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7 Dec 2019

Election 2019: Broadband and 4G in the spotlight

Our analysis finds more than 200 constituencies have both poor broadband and mobile network service

Which? is calling on the next government to urgently act to improve inadequate mobile and internet connections, as new research reveals that people living in more than a third of constituency areas do not have access to decent 4G or broadband services.

Our analysis has found that 236 of the UK's 650 constituency areas are affected by both patchy 4G coverage and poor broadband services. We used the telecoms regulator Ofcom's data to check how many areas that have a high proportion of properties lacking access to reliable broadband are also affected by poor 4G mobile coverage.

The least-connected constituencies

Our research found that rural Scotland and Wales bore the brunt of poor broadband and substandard mobile coverage, but many constituencies, made up of mostly urban areas including parts of Canterbury, Macclesfield, Maidstone, Norfolk, Southampton, Surrey and York, were also affected.

Many seaside towns were also plagued by both substandard 4G and poor broadband, including Dover, Cleethorpes, Great Yarmouth, Scarborough and Whitby, and Totnes.

Differing access to 4G

Of the home nations, we found it was Scotland that had the lowest levels of access to 4G. The worst affected areas were all in parts of the Highlands and Islands electoral region with Na h-Eileanan an lar the worst overall at only 42% 4G coverage by the four main operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone). Broadband quality for the area was also relatively poor, with 81% having access to a decent broadband connection.

In Wales, Dwyfor Meirionnydd was the most poorly served. 4G coverage by all four operators was only available to 69% of the premises, while 91% of premises had access to a decent broadband connection.

Northern Ireland was particularly poorly served, with many urban areas experiencing levels of 4G coverage comparable with rural areas across the rest of the UK. Here, Newry and Armagh was worst hit, with access to 4G from all four operators limited to 82% of premises in the area, while a decent broadband connection was available to less than 92% of premises in the constituency.

Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat & SNP broadband pledges

Broadband has become a key issue in this election. The main parties are all competing over who can produce the most eye-catching proposal to entice voters.

The Conservative Party has pledged an investment of £5bn to cover the whole of the UK with 'gigabit-capable' broadband services by 2025.

It has promised to finalise a £1bn agreement with mobile phone operators to build new phone masts, improving mobile services in hard to reach areas. It has also committed to spend £5 billion on broadband, helping to reach those in the most remote areas.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has set out its broadband pledge, which includes a commitment to invest £20.3bn into rolling out 'full fibre' (FTTP) by 2030, nationalising Openreach (BT) and giving everyone access to free broadband.

The Liberal Democrats have promised to invest in mobile data infrastructure and expand it to cover all homes and install hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK.

The Scottish National Party has committed £600m on the rollout of 'superfast broadband' as well as calling for more investment from Westminster and a 'Shared Rural Network' to deliver 95% 4G mobile coverage in Scotland.

Which?'s consumer agenda

We believe that while broadband is playing a pivotal role in the election, a huge leap is needed to improve connectivity as a whole. The next government must also ensure that mobile coverage is brought up to the level consumers deserve.

We believe the next government should:

  • Set out an ambitious, joined-up strategy to deliver improved digital infrastructure, meeting the needs of people to be connected at home, at work and on the move.
  • Set clear connectivity targets for the UK, with a clear roadmap for how and when they will be delivered and clarity on how existing initiatives will interact and work alongside each other.
  • Improve 4G mobile coverage across the UK, ensuring consumers have access to a sufficient choice of operators, and addressing total and partial 'not-spots'.
  • Reduce the barriers to speedy and effective broadband rollout programmes, including a legal requirement for new-build homes to be built with gigabit-capable connections, and a communications strategy for consumer take-up.

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: 'For far too long, people have felt cut off and struggled to pay bills or receive important calls and messages because of poor mobile and broadband connections.

'The next government must finally deliver the strategy needed to connect the whole of the UK with the comprehensive digital infrastructure that communities urgently need, while ensuring that consumers have a choice of providers so that they can see real improvements.