Slow internet and ‘digital deserts’ hold London back, City Hall warns

Sluggish internet and crawling download speeds threaten London’s ability to compete against other international cities, according to a new report.

A London Assembly probe found slow broadband connections have turned some neighbourhoods into “digital deserts”, with Rotherhithe named among the worst. London was ranked 30th out of 63 British cities for internet speed and was found to have failed to invest in superfast fibre optic cabling.

The Digital Connectivity in London report says the capital lacks a “clear and ambitious vision” and lags behind York, Coventry and Edinburgh, which enjoy gigabit download and upload speeds — allowing a two-hour HD movie to be downloaded in 25 seconds.

Rotherhithe was singled out by the committee as one of the slowest spots, with its ageing copper telephone wires failing to support high-bandwidth demands.

One resident said his connection “regularly hovers” at around 0.26 Mbps, when even a 1mbps connection would take six hours to download an HD movie.

The committee noted that “local residents feel frustrated and excluded, living in central London but having to go to the local library or a café to be able to send emails with attachments”.

Residents and businesses have created a pressure group, the Rotherhithe Broadband Group, to lobby Southwark council and broadband providers.

The report says that in Spain more than 80 per cent of public buildings are connected with fibre optic, but fewer than three per cent of British government and council buildings had the superfast connection.

The committee also found London is behind “held back” with its mobile 4G coverage, at a time when many cities are moving towards supporting 5G, which is 40 times faster.

London was rated fifth out of British cities for mobile network performance, with fewer than three-quarters of the city covered by a decent signal.

The report calls for a “minimum level of broadband service” in new developments and for more information to be published so people renting a home can investigate the area’s connectivity before moving in.

The regeneration committee’s Labour chairman Navin Shah said: “London’s digital connectivity is frankly embarrassing in some areas and will no doubt lead to major issues in terms of London’s global attractiveness as a place to live, work and do business.

“We need to act before it’s too late and London’s success is threatened.”

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