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Government committee slams rural signal divide

Jasper Hart
September 18, 2019

Full-fibre by 2025 seen as admirable but met with scepticism

MPs have warned that rural communities are being left behind by a lack of sufficient mobile and broadband coverage.

A report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee acknowledged an improvement in coverage, but argued that it was not commensurate with a growing demand.

The divide in coverage between rural and urban areas risks harming the rural economy and marginalising businesses, according to the committee.

The government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO), set for rollout in March 2020, provides eligible premises a right to request a broadband connection of at least 10Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1Mbps. As of January this year, approximately 600,000 UK premises had connections weaker than these criteria.

However, the committee stated that the current USO specifications were too low, with the Rural Services Network CEO Graham Biggs saying that 10Mbps was “virtually obsolete” for a business to use.

“Digital connectivity is now regarded by many as an essential utility, with many in rural areas struggling to live a modern lifestyle without it. There continues to be a lot of frustration felt by those living or working in rural areas– and rightly so,” said Committee chair Neil Parish MP.

“The Committee is not confident that the Government has fully grasped the scale of the challenge currently faced and is sceptical as to whether the Government will [reach full-fibre rollout by 2025] 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 can’t 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,” he added.

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