A RURAL watchdog claims its view the Government “should not be solely fixated” on broadband speed has been “vindicated” in a report by an independent think tank.
The Policy Exchange report, The Superfast and the Furious, states that the Government should focus on helping the 10.8 million people who are not online as well as helping small businesses make more of the potential released by the digital revolution.
Country Land and Business Association (CLA) head of rural development Dr Charles Trotman said: “We have long advocated a clearer Government focus on ensuring that all in rural areas have access to an affordable and effective broadband connection of at least two Megabits per second (Mbps).
“As we stated in our own policy statement, Broadband Fit For Growth, without universal coverage and the need for a universal service obligation, the rural/urban digital divide will simply be exacerbated. What is clear from the Policy Exchange research is that the majority of the British public agree with us.
“Around 20 per cent of those who live in rural England and Wales are still unable to receive anywhere near the Government’s benchmark of two Mbps. There is still a huge amount to be done to ensure coverage is universal.
“We believe the Government must do more to help the countryside. By seeking to form a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups to agree common objectives, we can help to deliver a comprehensive broadband strategy.”
The CLA is also calling on the Government to provide an appropriate framework, allowing rural communities to “piggy-back” on to public sector broadband which already exists in many rural locations, such as schools and libraries.
Dr Trotman said: “Until a fixed-line broadband infrastructure is put in place, other technologies must be used to bridge the rural/urban digital divide.
“The CLA advocates a patchwork-quilt model, whereby other technologies, such as wi-fi and satellite, become widely available and used but the Government must create the right conditions for this to happen.”
The CLA wants local authorities to ensure contracts awarded to infrastructure providers include fair compensation provisions for any failure to meet time and coverage requirements.
Dr Trotman added: “We do not believe Broadband Delivery UK’s bidding process is working. The system adopted by the Government is too bureaucratic and has discouraged many of the big market players from taking part.
“Moreover, payments to providers must be performance related to ensure a fast and effective broadband service is rolled out to rural areas.”