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Farmers in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset penalised due to lack of internet

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 19, 2013

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Farmers in remote areas should not be "penalised" for the Government's failure to roll-out broadband if they struggle to draw down subsidies under the new online-only system, industry leaders have said.

Ministers are ditching paper-based applications, and installing a new computer system, when the Brussels money is handed-out from 2015.

But the move to "digital by default" has raised concern among MPs – as previously reported in the Western Morning News – given that many have to cope with slow or limited internet connections in the countryside.

Now farmers' representatives have warned that for many landowners even being able to access the new system online is unrealistic.

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Speaking to MPs, George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers' Association, said: "A big concern for us is the Government's drive to digital communications.

"We are quite happy to encourage our members to go for the digital solution.

"(But) frankly, there are a large number of individuals who will not be able to make the transition, and they should not be penalised because of that," he said. Mr Dunn said the option for farmers to apply on paper must be left open, "particularly in situations where broadband connections are pretty poor, or they do not have the skills to do that".

The Government has committed to rolling out "superfast" broadband to most of the country over the next few years. It is poised to miss its original target of providing 90% coverage across the UK by 2015, however, and has replaced it with a new target of 95% by 2017.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme – one of 26 regional projects given public subsidy to expand broadband coverage, including £30 million from the Treasury and £20 million from local authorities – has a 90% "super-fast" broadband target for the end of 2016.

The £132 million Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Superfast Broadband scheme – which is funded by EU subsidies, rather than the UK government – is aiming for a higher percentage of premises – 95% – to be hooked up next year.

It is the final and hardest to connect to premises – the remaining 10% nationally and in Devon and Somerset or 5% in Cornwall and Scillies – that causes the most concern, and where farmers live.

The farming representatives were speaking to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee.

Westcountry farmers will be wary of a repeat of the late payment of grants, which pushed many into hardship, that was the hallmark of the last shake-up of subsidies in 2005, masterminded by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

During the hearing, Harry Cotterell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said the RPA's performance has been transformed over recent years, and that it was vital the mistakes of the past are not repeated. "The priority initially must be to get the IT system absolutely right," he said.

Defra officials have insisted the new system is already being tested with farmers and that – this time – the Whitehall department had bought a tried-and-tested system off-the-shelf rather than building a new one from scratch, and suggested farmers are more technology savvy than often credited.

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  • enoughliesta  |  May 29 2014, 2:17PM

    There are 13,000 home in Cornwall who have been ignored by Superfast Cornwall WHO fall outside the scope for Fibre broadband and ADSL 2 UPGRADES . Why its cost too much money for 13,000 council tax payers lets have a vote on this !!!!!

  • Tavistock_SFB  |  November 22 2013, 2:15AM

    Broadband is a utility that should be decent and available to all. The slowness of the UK Government to act in a determined way to ensure this is highlighted by failed targets and the loose use of the word superfast. This needs to be delivered by a proper fixed sustainable network, not relatively short term satellite. Superfast Britain will not exist for many years to come with a policy of Superslow Delivery.

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  • Gabber  |  November 19 2013, 12:24PM

    I don't think the cost is prohibitive, packages start at about £15 a month for 20~30Gb monthly use, and it's not expensive having a dish (comparable to anyone else wanting the internet getting a phone line installed). Poster #2 has already highlighted a discount scheme that covers Cornwall. It's ludicrous to say that fast internet is not there for farmers, it's available right across the region no matter who (or where) you are. I'm not sure a farmer really needs to have a 50Gb data tariff for completing an online grant application, one of the cheap £15/month packages would suffice...

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  • talkinghound  |  November 19 2013, 12:01PM

    @Gabber The trouble with that is not everyone has a satellite dish. Also, having done some quick googling, the satellite packages I have seen offered are way more expensive than their equivalent terrestrial alternatives... e.g. £75 per month for 20mb speeds but with a 50 gigabyte data cap. Personally I think I will wait until terrestrial high speed bradband is rolled out everywhere.

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  • mandyfeldon  |  November 19 2013, 11:12AM

    Any farmers in Cornwall who can't get a basic broadband service can take advantage of a subsidised satellite scheme from Superfast Cornwall. Details are at http://tinyurl.com/oaeq9a7 or email satellite@superfastcornwall.org, or you can call the office on 0800 800935.

  • Gabber  |  November 19 2013, 10:27AM

    Rubbish! What pants! Satellite broadband speeds of approaching 20Mbps are available throughout the country, but I guess some grumblers are too tight to pay for it. We all had only dial-up speeds once, not everyone has kicked off about how long it's taken to get something better, and in the meantime why moan about it, just get it by satellite...

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