National Association of Local Councils (NALC) in its evidence to the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday 3 December 2014 called for a broadband and digital only policy strategy that works for rural England.
NALC believes that the lack of high quality broadband speeds and internet services is having a damaging effect on the development of the rural economy. It must be remembered that in economic terms, rural areas contribute nearly a third of total Gross Value Added to the UK economy.
But access to essential services for rural communities is being increasingly more challenging as the digital economy is developing a two-speed Britain depending on your location.
The challenges for rural communities include:
Digital communications in particular remain challenging throughout much of rural England, while more and more services are being delivered online
Internet use and the demand for faster speeds is continuing, driven by the need for online shopping, banking and communications
People in rural areas are more likely to watch films or television online, because other forms of entertainment such as live music, theatre and cinema are not as accessible or available
Rural home working is greater than in urban areas
Most rural businesses are also small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – a key source of innovation and rural wealth creation, adversely affected by inadequate broadband connectivity
Collectively, the greater the negative impact on rural business, the greater the impact on the country’s economy as a whole
So to get this right, the Government and broadband providers must improve the broadband speeds in rural England to above 2Mbps. While the Government says it is delivering superfast broadband and better mobile connectivity to the nation, the reality often falls short in rural areas. We have countless evidence from parish and town councils from around the country that says there are many pockets of slow broadband speeds in England.
Jonathan Owen, chief executive of NALC, said to the Select Committee: “Broadband is a issue across the entire country, we are not making good enough progress. We are not making good enough progress with the roll out of broadband especially in rural areas. There is a feeling that rural areas are being overlooked in terms of faster broadband speeds and even connectivity it is leading to a digital divide in this country.
“We have evidence that BT’s top down approach alienates communities and can raise expectations of progress which in reality are not being met. As a country we need to explore alternative technologies to solve this multi-speed broadband speed development. It would be really useful if the ‘final 5%’ (parts of the country yet to get broadband connections) could at least be aware of when they will get connected.”