CLA marks 10 years of campaigning with big push for broadband in all rural areas
The CLA today (24 September) launched a policy paper on rural broadband to mark 10 years of lobbying for everyone in rural areas to benefit from an effective and affordable broadband connection.
The Association celebrated the 10th anniversary of its broadband campaign by publishing Broadband Fit for Rural Growth, which sets out its vision for the future of rural broadband and calls for a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups to further influence the rural broadband debate.
CLA President Harry Cotterell said: "Broadband acts as an economic driver for rural businesses as well as helping the social development of rural communities. But between 15 and 20 percent of those who live in rural areas are still unable to receive anywhere near the Government's benchmark of two Megabits per second (Mbps).
"Although there have been some notable successes in the 10 years since the CLA started campaigning, there is still a huge amount to be done to ensure coverage is universal. We have set out our first-ever rural broadband policy because we believe the Government must do more to help the countryside. By seeking to form a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups to agree common objectives, we can help to deliver a comprehensive broadband strategy."
Mr Cotterell said: "It is unlikely that the Government's objective for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 will be realised.
"So, we are calling on the Government to step up and agree to a Universal Service Obligation rather than just a 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, and it is very unlikely it will be achieved by 2015."
The policy also calls on the Government to provide an appropriate framework allowing rural communities to "piggy-back" onto public sector broadband.
The CLA President said: "Until a fixed-line broadband infrastructure is put in place, other technologies must be used to bridge the rural/urban digital divide. The CLA advocates a "patchwork-quilt" model whereby other technologies, such as wi-fi and satellite become widely available and used. But the Government must create the right conditions for this happen."
Broadband Fit for Rural Growth also calls on local authorities to ensure contracts awarded to infrastructure providers include fair compensation provisions for any failure to meet time and coverage requirements.
He added: "We do not believe Broadband Delivery UK's bidding process is working. The system adopted by the Government is too bureaucratic, which has discouraged many of the big market players from taking part. Moreover, payments to providers must be performance-related to ensure a fast and effective broadband service is rolled out to rural areas."
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Dr Charles Trotman
An economist, advises on rural economic issues, particularly food policy, rural tourism, equine issues and telecommunications policy.
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