Time to invest in digital future

IT will come as little surprise to residents of Yorkshire’s more remote areas that the latest figures from Ofcom confirm the continuing and glaring disparity between internet coverage in urban and rural parts of the UK.

For the majority of people, living in towns and cities and for the most part blessed with excellent digital communications networks should they require them, the publication of these figures will be a reminder of the worrying digital divide developing across Britain.

But for those living out in the countryside, no reminder is required. This, quite simply, is the harsh reality of everyday life.

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For small businesses, for those wanting or needing to work from home, for elderly people isolated from family and from vital services, and for young people increasingly reliant upon social networks and online games for so much of their social interaction, every passing year without a decent internet connection is just another year they fall farther behind.

And it is not just up in the Dales and out on the remote North York Moors where both internet speeds and mobile phone coverage are nowhere near the basic level people would expect.

In fact, Ofcom’s figures show basic broadband coverage across Wakefield and North Lincolnshire is even worse than that of North Yorkshire, England’s largest rural county.

The Government is all too aware of this situation, of course. Indeed, the previous Labour Government promised it would install universal broadband – of a hardly-speedy 2Mbs – by next year; this target was then pushed back to 2015 by the coalition. That means three years more small businesses are having to wait for a basic broadband connection; three years more that residents remain isolated without modern communication networks.

Meanwhile, laudable plans for the roll-out of next-generation broadband continue to move forward at a desperately slow pace.

As the Chancellor weighs up his options ahead of his much-anticipated “Growth Review” later this month, he would do well to consider how further investment could be targeted at rural areas to bridge this broadening divide.

For there are few areas where real investment in key infrastructure now will have such a deep and lasting impact upon both economic and social well-being.