Landowners prepared to open access in rural broadband push

The Government must bring an end to the rural-urban broadband divide, the Country Land and Business Association said.
The Government must bring an end to the rural-urban broadband divide, the Country Land and Business Association said.
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Rural landowners have vowed to unite and give legally-binding written consent for infrastructure providers to access private land in order to dramatically upgrade broadband connectivity in the countryside.

Members of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have pledged to renew an agreement which would allow a network of underground cables to be laid on their land to improve lacklustre broadband connections for rural homes and businesses, but only if the Government truly commits to ending the rural-urban connectivity divide.

The offer comes from the CLA in response to a call for evidence from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on extending local full fibre broadband networks.

More than £1bn of investment to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure was announced by the Chancellor Philip Hammond in his 2016 Autumn Statement.

The Government has promised that the investment will help to deliver faster and more reliable broadband for homes and businesses and it intends to deliver the investment in partnership with local areas.

Funding for new full fibre business connections will be prioritised under the plans and the current call for evidence is designed to inform the development of the Government’s proposals.

Charles Trotman, senior business and economics adviser at the CLA, which represents 30,000 landowners across England and Wales, said: “This consultation marks a major departure from previous government policy on improving connectivity and is in line with many recommendations made by the CLA on the future of rural broadband.

“We fully support the Government’s commitment to full fibre roll out to improve broadband and mobile coverage. This latest push must end the long running rural-urban divide once and for all.

“We are looking for government and industry to set out more specific plans that show where and when digital infrastructure will be upgraded in rural areas.

“We are also calling for a new marketing effort to ensure rural home and business owners are aware when new connections become available.”

Mr Trotman added that if the Government followed through on its commitment, the CLA was prepared to work with the industry to negotiate an overarching agreement between landowners and infrastructure providers for access to deliver a network of underground fixed lines.

“Such a deal has the potential to dramatically advance broadband provision in rural areas,” he said.

Whitehall funding has supported the roll out of so-called superfast broadband - involving internet speeds of greater than 24 megabits per second - to areas of the UK where roll out has proven to be economically unviable to commercial providers such as BT and Virgin Media. These parts of the country are mostly rural areas.

The Government announced in March last year that it had reached its target to support coverage to 90 per cent of the country.

Its next target is to achieve 95 per cent coverage by December this year but it remains uncertain how and when connectivity will get tothe hardest to reach and most deeply rural final five per cent.