The DCMS Select Committee are looking into broadband and 5G connectivity and the Countryside Alliance has taken the opportunity to make the case for ensuring digital connectivity is delivered in the countryside.
The Alliance has long campaigned on the issue and has continuously made the point that high speed broadband and mobile connectivity are essential services and must be treated as such. Slow speeds are not only a barrier to growth, but the lack of connectivity is leading to increased isolation and social exclusion. Fundamentally, digital connectivity should be available to all, no matter where they live.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is demonstrating how important connectivity is with the role it is playing in supporting millions of those working from home, connecting communities and families, and educating the next generation through home schooling. This cannot be overestimated. It is now imperative that the Government ensures that initiatives such as the Shared Rural Network and gigabit enabled broadband are not only properly supported but rolled out as soon as practically possible. Digital connectivity is an essential service and must be treated as such.
Improving our digital connectivity starts with the need for investment, particularly if we are to improve connectivity in rural areas. The measures contained in the last Budget, with £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband in the most difficult to reach 20 per cent of the country, and £510 million for the Shared Rural Network, are warmly welcomed. However, the Government has only committed funding from the National Productivity and Infrastructure Fund until 2021. If the Government are to deliver in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, which has set out the changes that are needed to give the majority of the population access to 5G and connect 15 million premises to full-fibre broadband by 2025, then we need a clear funding strategy that goes well beyond this 2021 funding commitment.
The Government is hugely ambitious for a digital Britain, an ambition we support. At a time when we are relying on connectivity to help keep the economy going, and as Britain prepares to leave the EU, we must ensure that we have a digital infrastructure that is fit for purpose, responsive to user needs and that is future proofed in line with the best available technology.