Rural broadband: what are the options?

neil hawkins
By Neil Hawkins

rural broadband

AROUND a quarter of rural premises in the UK - almost one million - are unable of getting broadband of at least 10Mb, with almost 250,000 premises unable to get even 2Mb.

In this guide, we look at the options for those struggling to get things done online, or even get online at all, because they live away from a town or city.

Rural broadband: the options

The problem with rural broadband isn't always that there's a lack of ways but that so many are inadequate.

In rural communities, broadband deals through a phone line, 3G/4G or satellite are usually slower and more restrictive than their equivalents in towns and cities, and they're almost always more expensive.

It is possible to bypass the system, and many communities are choosing to do just that - often ending up with some of the UK's fastest connections as a result.

We'll take a look at some of those projects in the last section, but because they take time, money and serious dedication we'll start by looking at the options available for most homes.

Fixed-line broadband: ADSL and fibre

The universal service provider in the UK is BT. If we can get a BT telephone line, we should be able to get ADSL broadband and, as a result of the push to make superfast broadband available to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017, an increasing number of rural areas are now covered by BT's fibre network.

The best way to tell what's available in a particular area is to use our postcode and phone number checker. We cover most of the options it's likely to bring up in the different sections below.

Phone number:
Postcode:
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.

'Real rural' deals: non-LLU

If the search returned deals like Plusnet "high cost area", it's because we're in one of the 10.2% of premises (business and households) in the UK served by a non-LLU exchange.

In Local Loop Unbundled (LLU or, more simply, unbundled) exchanges, companies put their own money and technical gear into a BT exchange, releasing them from relying on BT to administer their broadband and phone lines. This boosts competition by increasing choice and quality and decreasing prices.

At non-LLU exchanges, all the ISPs are offering BT wholesale. They all (except BT and John Lewis) charge more than they would for standard deals and, because the connections are poor (in broadband vs pigeon races in these areas, the pigeons win) they'll often impose data limits.

So although there are differences between the providers and the packages they offer, the options aren't great. Many homes in this situation adopt some of the other options below.

'Standard' (but slow) broadband

As other providers have gradually advanced into formerly uncompetitive areas, more rural users have benefited - to a degree - from being served by a now unbundled exchange: while they have more choice of provider, they still face slow speeds.

Rural households are very likely to be physically far from the exchange, and, since the signal decays with distance, connections can be just a fraction of the advertised speeds.

However, because the providers are using their own equipment, our choice of ISP can make a difference to the speeds we can get, which can make it worth shopping around. Take a look at our speed guide to learn more.

Rural fibre

BT's fibre broadband is increasingly available in the countryside - at the end of 2016, Ofcom said 59% of rural premises had access to a superfast connection, up from 44% a year previously.

We've come a long way since BT's original 2011 Race to Infinity competition to bring superfast broadband to certain villages, although much of the expansion has relied on BT as they won all of the Phase One BDUK contracts, a decision that was met with considerable criticism.

Fibre is much better at covering long distances without loss of signal so it does offer a good option for rural users, although as in most areas the signal is still carried on a copper line over the final stretch, speeds are slower.

In 2016, Ofcom found that the average national download speed achieved with fibre broadband was 74Mb, thanks in part to the availability of 100Mb+ connections in urban areas. In rural areas however, customers more than 300 metres from their nearest fibre cabinet can expect speeds of less than half the supposed maximum.

Reaching the last 5%
Rural broadband lagging behind

Openreach maintain a map of where they're working on installing fibre, and where they're planning to go next - available here - although they have been criticised in the past for failing to accurately revise dates when a project is delayed.

Mobile broadband: 3G and 4G

For those that can't get a BT phone line or find ADSL inadequate, mobile broadband is increasingly becoming a viable options.

4G speeds are better than the fixed line performance most rural users can expect and trials and expanded coverage means that the service is increasingly available outside of town and cities.

Unsurprisingly, the big problem for rural areas is signal quality.

As well as checking coverage maps from the individual providers, it's worth taking a look at the signal checkers from Ofcom and sites like OpenSignal for a wider perspective and rough point of comparison between providers.

Where the mobile signal is weak, femtocells can help. These are basically small modems that route 3G signals through a weak home broadband line to boost the strength of the mobile data connection. Two networks offer these: Vodafone (Sure Signal) and Three (Home Signal, reviewed here).

Using femtocells to boost mobile broadband signal where a fixed line signal is slow or unreliable can feel a little like a case of chicken and egg, however, as they require at least a 1Mb home broadband connection to work.

Mobile broadband reviews
EE: our guide
O2: in detail
Three reviewed
Vodafone: need to know

3G and 4G are more expensive per GB than home broadband, though the good news is that high usage deals (EE now offer up to 50GB a month) are increasingly available.

For more in depth information on mobile broadband, check out our full guide here, or click on the reviews of each of the main networks to find out more about their plans and devices.

Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband has been floating around the edges of the UK broadband market for a several years now, but until recently it was held back from becoming more popular because of its high start-up costs and fairly low speeds and download allowances.

The satellite providers have done their part, increasing speeds and offering a range of packages: Tooway satellite broadband (reviewed here) starts at £14.95 a month for 2GB of data a month and goes up to £84.95 a month for 100GB of usage a month plus unlimited use at night.

The entry level package only offers a connection of up to 5Mb, but other packages offer speeds of up to 22Mb downstream and 6Mb for uploads - all of which are better than the speeds very rural households can expect from a fixed line.

Recognising that it's the quickest way to get those in the most rural locations up and running with a decent broadband connection, the UK Government now run a voucher scheme to help cover setup costs for those in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland; the Welsh Government offer grants of at least £400 for those who can't get superfast broadband any other way.

Community broadband projects

So far we've concentrated solely on the options for individual households in rural areas to improve their broadband.

But community broadband projects are working with small ISPs (altnets) to bypass the system rather than working within it or lobbying established providers for access in order to bring better internet access to whole villages.

Demanding FTTC and FTTP

After selling it for a short while from March 2013,BT stopped offering individual Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) connections on demand - except in the case of more rural communities where even fibre to the cabinet might not help deliver decent speeds.

Communities need to be willing to enter a co-funding arrangement, where BT covers the standard commercial costs and the community themselves make up any additional funding.

Some have been happy or able to meet those extra costs themselves, while others have had help from their local authorities or regional Superfast groups.

One such community is the Staffordshire village of Cotwalton near Stone, where connecting the 13 properties to BT's FTTP network would have cost each household between £2,000 and £4,000; having secured a three-way funding deal with BDUK's Superfast Staffordshire and BT, they've brought that down to around £1,100 per household.

Others have been happy to work with BT to get a fibre cabinet installed close enough that they can get close to the advertised FTTC speeds.

Since early 2016, Virgin Media have been taking applications from more rural communities via their Cable My Street scheme, using a balance of demand and proximity to their existing network to gauge where they can realistically extend their cable services.

So far around 40 smaller communities, including some made up of multiple villages, have been included.

Further back, Three's Rural Broadband Working Group also provided 11 communities with free 3G access in August 2011.

Using an altnet to get connected

Other villages have chosen to bypass BT altogether and ask a private company to install a local network.

That can take the form of a high-speed wi-fi network - so the company will lay a fibre line to a transmitter on a high point like a public building and then subscribers in the local area buy their own aerials to pick up the signal - or a fixed line fibre network.

In Ashby de la Launde, Lincolnshire, for example, wi-fi has provided up to 70Mb broadband speeds and the Broadband for Rural North (B4RN) fibre project has bought 1Gb speeds to several villages in rural Lancashire.

Some communities have used a combination of both to get themselves connected, moving from one network to the other over time.

One such community is the village of Wray in Lancashire. They first got online in 2003 using a wi-fi network provided by researchers from the University of Lancashire.

That network was upgraded in 2010, allowing for new research and connections - but in 2011 they started working with B4RN to get full fibre installed in the village.

Most households now have symmetrical up to 1Gb connections.

For a look at five more of the UK's superfast villages and how they did it see this full guide.

Comments

1
20 September 2017
Sean

I live in a small village in Staffordshire, I get 0.5mb/s at the best of times. Our exchange box is FTTC and in the neighbouring village, the other lanes in our village can get super fast broadband. Does anyone know why we can't? If the cabinet is fibre enabled and the other lanes in the village can get it... Is it not just a case of allowing us to access it?

2
19 May 2017
GiveMeABreak

We live in rural Wales and are unable to get basic broadband (256k, and that was with a laptop hanging out of the loft - so not really viable) and have been waiting for the roll-out of Fibre To The Premises (FTTP), which has been delayed for years. The engineering work has now finally been completed this week and orders are being accepted. However, it now seems that suppliers are extremely limited for the FTTP service. Apart from BT themselves, there are some other independents such as: 4Com Ltd, Andrews and Arnold, Entanet and Zen Internet. All of these are quite expensive, so after our initial 12 month contract with BT Retail Infinity 1 we have placed expires, the prices will increase significantly, with little or no choice as there is just no competition.

How can BT have such a monopoly on the service? Despite the Superfast Broadband Wales project being subsidised by the Welsh Government, I understand BT are dismayed at the seriously low take-up of fibre by customers. Is it any wonder? It is too expensive for most home users, who may have access to normal broadband. We currently have community WiFi which is relatively expensive at £25 a month for a 5 Mb download / upload. This does not of course include any line rental, so add that on and you are £40-50 a month for a 5Mb broadband connection and telephone service with basic call package.

So now we have FTTP, we have gone from one extreme to the other, but in doing so, there will be no real competition as none of the big providers like PlusNet, TalkTalk or Sky can provide the FTTP service - even though we have all the connections to the house already.

3
19 May 2017
GiveMeABreak

"... Unable of getting..." - Really, come on!

4
3 May 2016
clivegsd

"If you can get a BT telephone line, you can get ADSL broadband"<--- Err no, sorry you can't. I live on a main road that stretches from Cumbria to North Yorkshire, almost in the middle of two superfast broadband exchanges, I have a BT line, no broadband, not a sausage. We have to pay a horrendous amount for capped broadband. Any alternative is bloody expensive.

If BT/Openreach cannot supply broadband through their own lines then they should subsidise any homes that want broadband.

The assisted schemes that help you finance the set up are a con from what I've experienced, Connecting Cumbria are trying their hardest to avoid paying out.

There shouldn't be any 'not spots' in this country.

5
16 March 2016
Jane

Check out the 4G Antenna Shop, they are resellers of T-mobile and have the equipment to get faster internet access to rural areas through modems and antennas. The prices are great as well.
<a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2F4gas.online%3A6BrOUHQTe-88pIoX6CHrI6RmduA&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="4gas.online">4gas.online</a>

6
16 July 2015
Jon Hammond

We use <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.PineMedia.net%3AmymiFWqxBUjg-Q2uLnenoXy3qGY&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="www.PineMedia.net">www.PineMedia.net</a> in Yorkshire who have been great, finally very good speeds and no data limits (we were using satellite before)

7
14 March 2015
Eliza Jones

We live in an area that is not 'rural'. And not town or city. The surrounding towns and villages have fast broadband, new build in the village has fibre optic provision but we have 1Mb at most. Is there any way to get BT to increase provision? Or is there anything that we could do privately?

The problem is that it is a very mixed picture within the village as there are only a few of us who seem to have this problem.

Any help gratefully received.

8
31 January 2015
vangleen

Hi, I was reading the above and I live in a rural area. BT said they could supply me with BT Infinity as there has been new exchange boxes put in the village close by. Before this I was with 3 hotspot which worked great until the one plan came to an end, so I decided for broadband. I tried Sky first and got connected through adsl for about 10 days until a fault came on the line or someone else's line fault was fixed and since then I have had no broadband at all. Sky said they could not give me the service so I tried BT. First I tried the BT telephone number checker and it said that I could get infinity so I ordered it, first connection date 10/11/14, nothing happened. I was then told by BT I could get broadband through adsl so I said OK. Second connection 17/11/14, again nothing. Third option get a second line in as they said I was too far away from the exchange so they connected me to one of the new exchanges in the village. Hooray I thought, not for long. Oh yes, I nearly forgot I was getting this second line installed for free just to get my internet sorted out so now I have 2 telephone lines, 1 openreach telephone socket my old no is ringing into the exchange and the other one which is the new one is in the house and still no internet, unbelievable.
So now it's coming up on 3 months later I have cancelled an account placed an order for a new account all done without my knowledge first I knew about doing any of this was getting an email from BT.
Received another call from BT telling me I was due an upgrade on my broadband and now I have another connection date for the 9/2/15 and the lady said I could get up to 2Mb speed which I really not impressed with at this stage of it, all I was going to go satellite but unable to do anything because BT is just messing around with me.
I know that when they say 2Mb it's not even going to be close. I did have broadband here about 3 years ago through Orange and I was only getting 0.005 or something like that. I do know we couldn't watch Youtube or download a book unless you could wait for a week. My neighbours are with BT on the same line and they say it's useless so I have 14 days to cancel this order. Anyone have any suggestions?

9
20 November 2014
Alex B

I work for a business down here in East Kent, we supply WiMAX Broadband which works a treat for rural areas. How come you didn't mention that as an option?

29 December 2015
James

Alex what's the business called I would like to know more as I live in Kent as well, many thanks.

31 December 2015
Alex

Hi, it's Clear Picture Services Ltd. We are based in Margate. Thanks.

10
7 August 2014
Noeleen

Hi, I live in a not so remove area of Scotland (6 miles from the nearest village) and just over an hour from Edinburgh and Glasgow. We recently got the phone line installed and tried to get the internet through BT. We have been unsuccessful as we are in the middle of 2 exchanges but 11 miles from each and apparently they just reach up to 10 miles, very frustrating! All the providers tell us that they can provide it but realistically they can't. Does anybody have any recommendations regarding Satellite and if it is worth the money? Are there any grants in Scotland? Like others this is seriously effecting our jobs as I had to give up on a working from home contract and my partner is self employed who really needs to use the Internet to advertise. Many thanks, Noeleen.

28 September 2014
annewareham

Satellite is non competitive - doesn't matter which you use. They are all incredibly expensive.

8 December 2014
Alan Cooper

Just ordered Sat for the Yacht Club, no more than BT business broadband which hangs up 5 x a day. Please do not tell me to contact 'support'.

23 December 2014
Mike

I have Sat from TooWay. Was awesome for 3 months. Now the so called unlimited package is capped right down. Only get full speed 1am to 6am. Any other time can't even watch a youtube video. A real con!

11
30 September 2013
Ralph

When I moved to a rural location in March I had to agree to a new BT contract where they offered min 1Mbps - guess what, it was! Barely 1Mbps at router, significantly less at wireless devices, constantly dropping the connection etc, so frustrating and basically not fit for purpose. In their wisdom to win my loyalty I am being held hostage to pay the contract payments until next March as I agreed to it.

I installed the Tooway satellite broadband system in the summer, not too difficult to set up with the kit. Has been great so far - receiving min 12Mbps. Would definitely recommend it to anyone else in a rural location. It is a bit more expensive but after spending one hour trying to use 1Mbps you would pay anything, just a shame the receiver is coloured bright white.

28 September 2014
annewareham

You can paint the dish. Are we the only people feeling ripped off by satellite charges and irregular speeds?

20 June 2015
Sean Jones

No, you're not alone at all.

1 May 2015
Fred G

We cancelled our satellite service. It was so slow during peak periods i.e. 4pm - 11pm, that it was a complete waste of money. Ok for middle of the night, otherwise we couldn't even stream YouTube videos.
Don't waste your time with this solution

12
26 June 2013
chris Wright

Just outside Penrith in Cumbria. Three give me 13-18Mbs speeds. Absolutely no complaints and it isn't even 4G! No landline, killed that two years ago, free mobile calls using Is Apps to anywhere in the world and costs less than Sky and so much faster.

13
19 June 2013
Steve Morris

We built a house in a small village, (Barnby in the willows, near Newark. Notts) and have had BT broadband for almost 2 years. Not a great speed at 0.5Mb but at least it is broadband. Something's gone wrong in the last week and after 4 hours of being on hold and engineers investigating the problem, BT have just turned round and said that they can no longer provide us with broadband! What's that all about? Even though we use their landline. They even said that we won't incur a penalty for cancelling before our contract is up! Any ideas please? Thanks.

22 August 2014
mrwirez

.5 Mb/s is not broadband. It's Dial-up Plus.

21 November 2014
Roger PhotoSkillz Skillin

That's incorrect, back in the days when broadband first started in the UK, I started on a 250Kb broadband connection so .5Mb or 500Kb is broadband.

31 January 2015
vangleen

Yep I agree I only got .5Mb if I was lucky and that's quite a while ago.

14
7 April 2013
john inglis

Why do you have different prices for different areas of the country for broadband?

7 April 2013
Choose team

Some ISPs use geographical pricing, which means they pass on the savings they make from providing broadband in the most competitive areas. People living in well served areas can then be offered cheaper prices with the same ISP than people living in areas where only BT is operating in the local exchange.

15
15 March 2013
Gaz

We live in a newly renovated old pub property within a newly developed complex in which the developer failed to install any phone lines and has since washed his hands of the site completely. We bought the house whilst the site was still under development and despite reassurances from the conniving developer at the time we have been left without.

BT are asking for roughly &pound;4k to install a line to our property.

Unfortunately for us, 3G is next to useless as we live in an old stone pub which more or less blocks signal completely and satellite is too expensive.

Does anyone know if we can challenge this in anyway? I'm an I.T engineer and I really need a reliable connection at home to do my job properly. I found this statement on Wiki:

"The right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband, is the view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to Freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights, that states have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available, and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individuals access to the Internet. Internet access is recognized as a right by the laws of several countries.[1]"

Roughly translated, does this mean we are entitled to a phone line for broadband at our property or is that wishful thinking. Is this ever likely to be a law in the future? i.e as necessary as gas, water and electric?

This is also bothering me from a resale point of view... how much value has my property lost because of this... (rhetorical question)

The biggest frustration is we are literally feet away from other properties that have phone lines/cable etc...

26 September 2013
MJC

I had a similar situation a long time back, BT quoted &pound;7.5k for a line. At that time I discovered they had an obligation to do 100 hours work within the standard connection charge, and could then bill the hours per line on top at &pound;75 per hour. I ordered 10 lines and got 1000 free hours work, then cancelled the lines I didn't need.

2 May 2014
TK

This is a brilliant move... our local exchange just went to Infinity, but our village doesn't have a "box" so we can't get Infinity. Maybe we should get our entire village of 80 properties to order 5-10 lines each, then it will be cheaper for BT to install a box than run 800 lines 2 miles to the exchange! (still expensive for us though as I recall connection is around &pound;125?)
Could you send me the URL to the webpage where this commitment is stated please?

16
10 January 2013
G Cox

This article is way off on rural tethering.

All the negative vibes around stopped me trying.

Today I jumped from 1Mb on BT ADSL to 5Mb on mobile broadband to my astonishment.

10 January 2013
Choose team

Hi,

We apologise if we've been a little pessimistic about mobile broadband speeds in rural areas. We'll certainly consider our wording when we next update this article.

We do appreciate mobile broadband is an option for people in rural areas though and that's why we've included it in the article above. However, we think it's still fair to say for the majority of people living away from major cities, like mobile phone signals, mobile broadband signals just aren't going to be that strong.

A good rule of thumb is if mobile phone signals tend be weak or patchy in an area, it's unlikely mobile broadband will be any different, as it uses the mobile phone network. However, it does depend on the provider - different networks offer different levels of coverage in different areas. Where one provider may have a weak signal, another provider may offer a stronger signal.

Clearly, as you've highlighted, poor mobile broadband coverage is not the case for everyone living in the countryside and we certainly think mobile broadband is an avenue worth looking into.

As we mention above, it's always worth checking out mobile broadband signal in your area using a coverage site such as OpenSignal maps, or the coverage maps of each provider themselves. It's the best way to get an idea without spending money to find out.

Equally, a member of the Choose team has personal experience of using O2 mobile broadband in the countryside, and when purchasing the dongle the O2 staff checked coverage and advised against buying it due to low signal, but desperate to get online they tried anyway and it did provide a slow but just-about usable connection.

17
4 November 2012
Tony Gill

Bempton in East Yorkshire we are on the Flamborough exchange and BT are letting us down badly by not upgrading the exchange and Bridlington which is only 4 miles away has super fast broadband and we only get between 1 to 2Mb if we are very lucky. Still have to pay the same price for the privilege, we don't want to pay less just get us better connection speeds. PLEASE.

18
24 September 2012
Alex

Had 300Kbps broadband since 2003. Tried satellite broadband which was rubbish. Too expensive and a tiny data allowance. The best solution for us was a mobile phone contract on the one plan including tethering and all you can eat data. It's on the Three network.

We get a good HSPA+ signal using a signal booster aerial.

Like the above comment said, why all the wasted money on cables everywhere. The future surely is wireless with 4G round the corner. We get 10Mbps now.

23 January 2014
Tgirl4me

Hi Alex, I contacted Three today and asked for a signal booster but they wouldn't give it to me except I install a wireless broadband in my house as they said it feeds off the broadband. But I have an all in one plan and unlimited internet with 3 network, like yourself? What do I need to say to them to give me the 'signal booster'? Wireless networks are rubbish where I live (in the rural area) as well. Cheers.

28 September 2015
Tony Stevens

The signal booster you refer to takes the mobile phone signal, and sends it down your broadband internet line. A signal boosting aerial is basically a bigger aerial than the one built into your mobile device. You almost always have to buy those separately.

19
1 September 2012
Anthony Ballisat

People living in the sticks will never have a good broadband service if we have to wait for BT to provide it. It would have been far quicker and fairer if the pre-digital TV transmitters had been used it would give both city and country an equal service. The Belmont transmitter prior to its decapitation would have covered a large area, saving the need for miles of trenches and cables.


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