Rural broadband

Standard broadband can be slow or non-existent in the countryside. Find out how to speed up your connection and what your alternative internet options are.

Key points

  • Despite government commitments to connecting the UK, people in rural areas can’t always access the cheapest or fastest broadband
  • There’s usually a solution to getting a connection in the countryside, but it may involve special equipment or expensive installation
  • Think about your own connection needs carefully and compare the costs of the different available options before committing to a costly installation

If you choose to live out in the sticks, you probably enjoy all the fresh air and splendid isolation it brings.

But being located far from the nearest town can also leave you isolated when it comes to adequate broadband connection, which can lead to a great deal of frustration and added expense.

You’re not limited to standard providers though - we’ve taken a look at the pros and cons of the rural broadband options that might be available in your part of the country.

ADSL in rural areas

ADSL is the most common way for households to receive broadband in the UK, and often the cheapest.

It’s delivered via your telephone line, so as long as you have a phone line you should, in theory, be able to get an ADSL connection.

Image of llamasUnfortunately, the speed of the ADSL connection depends heavily on distance. The closer you are to the nearest telephone exchange, the faster the connection.

Check service SamKnows to locate your nearest exchange and find out your potential ADSL speeds - there are other services available too.

If you live miles from your nearest town or village with an exchange, that could make a serious dent in your ADSL speed.

Pros and cons of ADSL

+ Generally the cheapest and most readily available option

Can be painfully slow or unusable in some areas

To put this into perspective, if a broadband speed checker shows your line will only deliver something in the region of 2Mbps, you’ll probably manage basic internet functions like browsing, emails and audio.

However, downloads will be slow and you’ll probably struggle to use it for watching video without lots of frustrating buffering.

The important thing to remember is not to pay for more than you need - if your phone line can only deliver 2Mbps, you’ll be paying for nothing if you choose an ADSL package with ‘up to’ 18Mbps.

Fibre optic broadband for villages

Thatched cottageIn a January 2015 report, the government noted that 78% of premises had access to superfast broadband in June 2014, with BT’s ‘fibre footprint’ increasing at a rate of 60,000 premises a week.

The government target is to provide 95% of the UK with superfast broadband by 2017 - which is great news for those in rural areas.

Superfast broadband is generally delivered by running fibre optic cable from the telephone exchange to the street-side cabinets that serve a village or street. It’s known as fibre to the cabinet (FTTC).

This can make broadband speeds much faster, at least for homes that are fairly close to the cabinet, which is often the case for villages or groups of houses.

Pros and cons of fibre

+ Increasingly available and a fast, reliable connection

Significantly slower or unavailable if you aren’t near a street-side cabinet

But because broadband is still delivered from the cabinet to each home via copper wire, if you live far from your nearest cabinet, you might find that you still have speeds way below the maximum advertised.

Given that fibre optic broadband is more costly than ADSL, this might seem very unfair when you pay the same as those living closer to the cabinet.

Cable broadband

Although it’s not so common in rural areas, you should check whether your home is in a cable broadband network.

Quad bike insuranceCable broadband delivers a fibre optic connection right to your home, so you might find you can get better speeds this way than with fibre via your phone line.

Fibre to the premises

Fibre to the premises (FTTP) goes one step further than standard FTTC services, by connecting straight from the cabinet to individual homes with fibre optic cables.

Pros and cons of FTTP

+ Fastest possible connection

Very expensive to install

It gives the fastest possible connection, but it’s pretty rare because installation costs are so high.

To have the fibre cable installed to your individual home, you’ll usually have to bear the cost yourself, which can run to thousands of pounds.

This means that this superfast option is mostly taken up by rural-based businesses or those few people prepared to pay the installation premium for their home.

Community broadband projects

If you and your neighbours are really keen to get a blistering FTTP connection, you might want to think about clubbing together to share the cost.

Pros and cons of community broadband

+ Grants may be available

You’ll need to enlist quite a few like-minded households then apply for grants and funding

Community broadband schemes can work well to deliver the very fastest connections to some of the most remote communities, but you’ll need a group of you to get together to make it cost effective.

There may also be funding available in your area for setting up a community broadband project.

You can register your interest in creating a community broadband project with BT, which can check for any funding available and help you set up your project on its crowdfunding platform – Spacehive.

It’s also worth getting in touch with your local authority to see if there are any government grants or funding available to get fibre broadband in your area.

Another option is simply to club together to pay for a private company to install fibre broadband and even FTTP connections to your area, giving all households involved the best possible speeds.

Mobile broadband

Pros and cons of mobile broadband

+ No wired connection needed

Coverage can be patchy and slow in the countryside and it can be expensive with download limits

In some areas far from a telephone exchange, you might find mobile broadband is actually faster than ADSL and could offer a cost-effective alternative.

However, mobile signal can be notoriously patchy in the countryside as well, so make sure you check with individual mobile phone providers to make sure you’ll have coverage before signing up for a long contract.

Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband is used in the very remotest locations where fixed line internet - whether ADSL or fibre optic - just isn’t an option.

The main advantage of satellite is that it’s available anywhere - even if you can’t get a phone line to your cabin in the woods or offshore yacht.

Pros and cons of satellite broadband

+ Establish a connection pretty much anywhere

Special equipment and installation is needed – which can be costly

Satellite broadband does have its limits though - it’s unlikely you’ll find an ‘unlimited’ package so you’ll have to pay attention to how much you download and upload each month.

Also, while fairly high speeds are achievable, satellite broadband can suffer from ‘latency’ - where there is a bit of a lag in the connection. This can make things like Skype chat or online gaming more difficult.

HorseAs the connection relies on the dish getting a clear view of the satellite, extreme weather can affect it, so you might find yourself without broadband if a storm hits.

To get satellite broadband, you’ll need to have a special dish and modem installed and installation costs can be quite high.

Again though, you might be eligible for funding. In December 2015 the government began to offer subsidised satellite broadband to homes and businesses that didn’t have an affordable broadband connection of at least 2mbps.

You can use the government’s online tool to see whether you’re eligible.

By Derri Dunn