Fibre to the countryside: A comparison of public and community initiatives tackling the rural digital divide in the UK

Paolo Gerli*, Jason Whalley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although digitisation offers numerous opportunities for rural areas, they still lag behind cities in terms of access and adoption of Internet-based services. This divide is the result of multiple market failures in both the demand and supply of broadband access, which have been addressed through public, private and community-led initiatives. Based on interviews and ethnographic analysis, this paper explores how community networks and public-private partnerships have contributed to promoting the delivery and adoption of superfast broadband across the rural UK. The case study analysis compares the outcomes of each model, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Although expanding the coverage of superfast broadband across the county, the public-private partnership did not solve the access divide afflicting the hardest-to-reach areas. Some of the latter were served by the community network, which relied on volunteers and demand aggregation to reduce the cost of fibre rollout. The scalability of this approach, however, has yet to be demonstrated. On the demand side, both initiatives achieved a high take-up proving that the rural ‘adoption’ divide has decreased over the years. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to ensure that rural communities and businesses are able to leverage the benefits deriving from superfast broadband.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102222
Number of pages13
JournalTelecommunications Policy
Volume45
Issue number10
Early online date23 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

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