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The Nations & Regions Communications Market 2008 (May)

Foreword

This is Ofcom’s third annual review of the markets for television, radio, and telecommunications, showing detailed data for the nations and regions across the UK.

Its aim, like that of its predecessors, is to provide the context for Ofcom’s own policy thinking and to inform debates and decisions taken by stakeholders in the public and private sectors.

This year’s review takes place against the background of significant policy debates on issues as diverse as the future of public service broadcasting and the future regulatory framework for high-speed broadband. It is increasingly the case that distinct versions of these debates are taking place in the regions of England and Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

That is why Ofcom continues to seek, within the resources available, to deepen the geographical detail of its research, as well as to reflect on new themes and patterns of consumer behaviour, brought about by the convergence between fixed and wireless communications technologies.

The story that emerges from this year’s research is that the pace of change continues to be rapid, but that some previously strong distinctions have shaded to grey.

For example, broadband. In the first two years that we have reported, we found that take-up was strikingly lower in rural than in urban areas. This year, the data suggest that, taken as a whole, rural areas have caught up – in fact, slightly overtaken urban areas. Overall, 57% of UK homes now have a broadband internet connection, up from 45% a year earlier.

There are other striking patterns; in the UK’s biggest cities, such as Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Manchester, an ever-larger segment of the population is living without the use of fixed-line telephony. Across the UK as a whole, 87% of homes have a fixed-line telephone (down three percentage points from last year). The 12% of homes which rely on mobile phones only are able, increasingly, to access broadband through wireless technology.

People are also using broadband to download video. This report suggests that 30% of adults have taken advantage of video downloading, although on a city-by-city analysis, the hottest hotspots are Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh.

There are many other such fascinating points of detail in the pages that follow. Social networking, as Ofcom has previously reported, is now enjoyed by one in five UK adults. This report suggests that the people of Northern Ireland are among the UK’s most avid social networkers. Across the UK, these sites are most popular among young people.

Another big trend is the fact that more than 85% of UK homes now have digital television – ten percentage points higher than a year ago and a significant milestone to have passed in the year in which digital switchover began, in Copeland, Cumbria.

At the same time, take-up of digital radio continues to grow, with one in five adults reporting that they have a DAB digital radio at home.

On the whole, consumers are satisfied with the quality of the communications services they buy. Across the UK, 89% of broadband users say they are satisfied and 94% of consumers say they are satisfied with their mobile phone service. But our data show differences across the UK in levels of satisfaction.

As this year’s report contains more detailed data, two other points need to be made. Firstly, care needs to be taken in drawing excessively far-reaching conclusions from data based upon small sample sizes. Secondly, this Ofcom exercise now involves so much data that we have decided to publish much of it separately, as a complement to this report. You can find the full data set below.

I hope that you will find this research useful and that it will encourage you to take the fullest possible part in the debates it is designed to support and stimulate.

Ed Richards
Chief Executive

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