Mapping Rural Broadband with GIS

I’m currently working on a research project which, broadly-speaking, is investigating the resilience of agricultural production in England and Wales in relation to the physical landscape (more on that soon). One of the components of the agricultural resilience model that we’re building is and indicator of ‘accessibility to information and markets’, for which we’re using as a proxy rural broadband speeds.

The dataset I’ve been investigating for calculating this measure in each of our study regions (non-metropolitan counties and unitary authorities) is the 2015 Ofcom broadband data which was collected for the 2015 Connected Nations Report in May/June 2015. This is, as far as I know, is the latest and most comprehensive data open data available on broadband speeds in the UK.

The data is aggregated to postcode level, which means that it can be joined to Ordnance Survey postcode data to allow a geographical analysis and cartographic display of the results using GIS software. Ofcom are keen to point out that this data “should not be regarded as a definitive and fixed view of UK’s broadband infrastructure”, being as it is a snapshot of broadband speeds over a period of 1-2 months in 2015. However, unless anyone can point me in the direction of something better, it’s the most comprehensive and up-to-date free data we can get hold of.

For this research project, what we’re interested in is rural broadband, as it’s the average speed of the broadband connection to farm properties within each county/UA that we need to establish. To do this, we took our joined broadband-postcode data for Great Britain, removed the data for Scotland, and overlaid a dataset of built-up areas (you could also use the ONS rural-urban classification data for this). We then eliminated built-up areas from our analysis by selecting only data that fell outside of these areas, so that what we were left with was a total of 91,185 rural postcodes joined to variables from the Ofcom 2015 broadband data. Using our GIS software (QGIS), we then calculated the average download speeds within each county/UA. The results are shown below:

The results of this data analysis support what we already know – that rural broadband speeds in he UK are generally poor (or were in 2015), with only 7 out of 51 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 10 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, it is perhaps surprising to see areas such as Cornwall and Gwynedd featuring among the front-runners, but this does seem to tally with recent reports (see links in text) of significant investment in delivering superfast broadband infrastructure in these areas. Despite such investment, numerous organisations highlight inadequacies across the nation – and the RSN has collated many reports.

  • Rob’s personal Twitter stream can be found @rural_gis