The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) says economic development in rural areas is being put at risk because of failures to provide adequate access to the internet. Up to a fifth of people in rural areas still do not have adequate broadband services.
It also says the government is unlikely to meet its goal of providing universal coverage by 2015. But ministers say their broadband programme is firmly on track.
The government’s target by 2015 is to ensure universal broadband coverage, offering speeds of at least 2 megabits per second. It also plans to create a superfast network for the majority of the population within the same period.
At present, people living in rural areas pay the same monthly amount as those living in towns and cities, but the speeds delivered by providers are significantly less which seems grossly unfair.
But according to the CLA, progress so far has been very slow and those goals are unlikely to be met, potentially leaving rural communities without adequate broadband access.
It has previously called on local authorities to ensure that contracts awarded to infrastructure providers include fair compensation provisions for any failure to meet time and coverage requirements.
It now says operators should be legally obliged to provide coverage, even in very remote areas, and it also wants isolated communities to be allowed to use public sector networks.
Otherwise, it warns, social and economic development in rural areas will suffer.
The three main political parties have all promised to improve rural broadband services to the high speeds achieved in urban areas. A huge investment is required to upgrade the infrastructure which is operated by BT. Labour have proposed an additional tax on everybody’s fixed telephone lines, whereas the Conservatives propose to use a element of the BBC licence fee currently being used for the digital switch over to help fund the upgrade.
An ever increasing number of services are becoming primarily available through the internet which will handicap those with either no internet access, or woefully slow speeds. The ‘digital divide’ is growing as the internet service providers (ISPs) continually focus on urban areas which generate a higher profit margin. Perhaps ISPs should be required to invest a certain percentage of their urban profits into rural improvements.
The Prince of Wales has warned that “struggling livestock farmers and rural businesses are trapped in ‘broadband deserts’ unable to access vital services through the Internet”.
It’s admirable that the residents of Lyddington, Rutland have managed to self fund the installation of fibreoptic cable to the village. Rutland Telecom have laid the cable to the main ‘cabinet’ in Lyddington, and then used the existing lines to connect to each house. Sadly, the majority of villages throughout the country will not have these levels of resources.
Hopefully the next government will have a central strategy and take a stronger position with the telecommunications companies, ultimately forcing their hand on the necessary investment.