Concern over rural broadband roll-out

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those living and working in Yorkshire’s rural communities should face “no discrimination,” it was claimed yesterday after it emerged superfast broadband will not be automatically delivered to tens of thousands of remote homes.

A Government consultation document says it is likely that many people in such areas would not want to be connected and that extending it to them would not represent value for money.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport rejected suggestions that rural areas were being left behind, insisting that under current plans superfast broadband - defined as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) - would reach 95 per cent of the UK.

However rural campaigners expressed concern that businesses will move away and jobs will be lost unless they are included in the roll-out.

Dorothy Fairburn, regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said yesterday: “The Prime Minister has committed to achieving universal coverage of at least 10 Mbps for all homes and businesses by 2020.

“That commitment must be met and we believe this means that everyone that wants broadband must have access to it and face no discrimination because they live or work in a rural area.

“However this does not mean we expect every home and business to get connected in the same way and we accept that for the hardest to reach the right approach is to make a connection on request.

“We expect Government to work with the technologies that are available now, and are emerging, to make sure that the remotest homes and businesses can connect to superfast internet.”

She added: “Reassurance is required that every effort will be made to avoid rural people facing disproportionate connection costs.

“The Government is on the right track but there is still a long way to go before the promises they have made will be delivered and we will continue to fight for rural communities to get the connections they need.”

Ministers have repeatedly extolled the economic benefits of extending access to superfast broadband across the country.

However a recent consultation document, highlighted in the press, on the Government’s promised Universal Service Obligation - which guarantees broadband speeds 10 Mbps - says the full roll-out of superfast broadband would not make sense.

“It is unlikely that everyone will want to be connected, even if that option is made available to them, and so we do not believe that an additional broadband roll-out programme at this time is proportionate or would represent value for money,” it says.

Graham Long, chairman of Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset, told The Times: “Businesses are moving out of rural areas here because they cannot keep their website - their shop window - up to date.

“It will be even worse if they only have 10Mbps in 2020, because the need for better bandwidth will have grown by then, now that we have cloud computing and other shared applications.”

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday: “It’s absolute nonsense to suggest we’re leaving rural areas behind in our roll-out of broadband.

“Our current plans will reach at least 95% of the UK, but we want everyone to have fast broadband so we are introducing a Universal Service Obligation to help make sure no-one is left behind.”

Dorothy Fairburn, regional director for the Country Land and Business Association