Below is a briefing note ahead of this afternoon’s Westminster Hall Debate secured by Helen Goodman MP (Labour, Bishop Auckland) on BT broadband provision for local businesses, scheduled to take place from 1:30pm-3:00pm.

The Countryside Alliance believes that high speed broadband is an essential service alongside water, electricity and gas; but is nowhere near as available in rural areas as it is in urban areas. Continued poor connectivity in rural areas represents a huge missed opportunity for economic development and this needs to be addressed as a priority.

One of the main obstacles to high speed broadband in rural areas is the lack of infrastructure able to support high speed connections. The Ofcom Connected Nations Report 2015 showed that around 8% of premises in the UK (2.4 million) are connected to lines that are unable to receive broadband speeds above the proposed Universal Service Obligation of 10Mbit/s. Many of these are in rural areas, where about 48% of premises (1.5 million) are unable to receive speeds above 10Mbit/s.

The Countryside Alliance welcomes the recent Ofcom proposals to open BT’s ducts and telegraph poles to its rivals and the reform of BT Openreach to ensure a better service for customers and businesses. This opening up of access to infrastructure will enable greater competition, which will help drive the delivery of superfast broadband across the UK. We have always said that Ofcom must place consumers at the heart of its decision-making process to ensure that we can all benefit from this digital world. These proposals will go some way to improving connectivity through greater competition but we must not forget those hard to connect areas. We hope that this debate will be an opportunity to raise these concerns and discuss solutions.