£6million funding for a rural connectivity project in North Yorkshire which could help unlock the rural economy's potential

Farmers in North Yorkshire could soon be benefitting from a new project designed to see how superfast mobile connectivity can bring benefits to rural communities.

Coun MacKenzie said the new project will help farmers and the rural economy with digital connectivity.
Coun MacKenzie said the new project will help farmers and the rural economy with digital connectivity.

The largest rural county in England, more than 85 per cent of North Yorkshire is classed as very rural or super sparse and connectivity is an ongoing challenge.

This week North Yorkshire County Council was named as one of the winners in the Rural Connected Communities competition which will see nine projects across the UK receive a share of £35m from the Government as part of plans to find new ways to spread technology like 5G to all areas of the country.

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North Yorkshire’s trial, the £6m Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) project, will look at how superfast mobile connectivity can bring benefits to rural communities in the region.

County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s executive member for access, said: “One of the key developments of this innovation Mobile Access North Yorkshire project will be to enable people, like farmers, to access mobile connectivity in remote working areas.

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With around 35 per cent of the county currently without 4G mobile coverage, the aim is to use innovative technology to bring mobile connectivity to these areas.

It will also test how superfast mobile connectivity can benefit the county through boosting tourism, tackling social isolation and acting as an early warning system for flooding emergencies.

Last month, the NFU urged the Government and the telecommunications industry to ensure farming businesses were able to reach their full potential by making broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas a priority in 2020.

The annual survey carried out by the organisation showed four in ten farmers did not have adequate broadband to run their businesses; an issue which has been compounded as new technology is increasingly helping to drive farm productivity through crop and livestock monitoring, machinery and diversification.

Speaking when the survey was released, NFU vice president, Stuart Roberts, said British farming is first and foremost a business which relies on having fast and reliable access to the internet.

Following this week’s announcement, Mr Mackenzie said the council and its partners were looking forward to “creating effective and efficient mobile networks across even our most far-flung rural communities”.

“We are committed to a sustainable and thriving future for our rural communities and therefore to finding solutions to the problems of poor connectivity across our countryside,” Coun Mackenzie said.

“We are delighted North Yorkshire has been chosen by our project partners to develop modern communications that will help farmers connect more easily with their communities, colleagues, families and friends; essential to supporting their mental health and wellbeing as well as productivity.”

Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the Government was ensuring rural communities did not get left behind in the digital age.

“With £4.4m of UK government funding, this project will help North Yorkshire grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next generation 5G technology. We will learn valuable lessons here, that will benefit the whole country, on how 5G can boost tourism, tackle loneliness, support the emergency services network and detect flooding.”

The MANY project will be led by wireless internet service provider, Quickline Communications, with NYCC a key partner integrating the project with communities.

Other partners include a number of specialist small to medium enterprises and both York and Lancaster Universities. The £4.5m of Government funding will have £2m added by the industry partners.

The project, a continuation of the technical partners’ previous work with the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed project (5GRIT), will look at how rural mobile connectivity can help eliminate the digital blackspots in North Yorkshire by developing new technologies, apps and services which are tailored to rural areas.

Another of its aims is to understand how the public, private and community sectors can work together to reduce the cost of delivering mobile access in rural areas.

Coun Mackenzie said they would also use this project to look at how, through mobile technology, they could address issues such as social isolation, tourism and the wider economy and provide early warning around flooding.