A digital postcode lottery has been exposed for thousands of rural residents and businesses in the East of England amid the Covid-19 pandemic, new research by Essex based County Broadband has revealed, prompting fresh calls to overhaul the region’s outdated digital infrastructure.
The survey* found over half (59%) of residents in East Anglia are frustrated with slow speeds and poor reliability of their broadband with three-quarters (76%) saying they need better internet connectivity. Of these, 60% admitted they need an infrastructure upgrade within two years.
The latest research also revealed 14% have been unable to use Zoom and other video calling services to stay in touch with family and friends during the pandemic due to poor broadband. Meanwhile, one in seven (15%) have experienced disruption to work or loss of business.
The findings were released as part of Get Online Week (19 – 25 October), a national initiative to tackle the industry skills gap with a focus on digital inclusion. The week aims to provide help and support to those who need to improve their digital skills.
“Put simply, lockdown has painfully exposed large areas of poor digital connectivity in the East of England, especially in rural communities,” said Lloyd Felton, chief executive of County Broadband, based in Aldham, near Colchester, which is building full-fibre broadband networks across the region.
“From virtual events to cloud sharing, workers have tried to embrace digital platforms to maintain ‘business as usual’, whilst residents have turned to Zoom to stay connected with quizzes and catch-ups, but are too often held back through no fault of their own by poor digital infrastructure.
“Even if you are lucky enough to escape interruptions whilst video calling colleagues’ or loved ones, it’s likely they will be suffering from slower connection speeds, meaning calls will be open to dropouts and buffering, which creates a digital postcode lottery where there are simply no winners. We’re spearheading efforts in the region to fix this with our future-ready network.”
David Burch, director of policy at the Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: “The move to many people working from home caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the importance of having first class, and ideally full fibre, broadband connectivity installed as widely as possible.
“It has at times been considered almost a luxury but businesses will increasingly regard it as a necessity in the future. If we are to continue to develop our local economies we need to see more initiatives such as this from County Broadband and we very much welcome what they are doing to support both businesses and residents across East Anglia.”
To support the region’s connectivity, County Broadband is building new Hyperfast full-fibre networks in over 120 rural and remote villages across East Anglia with plans to connect 20,000 premises by Christmas. This follows a £46 million private investment from Aviva Investors.
Residents and businesses can visit http://www.countybroadband.co.uk and enter their postcode to see if the network is available in their area.