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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Rural broadband policy under fire
Road running through a forest
The road to broadband is a long one for remoter areas of the UK
Ministers need to urgently close the "digital divide" that has opened up between town and country in terms of access to fast net services, according to an influential group of MPs.

They have urged the government to set itself a target date by which broadband should be available to all areas of the UK.

The MPs claim it is "counter-productive" for ministers to encourage farmers and other workers in the rural economy to access government services electronically when there are still plenty of broadband black spots.

It has allowed a 'digital divide' to open up between urban and rural areas in terms of the availability of broadband
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

They have also urged the government to make sure there is enough cash available to "rapidly" identify the areas that need help.

The recommendations were made following an investigation by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into rural broadband provision.

The group found that plans for people to be able to access a range of government services online "have been successful in many areas".

Timetable

But while ministers are committed to vibrant countryside communities and advocate diversification in the rural economy, it is "unfortunate" that progress towards broadband access has been "significantly slower" in rural areas.

"As such, it has allowed a 'digital divide' to open up between urban and rural areas in terms of the availability of broadband," the MPs said.

"We believe the government urgently needs to close the divide.

Committee's recommendations:
More government services should be online
Public sector bodies should make services available online
Support should go to local businesses campaigning for broadband in the country
Make more frequency bands available for use by wireless broadband service providers
Direct the Radiocommunications Agency to set price of radio spectrum licences to encourage wireless broadband development
Develop means by which private sector consumers can "piggy-back" on public sector infrastructure
Make broadband accessible to all at affordable rates

"We recommend that the government now commit itself to ensuring that broadband is made available to all areas of the United Kingdom according to a defined timetable."

The MPs say the provision of fast net access to the most rural and remote areas "cannot reasonably be left to the marketplace".

They are calling on ministers to "rapidly identify those areas in which intervention is needed".

Policies should be developed in conjunction with Regional Development Agencies and local authorities to ensure "broadband is made accessible in remote areas".

Funds should be made available under the England Rural Development Programme to subsidise the cost of broadband in the most remote places, the committee added.




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