MPs took the Government to task on the issue of rural broadband during a parliamentary debate as peers in the House of Lords said consumers should be entitled to a minimum broadband speed of 30 megabits per second (Mbps), not 10Mbps, by 2020.
MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael, who secured the debate in Westminster Hall, said the digital divide between urban and rural communities was growing, with many in cities having access to superfast speeds while a large proportion of people in the countryside struggled to get 10Mbps.
“We are forever encouraging our farmers to diversify, saying they should be setting up holiday accommodation and finding different ways to bring people into the countryside and add value to their product”, he added.
“Bluntly, however, this requires good connectivity. Without this it will not happen.”
NFU vice president Guy Smith said: “Well over half of our members have diversified their fam businesses with the aim of supporting the wider rural economy, but they simply will not be able to support this wider economy if they cannot access high-speed broadband.
“This is tantamount to failure to provide the infrastructure our industry desperately needs to flourish and compete in increasingly globalised markets.”
In the House of Lords last week, peers voted for an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill which would see consumers offered a minimum broadband speed of 30Mbps by 2020, instead of the 10Mbps which will be available under the Universal Service Obligation.
The Government is likely to oppose the amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons, despite similar calls from MPs during the broadband debate.
Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Louise Haigh said offering a minimum speed of 30Mbps was the only way to ‘future-proof’ the legislation and match the ambitions of small businesses.
The SNP’s rural affairs spokesperson, Calum Kerr, echoed those concerns, saying consumers may end up paying again for a faster connection in the future if they were only offered 10Mbps.