seeing right now is pretty unpreceden­ted and while the modern age has seen us lean more towards flexible and fluid working solutions to suit an evolving workplace, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the nation as a whole be largely run from the comfort of our front rooms,” he said. “While we are a property company primarily, like almost every other business across the UK broadband is a vital commodity that allows us to function day to day and has enabled us to make the necessary adjustment­s to carry on as normal operationa­lly, albeit remotely.”

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