Rural communities in seven areas of the UK are set to benefit from 5G technology as part of a trial ahead of a national rollout.
Groups across the country, including businesses, universities and councils, competed to win a share of a £25 million fund to pilot the technology, with the aim of delivering smart agriculture, boosting tourism and connecting poorly served communities.
Projects in Inverness-shire, Perthshire, Monmouthshire, Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire were successful in their bids.
The regions will receive Government grants of between £2 and £5 million, which Digital Minister Margot James said would show how rural communities could ‘bring together benefits across agriculture, industry and wider society’.
The announcement came as a report by Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), commissioned by online retailer Amazon, said a greater adoption of digital services in rural areas could add £12 to 26 billion a year to the UK economy.
It also claimed annual business turnover in rural areas could grow by at least £15 billion, with micro and smaller businesses seeing the greatest returns.
Doug Gurr, Amazon UK country manager, said: “As the report shows, there is much further to go before anyone can say the rural-urban divide has closed.
“Embracing digital technology not only benefits the economy; it also allows rural communities to combine great quality of life with access to global opportunities.”
The research paper found rural businesses were typically family-run, home-based and owned by people aged 55 or over, with 52 per cent facing some kind of skills-related obstacle to adopting digital to unlock growth.
Countryside Alliance head of policy Sarah Lee said: “This report shows far from being a secondary issue, a rural digital strategy should be central to the Government’s plans to create a stronger economy and fairer society.
“Achieving full connectivity, investing in skills development and encouraging more rural businesses to maximise the digital opportunities already in existence will enable rural communities to achieve their full economic potential.”
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