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Government failing to grasp extent of urban-rural digital divide, say MPs

Government is failing to ‘fully grasp’ the extent of the digital divide between urban and rural broadband and mobile services.

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Government failing to grasp extent of urban-rural digital divide, say MPs

This was according to new research by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee which said the Government had also failed to recognise the scale of the challenge and the wider cost of poor connectivity for the rural economy.

 

It said the Government’s introduction of the broadband Universal Service Obligation was inadequate and ‘lacks ambition for rural areas’, claiming its minimum speed of 10 megabits per second would be obsolete soon after introduction.

 

Efra Committee chairman Neil Parish said while he welcomed the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ambition to deliver universal fullfibre broadband by 2025, he was sceptical as to whether the target would be achieved without potentially controversial reforms.


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Frustration

 

He said: “There continues to be a lot of frustration felt by those living or working in rural areas – and rightly so.

 

“The Committee is not confident the Government has fully grasped the scale of the challenge currently faced and is sceptical as to whether the Government will meet these ambitious new targets without considerable and potentially controversial reforms.

 

“In addition, on the eve of 5G mobile data services, people in rural areas will increasingly feel like second-class citizens if they cannot access 4G or even 3G services.

 

“Rural roaming must be seen as a solution if no voluntary proposal is agreed between mobile network operators and Government.”

 

Mr Parish said the rural roaming solution was needed to tackle partial ‘not-spots’ in mobile coverage and the absence of a forthcoming agreement between Government and mobile network operators.

 

CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman said he expected the divide would ‘likely get worse’ with the arrival of 5G and full-fibre broadband.

 

He said: “If mobile operators are to put in place a shared rural network, it must be more than aspirational and should have legally binding coverage targets. If this is not possible, then rural roaming needs to be imposed.”

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