Rob Berry worked on a research project investigating the resilience of agricultural production in England and Wales at a regional level.

One of the components of the agricultural resilience model was an indicator of ‘accessibility to information and markets’, for which Rob used as proxy rural broadband speeds. The dataset that Rob investigated for calculating this measure in each of the study regions (non-metropolitan counties and unitary authorities) was the 2015 Ofcom broadband data, which was collected for the 2015 Connected Nations Report. This was thought to be the latest and most comprehensive open data available on broadband speeds in the UK, though Ofcom are keen to point out that this data “should not be regarded as a definitive and fixed view of UK’s broadband infrastructure”, it being a snapshot of broadband speeds over a period of 1-2 months in 2015.

The data was aggregated to postcode level, which means that it can be joined to Ordnance Survey postcode boundary data to allow a geographical analysis and cartographic display of the results using GIS software.

This research project was concerned with rural broadband, and sought to establish the average speed of the broadband connection to farm properties within each county/UA. To achieve this , the Ofcom broadband data was joined to the Ordnance Survey postcode boundaries, the data for Scotland removed and then overlaid with a spatial dataset of built-up areas (Office for National Statistics). Built-up areas were then eliminated from the analysis by selecting only data that fell outside of these areas, leaving a total of 91,185 rural postcodes joined to variables from the Ofcom 2015 broadband data.

Using GIS software (QGIS), the average download speeds within each county/UA were then calculated. The results of this data analysis support what we already know – that rural broadband speeds in the UK are generally poor (as at 2015), with only 7 out of 49 counties/UAs achieving an average download speed of 10 Mbit/s – a speed considered by Ofcom and the UK government to be the minimum required to meet the demands of today’s typical families and small businesses. Indeed, this Mbit/s figure may well become a legally-binding target as the government intends to legislate for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill that would introduce a legal right to request a broadband connection from a provider at a minimum speed, which is expected to be 10 Mbit/s.

Looking at the map on this page, it is perhaps surprising to see areas such as Cornwall, Gwynedd and North Yorkshire featuring among the front-runners, but this does seem to tally with recent reports of significant investment in delivering fast broadband infrastructure in these areas. Despite such investment, numerous organisations highlight inadequacies across the nation – and the RSN has collated many reports on this matter.

Rob’s personal Twitter stream can be found @rural_gis