95% of the UK will have fibre broadband by 2017 – what about the other 5%?

The government has just announced that high speed broadband has reached more than three million homes and businesses. They reckon that 95% of the country will be covered by 2017.

Of course, that won’t be much consolation if you’re left in the remaining 5%, although you’re still doing better than the rest of the world.

If you’re reading this in a limited rural area, there are two options: 1) you’re lucky enough to have benefited from the improved broadband infrastructure of the last few years, or 2) you waited an age for the page to load.

If it was the latter, hopefully it was worth the wait, because I’m going to outline three alternatives to waiting for things to improve.

We’ve come a long way from PR stunts demonstrating that a pigeon delivery can ‘upload’ a video faster than rural broadband (the pigeon delivered in an hour and fifteen minutes, while the broadband managed just 24% of the upload), but there are still blackspots around the country. Here are your options:

How to access broadband in rural areas

First things first, make sure there are no better options. Visit the BT Openreach site and type your postcode into the box. Things are improving and, if you haven’t checked for a while, you might be pleasantly surprised.

If you can get a BT telephone line, you can have ADSL. No, it’s not lightning fast, but it may still be a better bet than the following options.

The main problem is that the physical distance between the remote house and the exchange slows things down.

To that end, your provider makes a big difference, and it’s certainly worth shopping around for the best option. Don’t be fooled by “up to” speeds, as these are theoretical maximums. Instead, it’s worth taking a peek at Ofcom’s average speed report to see which provider is truest to their word.

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If your hunt shows limited options, prohibitive prices or poor speeds, it’s worth considering a mobile data option. You may find that the mobile signal is even weaker, but personal experience or a dedicated site like OpenSignal should give you an idea as to whether or not this is a non-starter.

If it offers better speeds and more choice than ADSL, this may come at a literal cost. Mobile data is more expensive per GB than home broadband, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. EE, for example, offer 50GB of data for £50 per month. That’s more expensive than regular ADSL, but the gap is closing and the speed payoff could be worth it.

Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband used to be slow and expensive. This is still relatively true, but it’s definitely improved in recent years and has the big bonus of levelling the playing field for rural users – offering the same (middling) speeds no matter where you are in the country.

Speeds used to be around the 3mbps mark, but can now hit 22mbps for downloads and 6mbps for uploads. While city dwellers may mock, that could be a big improvement.

The pricing varies: Tooway satellite prices start at £20 per month for 2GB, but that quickly increases with usage. Avonline Broadband offers 5GB for a similar price.

However, there are drawbacks. The first is that it requires an installation of a satellite, which can cost hundreds of pounds. The second is that, because of the distance involved, latency can be a big issue – for example, gamers may suffer in multiplayer matches requiring twitch-precision. Finally, it can be impacted by the weather: light rain won’t cause a problem, but heavy storms might.

Do it yourself

Are none of the above options feasible for one reason or another? There’s one final possibility, but it’s not for the faint of heart. A number of rural communities have taken matters into their own hands, and are working with private companies or setting up their own ISPs to get superfast broadband into villages that would otherwise be near the bottom of a government waiting list.

As described here, the residents of Lyddington in Rutland did exactly this back in 2011. The residents clubbed together to raise the funds to lease BT services and lay fibre-optic cables themselves. As a result, the village’s 200 homes now enjoy 40Mbps download speeds.

There are of course legal and structural hurdles to beat – not to mention the £37,000 investment required – but, with each resident paying £30 per month, the investors will make their money back…eventually.

Sound hopeless? You’d be surprised: five success stories that may inspire you can be found here. If nothing else, it should still work out cheaper than the $383,500 a Nebraskan resident was recently quoted to have fibre internet installed to his remote farm.

Do you live in a rural area? How’s your internet connection? Let us know in the comments.

Images: Karen Roe and Karlis Dambrans used under Creative Commons

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