Last week, I was interviewed by BBC Three Counties Radio about broadband issues in rural areas - including a village in Buckinghamshire where one side of the road has 79 Mb broadband and the other 0.6Mb. Imagine the problems faced by those trying to run a business on the wrong side of the street.
This type of postcode lottery is all too common and completely unacceptable. Currently, the Government’s roll out programme contains no plan for reaching 5% of the homes and businesses in the country and the minimum standard of securing broadband access at 2Mb per second is frankly inadequate for any rural businesses.
At the CLA, we have been calling on the Government to commit to a Universal Service Obligation for fast, reliable and affordable broadband and it has been one of the top items in meetings we have been arranging with MPs from across the region this year.
We want Government to speed up roll-out and ensure that a good service is available to all rural communities, in every corner of the UK.
A recent league table compiled by the CLA, which looked at the best counties in England to run a rural business, identified connectivity as one of the top criteria. In Oxfordshire, for example, which came joint second in the country and top in the south east; the county’s superfast broadband coverage scored at 10.2 out of possible 15. This, though, is a score for Oxfordshire as a whole and masks the unhappy truth that many people and businesses in rural parts of the county are still missing out.
Faced with this problem, many of our members are investing in securing broadband themselves, sometimes also providing it for other individuals and businesses in the same area. This was highlighted recently by the interest in the service offered by satellite broadband provider Avonline, when the company joined us on our stands at the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Henley shows.
Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph recently reported that a new pilot voucher scheme for satellite broadband will begin shortly in Suffolk and West Yorkshire, with a national scheme planned for later this year. It is a welcome step in addressing the problems faced by those areas which are unlikely to receive good internet access any other way.
We will continue our campaign for better broadband for all, but in the meantime, fed up with waiting for a fibre optic cable that may never arrive, many rural businesses will resort to finding other solutions. If this is you, we’d like to know – it will help us build a more accurate picture of just how widespread broadband problems are for the south-east’s rural areas.