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Ofcom’s 2023 Technology Tracker estimates that 7% of UK households did not have internet access at home. This is down from around 11% in 2020 and 24% in 2011. The prevalence of digital exclusion varies greatly depending on age and socio-economic status. For example, 18% of households in socio-economic band DE say they don’t have internet access, as well as 18% of people aged over 65 years.

The Digital Poverty Alliance argues that in highly digitised societies such as the UK, relative distinctions in broadband access (such as speed and reliability) are also important:

Today’s bar for access to connectivity and devices is higher than ever before because the digital world is more pervasive and demanding than ever before. A 10 Mbps connection speed is sufficient for doing emails and loading most websites, but to livestream a Zoom call, connections need to be much fasterl to conduct several Zoom calls simultaneously in the same household requires a connection that is faster still. This level of connection is not a luxury. It is increasingly required to access online learning, interview for jobs, and more.

Benefits of better broadband

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee report, Digital exclusion, discusses some commonly cited societal benefits of improving digital connectivity, including:

  • enhanced productivity and employment opportunities;
  • new business opportunities;
  • tackling digital exclusion and loneliness;
  • addressing educational inequalities;
  • efficiency benefits for public services through online access.

Broadband access in the UK

Official data on broadband connectivity and speeds in the UK is released by Ofcom in its Connected Nations reports. Reports are published annually, with shorter updates in the Spring and Autumn. You can view the most recent data for constituencies and small areas on our interactive dashboard Constituency data: broadband coverage and speeds.

As of January 2023, 96% of UK premises had access to superfast broadband (download speeds over 30 Mbps). 98% of urban premises had these speeds, compared to 91% of rural premises. 

72% of premises (81% urban/44% rural) had access to gigabit-capable connections (speeds over 1,000 Mbps).

5% of premises (4% urban/8% rural) receive speeds under 10 Mbps. This is level defined as ‘decent’ broadband in the Universal Service Obligation.

Public funding for broadband

The government’s £5 billion funding programme to subsidise the rollout of gigabit broadband is called Project Gigabit. It is delivered by Building Digital UK (BDUK), an executive agency within the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

Project Gigabit has three main parts:

  • A series of procurements subsidising the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband in specific areas. Broadband suppliers bid for contracts to build in each area.
  • Vouchers worth up to £4,500 for residents and businesses in eligible rural areas to subsidise the cost of a new gigabit-capable connection. Apostcode-checker on the voucher scheme website allows individuals to see if they are in an eligible area.
  • Funding to connect public sector buildings such as schools (called ‘GigaHubs’).

BDUK publishes quarterly progress updates on Project Gigabit.

Telecommunications is a reserved matter and Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all part of Project Gigabit. However, the devolved administrations also have their own broadband roll-out projects ongoing that are delivering gigabit-capable connections. These are: the R100 programme in Scotland, Superfast Cymru in Wales and Project Stratum in Northern Ireland.

Affordability of broadband services

Access to broadband services may also be limited by households’ abilitiy to afford them.

Ofcom monitors the affordability of communications services. The latest data from Ofcom’s Communications Affordability Tracker shows an increase in broadband affordability issues. 9% of UK households struggled to afford broadband in April 2023, up from 6% in January 2023. Ofcom noted a rise in households switching to cheaper tariffs, which it suggested may be a reaction to the above-inflation price increases that broadband customers have faced.

Social tariffs

Social tariffs are discounted tariffs for broadband and mobile services that are made available to consumers on low incomes or with special social needs.

Ofcom maintains a list of social broadband and mobile packages currently on the market. The available broadband tariffs cost £12-22 per month, which is around half of an equivalent commercial tariff.

However, take-up of social tariffs is low. As of February 2023, 5.1% of households claiming Universal Credit were on a social tariff. This does represent an increase from February 2022, when take-up was at 1.3%.

In October 2022 the Labour Party called for a mandatory, industry-wide social tariff. Ofcom has powers to introduce a mandatory tariff if directed to do so by the Secretary of State. The government says that it has no plans to do this, noting that social tariffs “are available across 99% of the UK” and that “85% of consumers are able to switch to a social tariff with their existing provider”.

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