Coronavirus: Coping with lockdown on poor broadband

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

Publishedduration2 Mayimage copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionWatching films is one way to pass the time during lockdown but not if all you can see is buffering

Households across the country are finding their broadband connections pushed to the limit as families in lockdown try to work, educate and entertain themselves online.

During a recent video-conference, MP Julie Elliott made a plea to the culture secretary for a faster rollout of fibre broadband for her Sunderland constituents. As she was doing so, her own broadband connection failed, something the chairman of the DCMS committee described as "ironic".

In theory, 95% of premises should be able to access superfast broadband but take-up of services remains low. This might be because people find their current speed sufficient for their needs, do not want to pay or simply haven't got round to upgrading.

For those wanting to upgrade now, there could be a wait. BT told the BBC is was prioritising new broadband connections for the "vulnerable and those most in need".

According to Ofcom, 189,000 properties are on speeds of 10Mbps (megabits per second) download and 1Mbps upload or less – for both fixed and wireless.

Adelana Carty, broadband expert at, thinks it is too low for lockdown. "Some video-calling services say they only require broadband speeds of 1.2Mbps, but at this level the picture quality is likely to be extremely patchy and the audio may cut in and out – especially if there are many people on the call.

"Streaming TV services like Netflix say you need a 3Mbps connection for standard quality, and 5Mbps for HD, but you're likely to find that the picture is constantly buffering at these speeds.

"Connection issues also arise when multiple devices use the internet simultaneously, so if required, it may be worth setting up a rota, especially when it comes to streaming or gaming online.