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Boost in broadband needed in rural area
THE House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published its rural communities report, which assessed how successful Defra and its Rural Communities Policy Unit (RCPU) has been at championing rural issues.
The report states that, too often, Government policy has failed to take account of challenges existing in providing services to a rural population.
It concluded that rural communities pay higher council tax bills per dwelling, receive less Government grants and have access to fewer public services than their urban counterparts and that the Government needs to recognise the current system of calculating the local finance settlement is unfair to rural areas in comparison with their urban counterparts.
Further, it states that “this rural penalty is not limited to public services, it is also acute in many areas of infrastructure, not least the provision of high-quality broadband”.
Businesses, schools and households in rural areas have fallen behind urban areas when it comes to broadband access.
Although it concedes that, through the rural broadband programme, the Government is taking steps to improve rural communities’ access to broadband, the focus of the programme must be on improving access to those communities with no or slow broadband rather than increasing the speed for those with an adequate service.
Anne McIntosh, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: “The £300m in funding set aside by the BBC in 2012 to support broadband roll-out should be used now to expedite superfast connections in the countryside.
“Broadband has become a basic utility, yet thousands of people in rural communities have ridiculously slow speeds or no connection at all.
“The universal service commitment of 2Mbps is crucial and meeting it must be prioritised over increasing speeds for those who already enjoy an adequate service.”
Almost 30 per cent of households in England do not have access to a full choice of 2G mobile phone providers, with that figure rising to nearly 70 per cent for 3G services, while plans to extend geographic coverage had been scaled back.
The report goes on to say: “The Government has made growing the rural economy its top priority. To achieve this, a number of barriers need to be overcome, not least improving rural businesses’ access to finance.”
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