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Poor broadband could be killing our seaside towns, Lords report finds

A lack of decent connectivity is putting seaside towns and the UK's tourist business at risk

 The UK’s seaside towns and tourist hot spots are being let down by poor broadband speeds and connectivity. 

A report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns found that a lack of decent Wi-Fi and data connections is both damaging the economy and leaving entire communities feeling neglected.

The committee added that: “investment in mobile and broadband infrastructure in coastal communities lagged considerably behind that being made in urban areas and that this was worsening the economic disadvantages already being felt in these communities”.

With the findings of this report, the committee is now calling on the government to prioritise high-quality broadband and mobile connectivity in these regions and invest in infrastructure to give both digital and physical businesses a boost. 

The report lacks any real statistics to back up these concerns, nor does it specify what it means by high-quality or high-speed broadband. However, the committee did confer with a number of local councils to get their view on the findings.

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North Norfolk District Council, for example, is quoted in the report explaining that poor digital connectivity “is of increasing concern to [the district] and the local business community as many visitors to the area expect such infrastructure to be available and are frustrated by poor coverage and capacity across much of the district”.

It added that this is placing the district’s economy, and particularly tourism businesses such as hotels and B&Bs, at a commercial disadvantage. 

There is previous evidence to support these findings. An Ofcom report last year found that average broadband speeds in Cornwall and Devon, for instance, are much slower than the national average, with residents in the Duchy suffering with the second-slowest internet connections in the UK.

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This is despite the £17 million Superfast Cornwall project, which built a fibre-based network covering 90% of premises. These homes now have access to speeds of around 24Mbits/sec, and while this is an improvement on previous years, it’s almost 20Mits/sec slower than the national average. 

Ofcom also found that only 12 out of 391 local councils have reached the UK target of 95% superfast broadband coverage.

A separate study from Knight Frank estate agents discovered that half of people looking to buy a house are put off by poor broadband speeds and this could have a knock-on effect on house prices in coastal towns. 

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Lord Lucas concludes in the report that “seaside towns are often remote, disconnected from large scale economic activity,” and “if we work to connect them better, in a multiplicity of different ways, good consequences should flow”.

“High-quality broadband connections should be our first priority in attracting new economic activity to seaside towns and connecting them with the rest of the country and beyond. Many experiences and services that are on the doorsteps of people living in metropolitan areas seem unfeasibly distant in [coastal communities].”

To the government’s credit, it is supporting the development of such infrastructure through its £1.6 billion Broadband Delivery UK programme, which is set to provide at least 97% of UK homes and businesses with “superfast broadband” by March next year. 

Along with Ofcom, it also recently set out a strategy to bringing 1,000Mbits/sec capable “full fibre” networks to every UK home, but this won’t be fully in effect until 2033.

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