Good news: the UK enjoys cheaper broadband compared to its European neighbours. Bad news: it is slower and poor value for money.
A report published today by price comparison outfit Cable.co.uk looking at fixed-line deals at the end of 2020 has found that Brits were paying, on average, £26/month for their broadband and getting a mean download speed of 37.82Mbps.
It all seems jolly rosy until one considers what the rest of Western Europe is up to. The region dominated the top of the global rankings, with Liechtenstein and Jersey far ahead with mean download speeds of 229.98Mbps and 218.37Mbps respectively.
While it may have placed fourth in the 29 countries studied in Western Europe in terms of raw cost, those average speeds dragged Blighty down to 25th place when it comes to value for money.
The problem is that things haven't improved for UK broadband users at the same pace as they have for those on the continent. While fibre to the premises (FTTP) is now rolling out in the UK, other European countries are considerably further along the path.
Back in 2017, Ofcom observed that the UK had some work to do on the fibre front.
By summer 2020 [PDF] the regulator noted that over 14 per cent of UK homes had access to "Full Fibre" services. 95 per cent of homes could achieve download speeds of at least 30Mbps, or "superfast" broadband in the comms regulator's parlance.
Although some UK residents could access the Virgin Media network and speeds of up to 516Mbps, Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable, said: "The Openreach network remains the anchor that keeps average speeds in the UK comparatively low.
"Entry-level fibre packages and 'fast' fibre packages on Openreach have been set at around 30-35Mbps and 60-70Mbps respectively for more than five years now with no significant changes beyond how those speeds are advertised."
The Register contacted BT's Openreach to get its take on the matter. A spokesperson highlighted Ofcom's report and the growth to over 14 per cent of homes able to access fibre and told us:
"According to regulator Ofcom the current average speed for fixed broadband service in the UK is 72Mbps – that’s a 15 per cent increase on the average speed recorded last November.
"We expect this to continue to rise as we roll out our full fibre network – currently reaching more than 40k new homes and businesses every week.
"However average speeds are dependent not just on availability of faster broadband services but also the rate at which they're adopted. Ofcom estimates take up of full fibre is currently around 30 per cent.
"One of the biggest obstacles stopping people from getting faster downloads speeds is lack of awareness. For example, more than 96 per cent of the UK can access superfast broadband services but more than 40 per cent currently choose not to."
Earlier this month the company hiked prices paid by comms providers for FTTP-linked leased line circuits.
It's a far cry from hedgerows being hooked up to gigabit broadband, as promised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Still, things could be worse. While the UK was comfortably in the top 100 nations in the global report, the US remained one of the most expensive Western nations for broadband and stood at 131st place. The average package price of $59.99 was "a 20 per cent increase over prices measured at the end of 2019," observed Cable.
Hurrah for 2020. ®