“Businesses still struggled in rural areas mainly due to a lack of adequate broadband.” [Federation of Small Businesses]
The government has just launched a ‘new drive to support rural communities’:
Unleashing Rural Opportunity document launched
Communities and businesses in the most remote areas will benefit from better access to wireless networks thanks to plans announced today as part of the government’s wider drive to grow the rural economy.
A new £7 million fund will test out new ways to bring together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity, helping support farmers and tourism businesses to access lightning fast, reliable connectivity in remote areas for the first time.
The results of the new approaches will also help rural businesses in trial areas make the most of new agricultural technologies by improving connectivity on their land, for example using new drone technology to monitor crops and livestock in real-time, support landscape and wildlife conservation efforts, or develop interactive experiences for tourists.
Here’s some of the response:
Improved broadband is just a part of the document, which is set to be officially unveiled at the Future Countryside Conference. It also aims to improve transportation and electricity infrastructure in rural communities, especially in the electrification of heating and EV (electric vehicle) charging.
Broadband is a major focus for rural communities, which struggle to keep up with the wider economy due to a lack of consistent and good internet connectivity. Without proper broadband, rural areas are left behind in work, education, and can struggle to maintain a population if people cannot sustain remote work.
However, the Federation of Small Businesses found that businesses still struggled in rural areas mainly due to a lack of adequate broadband.
Further, while broadband is essential to most households to maintain access to work and education, the cost-of-living crisis has made many families opt out of broadband to pay for other expenses over the winter this year, with Citizens Advice estimating about one million Brits having to cut their broadband due to rising bills. While the government aims to make rural broadband available, these already struggling communities may find accessing it a challenge all on its own.
Rural Services Network Chief Executive, Kerry Booth, is cautiously welcoming the announcement:
“It is good to finally see a joined-up approach across Government departments. We know that you cannot tackle the challenges facing our rural communities in isolation. For example, it is not about building more homes. We need the right kind of homes in the right places, supported by an infrastructure including transport, health and education. All of this also needs to be delivered in a timely manner before the urban/rural gap becomes even greater.
“However, the crux of the problem remains one of fairer funding. Historically rural local authorities have been underfunded by successive Governments. This means that rural councils have less to spend to deliver services, when it costs more to do so in rural communities. For example, something as simple as collecting the bins costs more as the refuse lorry travels so much further if its collecting from properties four miles apart rather than a terraced row of houses. We would now love to see these policy commitments followed up with a DHLUC commitment to fairly fund rural councils too as that would make a significant difference.”
Kerry addressed some of these issues during an interview on the BBC’s Farming Today programme with Anna Hill. You can listen to the full piece on BBC Sounds (from 10:40 mins) here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001mlqr