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Countryside Alliance welcomes continued investment in digital infrastructure

The Countryside Alliance welcomes continued investment in digital infrastructure through Project Gigabit and the Shared Rural Network.

The absence of broadband infrastructure serving small firms threatens the expansion of the rural economy. The business opportunity includes 28 per cent of all UK firms and over one million small businesses.

All forms of technology must be considered when trying to connect hard to reach areas. 5G, satellite and fixed wireless should be considered alongside fibre to the premises technology.

We support Government proposals for policy interventions and agree that an alternative approach is required to ensure hard to reach premises can receive a gigabit-capable connection. We are concerned, however, about where the funding will come from.

The Universal Service Obligation remains crucial in rural areas for ensuring equitable access to communication and information technologies. It helps bridge the digital divide, fostering economic development, education, and healthcare access in regions that might otherwise be underserved or excluded.

The Countryside Alliance surveyed its membership on the most important issues that will strengthen the rural economy. We had over 1,000 responses, showing the strength of feeling about the importance of the rural economy. The results showed that 70 per cent of respondents felt digital infrastructure was the most important issue in relation to the rural economy followed by the provision of services.

Our research showed that 70 per cent of respondents were concerned that slow speeds are a barrier to growth, the lack of connectivity was leading to increased isolation and social exclusion, and that fibre connectivity should be available to all, no matter where they live.

Comments from the survey included:

  • “Poor internet access from (home), leads to loss of business opportunities. It also adds to toxic emissions, by causing travel which might otherwise be avoided. The loneliness factor must be considered as regards the elderly which can add to potential illnesses linked to loneliness and a concomitant addition to National Health costs. Rapid introduction of fibre-optic broadband is necessary to combat and reduce the above-highlighted issues.”
  • “Employers simply do not set up where digital coverage is thin or lacking. BT Openreach needs to be strictly regulated. Where we live there is no landline broadband and it is common for our phone line to be out of order. We used satellite for a while but have now migrated to 4G. However, that is both expensive and temperamental.”
  • “Problems of safety if an accident takes place. Lack of opportunity to make use of the world wide web for educational purposes. All villages should be connected by now, so start to connect isolated homes as well.”
  • “The inability to react to the changing working environment which in turn leads to the breakdown of community. Good digital connectivity facilitates not just working from home but enables people to work together and form rural hubs or serviced offices which can then support better local amenities.”

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