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Countryside Alliance Calls for UK Broadband Improvement to Soften Brexit

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 (11:16 am) - Score 402
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The 100,000 member strong Countryside Alliance, which campaigns to protect rural areas (food, farming, businesses and services), has published a new policy document on the impact of leaving the EU that calls on the UK Government to invest more money into improving broadband and mobile.

The new Brexit document – ‘Sustaining a Living and Working Countryside Outside of the EU‘ (PDF) – correctly notes that many rural farmers are “still unable to receive high speed broadband” and those who are connected do not always have the skills to be able to make full use of it.

As such the CA calls on the UK Government and Devolved Administrations to ensure that applications under a new agricultural policy are able to be made by post as well as online, for as long as universal connectivity is lacking. It also demands that politicians “get the basics right” first by ensuring that people in the countryside have access to “reliable high speed broadband.”

CA Statement

Our countryside is a national treasure admired around the world, but it is also a home and workplace for millions of us. Those who live and work there can be forgiven for feeling that the countryside is often treated as a theme park, and does not receive the political support and action it needs and deserves. Rural life holds specific challenges and politicians of all parties must recognise this and make rural policy a significant part of the election campaign.

Specifically there are five policies we want to see at the heart of the next government’s agenda which we will put to every candidate in the General Election:

* to put the interests of rural communities front and centre of Brexit negotiations.

* to ‘Buy British’ and support our farmers and producers.

* to repeal the Hunting Act and recognise the value of shooting and fishing.

* to connect the countryside by delivering first class digital connectivity.

* to tackle crime in rural areas.

The document might be focused on Brexit, although the CA’s recommendations for broadband and mobile connectivity are all fairly similar to the calls that many other organisations frequently make. Indeed they do not strictly have to be linked with Brexit in order to remain relevant and valid.

CA Recommendations for Digital Communications

• Leaving the EU and establishing new trade deals with countries around the world will increase the need for UK businesses to be competitive. This means it is more important than ever that the UK Government invests in digital connectivity and skills.

• It is unacceptable that 960,000 homes in rural areas still cannot access download speeds greater than 10Mbit/s. With the drive for digital by default and the ambition for the UK to have a world leading digital economy we must get the basics right by ensuring that people in the countryside have access to reliable high speed broadband.

• Most of the existing broadband delivery contracts are only designed to run until 2018/19 and few currently involve substantial funding from the EU. However, previous broadband delivery programmes have benefitted from EU funding, including the Superfast Cornwall programme which received over £53 million from the EU Regional Development Fund (ERDF) between 2011- 2015. The existing programme which is due to be completed by the end of 2017 still receives funding from the ERDF and there are other programmes which also currently benefit from EU funding. Many farmers have benefitted from broadband investment under the EU Rural Development Programme which co-finances programmes with Member States. It is vital that the UK Government guarantees existing levels of EU funding for broadband programmes and develops its own programmes after we leave the EU.

• Outside of the EU and the Digital Single Market, there is the potential for a greater divergence between digital connectivity in the UK and countries within the EU. If the EU sets a future target for the rollout of ‘ultrafast’ broadband (100Mbit/s) beyond 2020, which is widely expected to happen, then the UK Government could choose to ignore it and be less ambitious. We believe that the UK Government should seek to be at least as ambitious as the EU in digital connectivity in future and where possible look to exceed EU targets.

• The digital sector in the UK is regulated by Ofcom but decisions about state funding and competition often have to be approved by the EU Commission as part of the requirements of the Single Market. Outside the EU, Ofcom will no longer have to wait for approval from the EU before finalising new industry rules. Ofcom will no doubt remain attuned to the direction of EU telecoms regulation which will be necessary for some aspects, such as the harmonisation of radio and wireless spectrum bands, but leaving the EU will give the regulator greater autonomy which is something we welcome.

At this point the Government, which has recently committed another £600m to boost fibre optic broadband and made a lot of related changes (Budget 2017 Summary), would no doubt say that they’re already working to achieve many of the points raised by the CA.

For example, the 2017 Digital Economy Bill aims to foster a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for minimum broadband speeds of 10Mbps (30Mbps if the Lords have their way but we expect that to be dropped) and they appear likely to protect EU investment, at least in terms of the funding that has already been allocated to existing broadband contracts (here).

However a question mark does exist over the European Commission’s recent non-binding “Gigabit Society” proposals (100Mbps+ for all by 2025), which go well beyond any targets that the United Kingdom has announced and it’s a similar story for most of the other EU member states.

On the other hand some recent DCMS job postings (here) do hint at a bold ambition to “help make Britain the most digitally connected country in the world,” although that’s probably just the usual political spin and should be taken with a pinch of salt until we see a solid policy and investment model to flesh it out.

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Mark Jackson
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.
Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar CarlT

    Brexit’s going to be amazing, the UK riding off into the wider world of free trade and full border control. I have no idea what there is to soften. Any suggestion that Brexit may have any negatives is immediately considered by the Mail, Express and Sun as ‘sabotage’ and those raising it considered traitors.

    The Countryside Alliance will be on the list if they keep this up.

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