The chief executive of a rural charity says families and businesses are being disadvantaged by poor broadband services.
Rural Support are disappointed by the Government’s announcement that many rural dwellers will not have broadband made automatically available to them as part of the Universal Service Obligation(USO) but will have to apply to their service provider to have broadband made available to them.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has stated that rolling broadband out to the whole of the UK would not be proportionate or represent good value for money.
Chief Executive Jude McCann said: “This is not what rural dwellers were led to believe they would be receiving.
“We had been promised by the government on various occasions that all households and businesses would have broadband coverage, and indeed, that the UK would have the best service provision on Europe. This announcement undermines this, and leaves rural families and businesses with more uncertainty than ever about when, or indeed if, they’ll get the same services as their urban counterparts.”
This announcement follows hard on the heels of new policies from HMRC which will require quarterly tax returns to be completed online and the former Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s push for digital services to be the main mode of communication for customers. Some of these proposals are to come into effect in 2017, while those without broadband will have to wait four more years before they will be able to request the services which are already available, and will be guaranteed to their urban counterparts.
Dr McCann continued: “We are in real danger here of placing requirements on rural families and businesses before we give them the platform to be able to comply. That is profoundly unfair, and confounds logic and common sense.
“Rural communities rely heavily on small businesses and the self-employed and it’s ludicrous to expect them, with their limited resources not to notice the impact of this. In the 21st Century, reliable access to the Internet is an essential component for the running of a successful business. So we’d urgently call on HMRC and others to revisit their proposals and put in place sensible measures to ensure that the process is fair.
“In addition, we have written to local Members of Parliaments highlighting our concerns.
“We would remind the Government of the importance of Internet access to participating fully in social life. Social media is now a key way of communicating for people of all ages, and is how many people engage with public life and current affairs.
“Lack of broadband also disadvantages rural dwellers in terms of education and flexible working, and limits the avenues for rural dwellers to access information and advice online.
“We are already concerned about the effects of isolation in rural areas, and had hoped that the government’s pledge to provide broadband to all households and businesses would go some way to addressing this.”
The USO will be consulted on further in the summer of 2016.