The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has written to the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman, calling for clarity on whether rural communities will receive gigabit capable broadband by 2025.
A £5bn investment into rural broadband by 2025 had been pledged by the Prime Minister during his 2019 election campaign.
But following the Chancellor’s Spending Review last week, it was announced that the planned investment had dropped to just £1.2bn which would be available over the next four years, reaching only 85% of homes and businesses.
This U-turn has sparked concern. Therefore, the CLA has asked Mr Warman if rural communities and businesses will have to wait until after 2025 for a gigabit capable connection or if the remaining £3.8bn will be included in the next spending round (2022/25). This would allow uncommercial areas to benefit from the outside-in approach and make progress in bridging the productivity gap that exists between rural and urban areas.
Around half a million homes in rural areas already have poor broadband and a delay in the roll-out of coverage like this could have crippling consequences for those who live and work in the countryside.
Nothing holds back the rural economy quite like poor digital access
Mark Bridgeman, President of the CLA which represents 30,000 rural businesses across England and Wales, said:
“Nothing holds back the rural economy quite like poor digital access.
“The rural economy is already 16% less productive than the national average. If you were to close that gap the economy would grow by up to £43bn in England alone.
“Government has committed time and again to improving digital access for those living in the countryside and they need to deliver their promise.
“Levelling up through connectivity will give people in the countryside the opportunity they need to fulfil their potential – and this includes the instalment of first-class digital connectivity.”
A fully connected countryside is one of the five key asks in the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse Campaign, which was launched to unleash the potential of the rural economy.