Broadband roll-out is ‘raw deal’ for rural communities
by Claire McGine, Head of Communications

Rural communities have continued to suffer a raw deal in the ‘piecemeal’ roll-out of the broadband project across the UK, leading rural network ACRE said today.

ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) spoke out in the wake of criticism of the Government’s handling of the Rural Broadband Programme by the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The Committee says the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ‘mismanaged’ the project by awarding all of the rural broadband projects so far to BT, which will ultimately benefit from £1.2bn of public funding.

“One year on, we are calling on the Minister to remember that pledge and end the frustrating uncertainty to ensure that England’s 11,000 rural communities get a fair deal, fast.”

But ACRE says the burning issue for rural communities and businesses is as fundamental as whether they will get broadband or not.

Chief executive Janice Banks said: “Many local councils have published maps for the rural broadband programme, which is meant to extend superfast coverage to 90% of the premises in the UK.

“But despite an earlier pledge from the Secretary of State Maria Miller, the information provided by some councils is so limited and inconsistent it is impossible for people to tell whether their homes and businesses are included or not.

“This confusion ties the hands of innovative communities who want to come up with their own broadband solutions. No one will invest in a plan that could be overtaken by the BT rollout.

‘Defra’s rural proofing guidelines says this Government wants to be sure rural areas get a fair deal from all Government policy. We fear that, once again, rural communities are getting a raw deal.

‘‘We echo the call from the Committee to make sure that the rollout plans are published in a consistent and meaningful way so that other solutions can be found to reach the remaining 10% of the population that will still be without superfast broadband.

“‘This information needs to be available straight away, irrespective of the local authority area, so that communities and businesses can benefit from the broadband that their urban counterparts take for granted.”

ACRE, the national umbrella body for England’s 38 county-based rural community councils, says lack of access to broadband leads to increased social disadvantage and is a barrier to business activity.

Ms Banks added: “In September 2012, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson set out in the Rural Statement an expectation of the changes people in rural areas should see at work and in their communities – including the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015.

“Mr Paterson said this first ‘rural contract’; would give rural areas the power to hold the Government to account on its promise to grow the rural economy and support thriving rural communities.

“One year on, we are calling on the Minister to remember that pledge and end the frustrating uncertainty to ensure that England’s 11,000 rural communities get a fair deal, fast.”