Mark Bridgeman, CLA Deputy President, appeared at the EFRA Select Committee in the Houses of Parliament today to discuss “Rural Broadband and Digital Only Services”.
Questioned by committee members, including chair Neil Parish MP, Mr Bridgeman appeared alongside Jeremy Leggett of Action with Communities in Rural England and Graham Briggs of the Rural Services Network, to discuss rural connectivity and ending the urban/rural digital divide.
Mr Bridgeman shared the goals of CLA’s #4GForAll campaign and clearly made the case to the MPs on the Committee for “cracking 4G”.
Opening proceedings, Mr Bridgeman explored the progress made and remaining issues for rural mobile coverage and stressed the importance of all networks being accessible across the countryside.
He also highlighted the opportunities that rural connectivity can provide for investment, economic growth, and in the delivery of government services. He stressed the importance of 4G in delivering 100% connectivity to rural communities.
Answering a question on BT Openreach, Mr Bridgeman stressed that providers should be communicating directly with rural users and sharing when broadband or mobile coverage is on its way. He was also asked how for his opinion on the Government’s USO on broadband and what this means for rural areas.
He shared that the bar on rural connectivity needs to be raised for all – coverage improvements should be for everyone and not just businesses. Asked about whether the market was working on rural broadband, Mr Bridgeman urged that the investment need to come from government, comparing it to investments made in the road network which on the face of it do not make sense, but which actually unlocks additional economic activity.
The Committee highlighted the recent House of Lords report into the rural economy which was optimistic for the future of rural connectivity. Mr Bridgeman noted that there were reasons to be positive, but that a lot needs to be done on rural 4G before the countryside gets a fair deal on connectivity. He also talked about the impact of a lack of rural mobile connectivity for all rural users, but especially businesses.
Following up on last week’s letter to the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Bridgeman was asked specifically about the CLA’s response to mobile operator proposals for a single rural network. Mr Bridgeman shared the four key tests that are needed by rural users before we can accept these plans.
Find out more about CLA’s #4GForAll campaign on our interactive timeline and on the campaign pages. Read our recent news calling for four key tests to be met on operator plans for a "single rural network".