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ISP Exwavia Fears UK Government to Fine Rural Farmers for Lack of Broadband

Saturday, Mar 10th, 2012 (7:57 am) - Score 700

Welshpool-based ISP Exwavia, which uses wireless (WiFi) technology to deliver broadband internet access speeds of up to 14Mbps (Megabits per second) into isolated parts of rural Wales (UK), has warned that farmers could soon be hit by a new wave of fines and penalties if they do not start using the governments related online services (e.g. Taxation, Electronic Sheep Database etc.).

The underlying issue itself is nothing new but the government still appears unwilling to acknowledge some obvious problems and has continued to expand upon its demands. Common sense suggests that such a requirement should only be mandatory if the people actually have an ability to comply. Unfortunately many farms, especially those in the most isolated parts of rural Wales and Scotland, still do not have access to broadband connectivity and probably won’t for a few more years.

Annette Burgess, Managing Director of eXwavia, said (Farming UK):

There is a real problem surfacing here. On the one hand farmers are being told they will have to register and access more and more details online and yet the broadband access required to fulfil this is minimal, if at all. It’s a ridiculous situation.

We’ve spoken to representatives of the NFU and FUW about this issue and there is genuine concern that farmers could be penalised or fined simply because they cannot access the databases or relevant online regulatory systems because they don’t have a broadband connection.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents more than 55,000 farming members across England and Wales, explained some of these issues in more detail as part of its official January 2012 response to HMRC’s consultation on legislation for online PAYE returns (full download pdf).

NFU Response to HMRC Consultation (Jan 2012) – Extract

The Minister for the Cabinet Office has previously stated that “Every single Government service must be available to everyone – no matter if they are online or not”, a statement we would commend to all Government departments because for rural businesses without adequate broadband access many online services are simply not a viable option at present. This statement was seen as extremely important by many rural businesses because it implied that they would not face indirect discrimination from the Government by being forced to use online services before suitable broadband access is provided or without incurring the costs of a third party.

It is therefore of particular concern that, whilst HMRC acknowledge within the Equalities impacts section of the RTI Taxes Impact Assessment, that there is an issue of equality for those in rural locations with poor broadband services, they do not provide an adequate solution within the legislation to remedy this. The draft legislation does remedy the issue of equality for the other affected group identified in the Equalities impacts section, being ‘care and support’ employers, by offering them an exemption from online filing and the option of monthly paper filing. This is a serious omission and it must surely be remedied in the final legislation by extending the exemption from online filing in section 67D and the alternative monthly paper filing option to those in rural locations with poor broadband services.”

Farming land typically resides in some of the country’s poorest served areas for modern digital connectivity and these days dialup connections, where available to farmers, don’t quite cut the mustard. Another issue is that some farmers have not yet adapted to the online generation and as a result require additional assistance to help them complete such tasks, which is available to some but not all.

On the other hand most rural areas could adopt a modern Satellite broadband service if they really wanted, which in recent years have become significantly faster (speeds of up to 10Mbps) and are now much more affordably priced (setup fees can still be high, especially outside of Wales where no special grants exist). Satellite solutions are by no means ideal but they are well suited as a quick-fix for cases like this, at least until better infrastructure arrives.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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