Rural communities could miss out on public and private sector digital services because parts of this country are not ready with high quality or any decent broadband, a cross-party Parliamentary group on Broadband has warned.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Local Democracy heard on 11 February 2015, how the variable states of broadband across the country is causing problems for rural business, councils, communities and people.
The APPG 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
Tessa Mount MP, chair of the APPG on Local Democracy, said: "While this All Party Parliamentary Group welcomes the efforts that the Government is making in rolling out broadband across the country, we do not believe it is acceptable that people in parts of the country, usually rural, are being left behind.
"The government and broadband providers should prioritise parts of the country that are not able access to super fast broadband or any broadband. Further they should be working with all parts of local communities to achieve this."
Chair of NALC, Cllr Ken Browse, responded: "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."
Karen Lepper & Caron Britton, DEFRA Rural Communities Policy Unit, on behalf of the government commented: "This is a key Government prority especially in its drive for economic growth. So we are working towards providing 95% of all premises with superfast broadband by 2017. We understand the difficulties that some communities have in accessing broadband and are looking to change this."
Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman, Countryside Alliance, said: "We believe that reliability of broadband is even more important than speed. We want a minimum broadband speed of 10mbps for every community in the country. There appears to be a lack of transparency over how BT is using public funds on these matters. Why do we not look at alternative technologies to solves these problems and we need better cross working between the public and private sectors."
Graham Dunn, Government and Public Affairs, Vodafone, thinks: "Mobile broadband is part of solution mix to rural broadband problems. Vodafone understands the frustrations of rural communities and are absolutely committed to improve the situation. Vodafone is giving 100 rural communities across the UK the opportunity to boost their 3G mobile signal by applying for its Sure Signal technology. Bringing mobile coverage and mobile internet to rural areas gives communities a real boost – both economically and socially."