Countryside closer to broadband connectionAfter months of lobbying, BT has finally accepted the Country Land and Business Association's argument that the countryside should have access to affordable broadband. BT today announced that 2,300 telephone exchanges will be set trigger levels, which will help rural businesses and communities gauge when they can tap into broadband. Despite recent calls from the Government and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee backing CLA calls for all local exchanges to have trigger levels set, BT continued to resist, arguing that trigger levels could only be set for economically viable exchanges. Nevertheless the CLA - the only nationally based rural organisation campaigning for broadband - successfully pushed for rural areas to be moved one step closer to affordable broadband.
CLA President Mark Hudson says: 'While we welcome BT's announcement, setting trigger levels does not mean that rural areas will get broadband. It is still very much the case that the rural-urban digital divide is increasing, where rural businesses suffer a competitive disadvantage to their urban counterparts. All infrastructure providers must recognise the importance of broadband to increasing both the competitiveness and productivity of rural areas. Lord Haskins recently stressed the importance of broadband to the countryside's future.'
BT introduced its pre-registration and trigger levels programme last year which has seen trigger levels being set for over 2,600 exchanges out of a total 5,500. However, the majority of exchanges, some 3,200, are located in rural areas. BT have now said that they will set levels for a further 2,300 exchanges, which means that 80% of rural exchanges will have trigger levels set.
Setting a trigger level does not mean that an exchange will be provided with broadband. A lot more work is required. But together with the Government's public aggregation project that is allocating £1 billion towards the roll out of broadband to schools and GP surgeries, setting trigger levels means that rural communities will at the very least know the available options, allowing them to plan for the future. Without a trigger level, local community groups continue to grope in the dark, believing that broadband is just around the corner when, in fact, it could take years.
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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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