The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.
Between the dark web, Breitbart News and Donald Trump's Twitter feed, it's abundantly clear that terrible things often happen on the internet. But good things happen here, too - like funny videos and kitten pictures and, though we say so ourselves, CityMetric.
Anyway. The government clearly believes the internet is on balance a good thing, so it's investing more in improving Britain's broadband coverage. But which cities need the most work?
Luckily, those ultrafast cats at the Centre for Cities are on hand with a map of Britain's ultrafast broadband coverage, as it stood at the end of 2016. It shows the percentage of premises which have access to download speeds of 100Mbps or more. Dark green means loads, pale yellow means hardly any. Here's the map:
This doesn't quite fit the pattern we normally get with these exercises in which the south of England and a few other rich cities (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, York) look a lot healthier than the cities of the Midlands, South Wales and the North.
There are elements of that, sure: there are definitely more southern cities with good coverage, and more northern ones without it. But there are notable exceptions to the pattern, too. Those cities with very good coverage include Middlesbrough (88.0 per cent) and Dundee (89.4 per cent), not normally to be found near the top of anyone's rankings.
Meanwhile, Milton Keynes - a positive boom town, on most measures - lingers right near the bottom of the chart, with just 12.9 per cent coverage. The only city with worse coverage is another city that normally ranks as rich and successful: the Scottish oil capital Aberdeen, where coverage is just 0.13 per cent, a figure so low it rings alarm bells about the data.
Here's a (slightly cramped) chart of the same data.
Click to expand.
If you can spot a patten, you're a better nerd than I.
One thought I had was that perhaps there might be some correlation with population: perhaps bigger cities, being bigger markets, find it easier to get the requisite infrastructure built.
I removed London, Manchester and Birmingham from the data, purely because those three - especially the capital - are so much bigger than the other cities that they make the graph almost unreadable. That don't, here's the result.
Click to expand.
So, there goes that theory.
In all honesty, I'm not sure what could explain this disparity: why Sheffield and Southend should have half the broadband coverage of Middlesbrough or Brighton. But I suspect it's a temporary measure.
All this talk of ultrafast broadband (100Mbps+), after all, superseded that of mere superfast broadband (just 24Mbps+). The figures in this dataset are 10 months old. It's possible that many of the left behind cities have caught up by now. But it's almost certain we'll be hearing about the need for, say, Hyperfast broadband before next year is out.
EDIT, 12:30pm: Someone has come forward with a theory!
Surely it's a direct correlation to distribution of cable network (ie Virgin Media) given that the BT network generally tops out at 76Mbps?
— Dave Paton (@davidwpaton) October 20, 2017
This is actually a pretty compelling theory. Check out this map of Virgin coverage, courtesy of BroadbandAnalyst.co.uk:
That does certainly have some similarities with our map: witness the strong coverage on Teesside, the gaps around Essex, the South Midlands and in Yorkshire. Aberdeen seems not to have any coverage at all.
So: it's possible that a map of ultrafast broadband coverage is, by default, a map of Virgin Media coverage. Goes to show, doesn't it?