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Poor Broadband and IT Skills Fuel Criticism of UK Digital by Default Policy

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 (1:51 pm) - Score 507
westminster uk government

The Government’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and so-called “digital by default” strategy, which among other things seeks to save money by making some services online-only, faced criticism in the House of Commons on Monday after MPs blasted it for being introduced before some rural farmers could even get access to a good broadband connection.

Europe’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which accounts for over 40% of the entire EU budget, is due to be introduced in the United Kingdom from 2015. But the new digital-only approach could leave some people, especially rural hill farmers, out in the lurch as certain tasks (e.g. the payments system) will be moved to an online-only mould (i.e. no more paper application forms).

The change is likely to disadvantage farmers that cannot get access to a broadband connection and or those who lack the necessary I.T. skills to file an online application form. The Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme is of course aiming to make fixed line superfast broadband available to 95% of the country by 2017; not forgetting the 2Mbps for all Universal Service Commitment (USC). But that’s several years away and will probably still miss some people out.

According to Helen Goodman MP, around 40% of the hill farmers in her constituency (Bishop Auckland) have no access to rural broadband. However the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, George Eustice MP (Conservative), said that the Government’s approach wouldn’t be changed but they did intend to provide some additional support.

George Eustice MP said:

I completely understand the point that many hon. Members have made about broadband access. We are investing £500 million through BDUK—Broadband Delivery UK—and a further £250 million in phase 2. We have a third fund of £10 million to pilot creative ideas for those really hard-to-reach areas.

In addition, we will have an assisted digital package. We will send paper guidance to every farmer in year 1, so although they will not have a paper application form, they will have paper guidance. That guidance will include detailed information on our digital offer.

The crucial thing for those lacking the computer literacy to complete their form online or those who have no broadband access is that we will be setting up a number of digital service centres right around the country, particularly targeted at those areas where there is a problem.

Farmers will, thus, be able physically to take their information into an office, which will have privacy and be discreet, and work with an RPA agent to enter that information on the system. That is the right thing for everyone. It is right for those farmers, because it removes the risk of them getting penalties and disallowance.”

It’s worth remembering that Satellite broadband, while often expensive to setup and lacking in usage flexibility due to the high cost of data and poor latency times, is still a viable option as a stop-gap solution for getting online, at least until something better comes along.

We’re glad that the Government will be providing support for those most in need, but equally we can’t shake the feeling that the country’s broadband woes need to be solved before we start forcing vital services to be online-only.

Not everybody wants to use the Internet and millions still don’t, which will take years to solve and even then many will prefer to stay offline.

Leave a Comment
14 Responses
  1. Avatar Phil Coates

    Perhaps some of the CAP money could be ring fenced to provide Satellite BB access for those with no connections? As a user however, I can attest to the high cost (£65 per month), the restrictive data packages (initially unlimited and now 50Gb per month), the highly variable D/L speeds (supposed to be 20Mbps but mainly around 6) and the latency.

    We are a small island, surely it is not beyond the whit of technology to provide universal high speed access by alternative means?

  2. Avatar dragoneast

    The Government doesn’t really get it unless you live in the Westminster Village, does it? When I started work, and you came up with a suggestion, you were sent away to formulate a list of reasons “why not” as well as the why’s before you stood a chance. Doesn’t seem to happen nowadays. I suspect it has something to do with the modern “hands-on” politics. In more ways than one.

  3. Avatar GNewton

    In this country you should not rely on everyone having a decent internet access, that simply won’t happen amongst the common Can’t Do culture here, certainly not as long as Millions of taxpayer’s money is given away to wannabe beggars like BT.

    • Avatar X66yh

      So I take it you would prefer that BDUK was not invented, no taxpayers or council taxpayers monies were spent and then presumably BT would simply abandon the rural and other uneconomic areas to their fate?

      Looking at how much money has been spent on my semi-rural BT line (maintenance/repair/pole replacement) and how much line rental I pay, it certainly does not make economic sense to continue if we were in a wholly unregulated world for a purely commercial entity.

      Much like what happened many many years ago when Transco was in public ownership and extension of mains gas supply to rural area was likewise considered uneconomic. Except that then there was no extra public money forthcoming to help those areas – so they still don’t have mains gas today.

    • Avatar GNewton

      I think I have explained it in the past:

      Not gap funding like BDUK, where taxpayer’s money is given away to BT for no financial ROI, with poor delivery results.

      Rather, appropriate long-term investment, perhaps a mixture or public and private funders, made available to companies who are actually willing to build genuine nextgen and future-proof broadband (twisted-pair copper VDSL is not one of them), with eventual financial ROI for the investors, so no longterm burden to taxpayers.

      Also, bear in mind, there are quite a few places where the BDUK has actually PREVENTED other network providers from building fibre networks, nobody wants to compete against a taxpayer-funded BT bully.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      And which private funders are interested in long terms investments that pay back little over a very long time?

      Its alright coming out with these wonderful sounding ideas, but is there anything under the surface?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      ‘with eventual financial ROI for the investors’. You are not selling it so far…

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Exactly, try taking that to serious business men, even dragon’s den… GNewton, your pitch is a shambles and for that reason I’m out (echoed by all)

      I just love how people simplify things with other peoples money without a care in the world, its just a shame these sort of views don’t translate to anything in the real world, but don’t let that spoil anything, lets have a fantasy that we can use to repeatedly bash the monopoly with, doesn’t matter if it stacks up its still good fun 😉

  4. Avatar Stephen

    I bet that once the 800MHZ 4G is ruled out across the rural areas it will cover a big chunk of the farmers properties.
    Why does the government not push this instead of the BDUK? Surely the mobile ISP’s can roll this out much quicker than BT can dig up the countryside to lay fibre? Or why oh why can fibre not be rolled out on the telegraph poles to rural users? Surely it would cost a fraction of the price to add to the infrastructure that’s already in place?

  5. Avatar Sean

    Have all these farms got electricity and telephone lines? Then it clearly isn’t beyond the wit of man to run them fibre on existing ducts or poles. We’re a tiny island this isn’t Antarctica, if Romania can fibre their Country we can? It’s inevitable that FTTP is going to happen, eventually, but a concerted effort is need to work out how to get it done NOW. Based on my 18 year mortgage £1 month repayment buys £190 so £10 a month line rental gets £1900. Maybe if line rental went to line rental rather than nibbles at the shareholders meeting we could join the 21st Century.

  6. Avatar GNewton

    @TheFacts: “You are not selling it so far”

    As usual, your comment shows you don’t understand what investment is all about. And you have never posted any proposal on how to finance and implement widespread nextgen broadband (VDSL doesn’t cut it, except for Freddy). All you can do is asking stupid questions, do your own research for a change. E.g. did you find requested detailled postcode and other BDUK data you asked for in previous posts? We showed you how to get them.

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