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Internet users suffering in rural areas

PUBLISHED: 12:11 01 October 2009 | UPDATED: 08:36 01 August 2010

INTERNET users in rural parts of Suffolk and Essex are paying for "high speed" connections that are 50 times slower than other areas, a survey has found.

INTERNET users in rural parts of Suffolk and Essex are paying for “high speed” connections that are 50 times slower than other areas, a survey has found.

It has led to concerns that this could have serious implications for rural economies with many businesses suffering.

Professor Fred Stentiford, who lives in Boyton, near Woodbridge, carried out the survey of people connected to the Shottisham exchange.

His results found that people in Hollesley get the best value for money while people in Boyton and Bawdsey get a much poorer service, with some getting less than 20pc of what is possible in Hollesley. Those living in Shingle Street get almost no service at all.

“I was shocked,” said Professor Stentiford, who works at University College London. “Some people have obviously got faults that they are not aware of but also people on the extremities are really suffering and maybe they were not aware of it.

“I think people are getting a bit up in arms about the service that they are getting. I am sure that people living in rural areas are not getting their money's worth for what broadband can offer.

“It seems very unfair that we all have to pay the same charges for a service that varies in quality by a factor of 50 or more.”

And he said the poor broadband service in rural areas could lead to businesses having problems.

“If we want to create businesses in the countryside they must have the bandwidth that they need but at the moment that is not possible.

“Businesses are going to suffer if they cannot get decent bandwidth.”

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, said problems with broadband in rural areas could have “serious implications”.

He said he knew of problems in the mid Suffolk area north of Mendlesham and in Brundish, near Framlingham.

“It is a concern,” he said. “We have been talking to Suffolk County Council and the East of England Development Agency regarding this issue and seeing what can be done to try and improve the situation.”

Tony Addison, director of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, added: “Coincidentally, Suffolk Chamber is currently in the process of surveying its members to ascertain their views relating to speeds and access, and it will be interesting to see how these results compare to similar surveys across the region.”

The Essex Country Land & Business Association (CLA) also raised concerns about areas in Essex including Boxted, Dedham, Coggeshall and Stoke-by-Nayland.

Simon Brice, chairman of Essex CLA, said: “Being close to London, our county is not generally perceived to be isolated from modern communications. But many places in Essex are in the broadband wilderness. Most frustrating of all we have situations where one property has a fast, efficient broadband service while a neighbouring property cannot access it. I live and farm near Witham and have good access to broadband but another farm within a mile does not.”

Prof Stentiford said he thinks the solution would be a wireless system. He is also keen to hear from other people about their own broadband experiences. Visit www.btinternet.com/fred.stentiford/boyton/broadband/Results.html to find out more.

A spokesman for BT said: “We estimate that more than 99pc per cent of homes and businesses in Suffolk and Essex could receive broadband if they wished. We are working to find solutions for the relatively small number of customers, who are currently unable to access broadband for technical reasons.

“We have made - and continue to make - a major, multi million pound investment in our network.

“The precise speed for each customer depends on a variety of technical factors, including the distance of their line from the exchange.”

MANY broadband deals promise download speeds of up to 8 Megabits per second (Mbps) but Prof Stentiford found that this only really possible for people living near the Shottisham exchange.

People living in Hollesley managed to benefit from speeds of up to 7.616 Mbps. But for those living further away, the connection speeds drops considerably. In Shingle Street, just 1.3 miles away, the speed drops to just 0.16 Mbps.

This means that large internet files - such as photographs, video clips or films - will take a long time to download, if they are able to be viewed at all.

People with slower internet connections will be unable to watch programmes on the BBC iPlayer, for example.

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