Digital divide between rural and urban area is growing

A new study has been published by the mobile operator, Vodaphone UK, which reveals the gap between urban and rural areas is growing when it comes to reliable connectivity.

The report, ‘Connecting the Countryside’ was commissioned by Vodafone UK with analysis carried out by WPI Economics. It found nearly half (46%) of rural deprived areas are classed as 5G not spots, whereas the same can only be said for 2.7% of urban, deprived communities.

The study also identified five areas of Britain as performing particularly poorly when it comes to a lack of connectivity and high levels of deprivation – Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, Cumbria and the South-West. 

The report found that 838,000 people living in deprived rural areas are losing out on the benefits that 5G could provide, including better access to healthcare and more educational opportunities. It goes onto say that “improved connectivity, through investment in digital infrastructure, will help these communities not only today, but also tomorrow as those living in not spots simply won’t learn the digital skills they need for the future.”

Many rural MPs took to Twitter following the publication of the report to highlight the situation in their constituency:

Meanwhile, the government’s Rural Connectivity Champion, Simon Fell (Con, Barrow and Furness) said: “New research published today lays bare the challenge we face to bring connectivity to our most deprived rural communities to match the rest of the country, and to ensure that millions of people are not left out from the future innovations that 5G can provide. We need to deliver ‘nationwide coverage of standalone 5G to all populated areas by 2030, ensuring that we can bring its full benefits to villages and rural communities well beyond cities and towns’ as set out in the Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. Some of these innovations are already a reality, and simply need connectivity as the final piece of the puzzle.”

RSN Chief Executive, Kerry Booth, has welcomed the report and Vodaphone’s commitment to improving the service but says it is all taking too long:

“When urban areas lose connectivity, even for a few minutes, everything grinds to a halt. Imagine living like that all the time.  This is the reality for many rural communities. 

“Last month Vodaphone UK, Three UK and Virgin Media O2 asked the government for more time to complete the Shared Rural Network.  Their first target was 88% of the country receiving 4G coverage by June 2024.  The operators have all said they can’t meet that, but they will achieve 95% by the end of January 2027.  That’s at least another 1174 days for rural communities to suffer poor connectivity.  3 years, 2 months and 17 days to put it another way.  A study carried out by an IT company specialising in this area found that workers are losing 38 hours a year to slow internet which is around £494 worth of productivity.  Those are general figures across the UK so imagine what they would look like for rural areas alone.

“It is unacceptable that rural communities are being left behind.”

You can read the report in full here.


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