Yorkshire left in digital void despite £5bn Government promise

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Yorkshire families are being left living in “digital voids” where a lack of mobile phone signal and poor broadband connections are cutting them off from modern life, officials have been warned.

The full impact of cut-off homes and businesses emerges even as the Government announces a £5bn deal to improve UK coverage.

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid’s 90% coverage deal will still leave swathes of the North’s countryside without a reliable mobile phone connection, business groups claimed, with network providers blocking a radical rethink of services.

In Westminster the official responsible for UK broadband rollout has been told it is unacceptable that rural England is losing out on what should be a universal service.

Details of Yorkshire’s digital shortfall came as Chris Townsend, the chief executive officer at Broadband Delivery UK, admitted that even on long term projections places such as North Yorkshire will get around 92% internet coverage, suggesting subsidies may have to be used to help families connect via satellites.

MPs on the Environment select committee heard evidence from across Yorkshire and the rest of the UK showing that the Government’s £1bn broadband infrastructure deal is not doing enough for rural areas.

Andrew Clark, director of policy at the National Farmers Union, said broadband was the “modern equivalent of the universal postal service” adding “we would not be satisfied if the post did not reach every household, why should we settle on broadband.”

And the committee heard from officials at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council who said that families in hard to reach areas faced a real challenge accessing services.

The council said: “Some communities are unable to access any 3G mobile coverage to make mobile broadband a possible alternative. Even basic 2G mobile phone provision is patchy across the East Riding with many partial notspot areas.

“One rural parish councillor and businessman recently described his village as a ‘digital void’, due to the combined broadband/mobile phone challenges experienced.

“Another parish clerk in a village not yet included in broadband upgrade plans recently spent over four hours attempting to download a standard definition film to watch, a process undertaken comparatively swiftly in areas with fast and reliable broadband connectivity.”

The same message of frustration was repeated in North Yorkshire, where committee chair Anne McIntosh said farmers now faced a triple whammy of meeting new farm payment rules, complying with new rules to file forms electronically and having to put up only 82% broadband access.

Mr Townsend said his Department for Culture, Media and Sport-backed agency is putting £25m into North Yorkshire.

“We aim for nearly 87% by March 2015, by Phase 2 it’s 92%. £25m will be spent there.”