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Better Broadband to Boost England’s Rural Countryside Economy

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 (8:11 am) - Score 1,679

The Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has predicted that productivity and jobs in rural parts of England will grow faster than urban areas over the next 10 years (2025), which is largely down to the on-going boost from faster broadband / mobile connectivity and better transport links.

According to DEFRA’s report, workers in rural areas are currently 83% as productive as those in urban areas and yet rural productivity has the “potential to grow faster than the average expected rate for the UK“. Rural areas are already home to a quarter of all businesses (note: people living in the countryside are apparently more likely to run their own businesses), which is despite only around 18% of the population actually living in such locations.

But DEFRA states that the on-going £1.7bn Broadband Delivery UK roll-out of fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) connectivity, which aims to reach 95% of people in the United Kingdom by 2017 and is currently looking at how best to connect the final 5%, will be a significant force for change. On top of that the report also highlights the Government’s efforts to tackle mobile not-spots (here) and their planned £15bn investment in national roads infrastructure as playing a major part in improving rural connectivity.

Overall it’s anticipated that the improved connectivity, spread of innovation, growth in knowledge-based industries and changes in working patterns (e.g. more remote-working and shorter commutes) should deliver higher wages and better economic output from rural areas, which could potentially increase by around an extra £35 billion. Rural employment in England could also jump by 6% (300,000 extra jobs).

Elizabeth Truss, Environment Secretary, said:

This is a truly exciting time for rural communities with the countryside set to become even more of an economic powerhouse for the UK, building our economic security.

Improved infrastructure is a great driver of change and our investment in broadband and transport links, together with improved mobile phone signals, is unlocking the huge potential for growth in the countryside where entrepreneurial activity is outstripping many parts of the UK.

Whether you’re in a cottage in Cornwall or a small business in one of our great national parks, you are better connected now than ever before – ultimately that means greater opportunities, more jobs and improved wages and a better future.”

We certainly agree that if superfast broadband can be made available to 100% of the population then there’s little doubt that rural areas would deliver a boost to the United Kingdom’s overall economy, although to achieve this would surely also require that the method of connectivity deployed is capable of offering a reliable, affordable and flexible broadband service.

Recently there’s been a lot of talk between BDUK and BT about using Satellite technology to fill the last 5% gap, which is worrying since these are useful stop-gap measures but they have several key pitfalls. Admittedly the high cost of hardware and installation (often around the £500 mark) could conceivably be mitigated by a voucher scheme (e.g. the ABC scheme in Wales) and speeds may improve beyond the current 20-22Mbps cap in the near future, but that’s only part of the issue.

Ultimately on a Satellite service you’d still be left with connections that can experience heavy throttling due to capacity constraints, meagre usage allowances unless you pay a huge monthly fee and high latency (useless for fast paced multiplayer gaming, time sensitive share trading and other time critical tasks). In the longer term a good fixed line or fixed wireless network would be the best way to deliver better and more easily upgradable connectivity into such locations.

On top of that we must also remember that Governments are nothing if not overly optimistic in their predictions and hopes, which will no doubt be magnified by the fast approaching May 2015 General Election. But as always this must be tempered against reality and as yet rural areas are only just starting to see some benefit from the BDUK scheme, which until very recently was still predominantly benefitting sub-urban areas and larger towns.

No doubt there will be a benefit but we must ensure that this isn’t hobbled by poor choices of technology that could create future problems.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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