They promised us a world connected like never before but for those living outside the major cities of the UK, the dream of a fast, reliable broadband connection can be more of a nightmare.

A tale of two cities… and many villages

While residents in cities like London, Manchester, and Birmingham enjoy lightning-fast broadband speeds, often surpassing 100Mbps, many smaller towns, villages, and rural areas find themselves battling with connections that are sometimes slower than the old dial-up systems of the 1990s.

Why the Disconnect?

There are several reasons behind this gaping disparity:

Infrastructure: Laying down fibre-optic cables – which are necessary for high-speed broadband – in rural areas can be more expensive and complex than in densely populated cities. The cost per household is higher, making it a less appealing investment for broadband companies.

Return on investment: With fewer potential customers in sparsely populated areas, telecom companies often delay or even forgo upgrades to these regions.

Geography: The UK’s varied landscape, with its hills, dales, and rugged terrains, can make physical installation of broadband infrastructure particularly challenging.

The Emotional Toll

For those living outside the big cities, it can get frustrating pretty quickly:

Work: In an era where remote work has become more common, not having a reliable internet connection can seriously hamper productivity and opportunities. Add to that the cost of travel and it’s not really a choice for many in rural or semi-rural areas:-(

Education: Children and students require stable internet connections for online learning, research, and submitting assignments. Around exam time, access to servers can feel inequitable when limited bandwidth is being shared by many.

Social Connections: In a time where virtual hangouts and online meetings are the norm, a slow or non-existent broadband connection can lead to feelings of isolation. This is particularly acute for older citizens.

It’s not just about missed opportunities. There’s a real emotional toll when one feels left behind in a world that everybody else seems to access with no trouble. The anger of paying for a service that doesn’t deliver, the exasperation of endless buffering circles while trying to download a large file or the distress of a dropped video call with a loved one can be intensely aggravating.

The Way Forward

It’s definitely grim, but there may be some small signs of hope. The UK government has set ambitious targets for nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025. Initiatives such as the Universal Service Obligation (USO) aim to ensure that everyone in the UK has the right to request a broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10Mbps. But, as many argue, in a rapidly advancing digital age, is 10Mbps really enough? That, and Ofcom hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory so you’d be forgiven for showing a little scepticism.

Community-led broadband schemes, where residents come together to fund and build their own broadband infrastructure, are another growing trend. These projects often involve collaboration with smaller ISPs that specialise in serving rural areas. It’s worth taking a look at the pages on the topic.

It’s crucial non-city dwellers are not left in the dark. With the right investment, attention, and community-driven initiatives, we can hope to see the gap close in the near future, bringing the entire UK into the digital age together.

Others organising for change in rural communities:

ACRE is a national charity speaking up for and supporting rural communities. We work to create thriving, inclusive and sustainable rural communities which are economically active and have the services they need. We believe no one should be disadvantaged because of where they live.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy examines the role of community organisations in supporting rural economies, followed by a discussion on the provision of educational opportunities for young people in rural communities.

Below the Radar: Rural community organising In January 2014, TSRC’s below the radar research project held a special conference in Retford, in the East Midlands, to look at the current state of rural community organising.