Calls for Action to Tackle “Chronic” Rural Broadband and Mobile Problems

A new report from lesser known UK think tank Parliament Street has warned how a historic “lack of investment” and “chronic connectivity” problems mean that too many rural areas are still being “challenged” by issues such as “slow broadband, less bandwidth, and problematic mobile and TV reception,” among other things.

At present around 96% of UK premises are estimated to be within reach of a fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) ISP connection (hopefully rising to c.98% by around the end of 2020), which is thanks in no small part to the state aid funded Building Digital UK project. Ofcom also states that the outdoor geographic coverage of 4G services across the UK is still low at 67% from all four mobile operators or around 91% from at least one operator (EE).

Naturally many of the remote rural locations where farmers operate are often last on the list for upgrades, which is due to the economic challenges inherent with building expensive new networks to cater for so few users over a wide area. In response the think-tank wants the Government to tackle such “forgotten and neglected” areas.

The report comes ahead of the new National Infrastructure Strategy (here), which is widely expected to set out how the Government will aim to achieve Boris Johnson’s radical pledge to make “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband available to every home by the end of 2025 (here).

Parliament Street Statement

The government is planning changes to policies, these changes should support farmers, tackle chronic connectivity in rural communities, improve and preserve landscapes, restore wildlife, protect the environment and build countryside character.

Any legislative changes should be tailored to reflect local character, working with local areas and communities. We should see this time of political uncertainty as an opportunity to regenerate outdated rural policies and support the rural communities of the United Kingdom.

Lack of investment from consecutive governments in agriculture and rural affairs has left rural communities severely challenged. The heartland of the UK is being forgotten and neglected, and became a blind spot by the Westminster bubble. Food and farming is the bedrock of our economy and environment, with agriculture having been the backbone of Great Britain throughout history as the oldest industry in civilization.

Unfortunately the proposals that accompany this report aren’t particularly detailed.

The Six Proposals

1. Government should help develop a dynamic, innovative sector, accessible to new entrants, by developing measures, which reverse the loss of farms, particularly small ones.

2. An evaluation of subsidies, grants and taxation affecting farmers and rural communities should be carried out in order to support profitable sustainable farming practices where possible. For arable farmers, opportunities to sequester carbon through use of cover crops and to be less ‘intensive’.

3. A national, industry led initiative to ensure better government support for farmers and the best possible trade deals for the industry.

4. More work to incentivise public procurement of local produce and meat.

5. State aid for farmers.

6. Rural community support, for businesses and residents alike. Concentrating on better connectivity, transport and small businesses.

In fairness last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) has already started some of this work, not least by moving to adopt an “outside-in” approach to deployment (i.e. start building fibre in difficult / rural areas at the same time as the easiest urban ones). Since then we’ve also had the launch of their new £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme (here).

On top of that a lot of effort is going in to improving mobile coverage alongside Ofcom’s forthcoming auction of the 700MHz band, which when coupled to the proposals for a new Shared Rural Network (here and here) could eventually help 4G and 5G coverage to reach around 92% and then 95% geographic coverage in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile the March 2020 introduction of a new 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (here) may help a few areas until something better arrives further down the road.

By Mark Jackson Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments.


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