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Bid to improve policy for rural broadband

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 26, 2012

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Policies to deliver effective and affordable broadband connection for everyone in rural areas must be re- examined, countryside campaigners have said.

The Country Land and Business Association has launched a rural broadband policy paper to mark a decade of campaigning to bring fast, affordable broadband to the countryside.

Called "Broadband Fit for Rural Growth", the paper sets out its vision for the future of rural broadband and calls for a strategic alliance with other interest groups to further influence the rural broadband debate.

CLA South West director John Mortimer said: "Broadband is an economic driver for rural businesses as well as helping the social development of rural communities.

"But between 15 and 20 per cent of those who live in rural areas are still unable to receive anywhere near the Government's benchmark of two megabits per second (Mbps)."

The Government has set aside more than £500 million to improve internet services in more remote areas which are unlikely to receive significant investment from private firms.

It wants every property in the country to have a minimum internet connection of 2Mbps by 2015 and most to have access to so-called "superfast" broadband, with speeds of at least 25Mbps.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset project, led by the two county councils, has been given £30 million from Whitehall.

Cornwall's superfast broadband scheme has been funded chiefly through EU, rather than government, funding.

Mr Mortimer acknowledged there had been notable successes over the last decade but said there remained a huge hill to climb to achieve universal broadband coverage.

"We believe that by seeking to form a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups and by agreeing common objectives, we can convince the Government to do more to help the countryside and to deliver a comprehensive broadband strategy," he said.

The CLA has also called on the Government to sign up to a legally binding "universal service obligation" rather than just a "universal service commitment".

"There is no legal sanction behind a universal service commitment – it provides the Government with a get-out clause if the benchmark is not achieved, which looks pretty unlikely," Mr Mortimer added.

"Access to broadband is the key issue for most of us in rural areas rather so we must look at ways this can be delivered in the short term.

"We have suggested allowing rural communities to "piggy-back" onto public sector broadband and using other technologies such as Wi-Fi and satellite to plug the gaps – but the Government must create the right conditions for this happen."

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