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."
CLA Acting Director South East Tim Brock 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 which is effectively a get-out clause."
"Access is the key issue in rural areas rather than seeking higher speeds and so the CLA policy paper also calls on the Government to provide an appropriate framework allowing rural communities to "piggy-back" onto public sector broadband and using other technologies such as wi-fi and satellite to plug the gaps."
Rural 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.
CLA Berkshire Chairman Simon Muir said: "Speaking for Berkshire I fully support the CLA's rural broadband policy. It is becoming harder to let commercial properties in Berkshire without fast broadband, and it is increasingly the case that houses need this too, in order to enable home working, for leisure uses, and in future for access to health and education services. It is extraordinary that there are properties within sight of the technology centres of the Thames Valley that are without fast broadband. Without this the reduced access to public services which many rural communities already suffer with will become worse and eventually cut off those living and working in the countryside."
CLA Hampshire Chairman Hallam Mills said: "Lack of fast broadband strangles rural productivity for commercial and farming interests, particularly if your highest speed is 0.5mbps, as is the case here. For example if you are a care charity needing to use sophisticated software to roster staff, or a graphic design studio, or a farm wanting to keep in contact with best practice around the world, slow broadband is a death sentence to productivity."
He added: "We don't need outrageously fast speeds, we just need enough speed to make routine tasks possible. A landowner cannot get quality commercial tenants without providing decent broadband speeds: they will go back to town and local rural employment will not improve, nor will old farm buildings be saved by refurbishment. This country's rural areas are being confined to the Stone Age by lack of digital infrastructure planning and action. It is so short-sighted."
To view Rural Broadband Fit for Rural Growth please click here.
Summary Of Recommendations:
1. The CLA calls on the Government to begin work on putting in place an effective framework to implement a Universal Service Obligation by 2015.
2. The CLA calls on local authorities to ensure that contracts awarded to infrastructure providers include fair compensation provisions for any failure to meet time and coverage requirements. In addition, payments to infrastructure providers must be performance-related to ensure a fast and effective broadband service is rolled out to rural areas.
3. The CLA calls on other like-minded trade associations to work with the CLA to agree a series of common objectives and to put in place a strategy so that the undoubted benefits of the broadband revolution can be delivered to all.
4. The CLA calls on Government to provide an appropriate framework to allow rural communities to "piggy-back" onto public sector broadband.
5. The CLA calls on Defra to look again at the implementation and structure of the Rural Community Broadband Fund to ensure more businesses have access to the available funding.