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Vocal for rural services

Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: Communications in the countryside are essential, whether you are going online to conduct business or sending a birthday card to a loved one, access to the internet and postal services should be simple and integrated parts of living and working in rural communities. Fair access to services is something on which the Countryside Alliance has long been vocal and this week has been no different.

It was encouraging on Wednesday when we learned that Ofcom, following a review of Royal Mail regulation, found that the 'universal postal service is financially sustainable'. We raised our concerns with Ofcom last year that competition was making the service unviable in rural areas so we welcome the body's acceptance that the service can and should be a viable part of the rural economy. The Universal Service Obligation should, as its name suggests, be universal, backed up with a competitive and vibrant postal service.

We have also repeatedly made the case to the Government and the media that broadband is the fourth utility alongside gas, water and electricity, and that case is being heard at the highest levels. Earlier this week colleagues and I met with Ministers Ed Vaizey, Rory Stewart and Oliver Letwin to discuss one of the countryside's biggest bug bears - the rollout of broadband to the countryside. The Government included a Digital Economy Bill in last week's Queen's Speech, which will underpin the proposal to deliver the broadband universal service obligation. Working alongside the CLA and NFU we will ensure that the digital interests of the countryside are best represented in Whitehall and will continue to push hard and be vocal for connectivity across the countryside.

It may dismay many, but digital communications are the future and provide alternative ways for people to exchange information, consume news, do business, shop and communicate. While the online world is a fact of life we must also continue to make the case for our postal service, upon which many still rely and which has always been held to be reliable and secure.

We will continue to fight for the interests of the countryside, embrace modern technology but at the same time do battle for the traditional services which have served the countryside so well for centuries.

Follow Tim on Twitter @CA_TimB.

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