The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has published a policy paper on rural broadband to mark ten years of lobbying for affordable broadband in rural areas.
The Association, which has 34,000 members, has published "Broadband Fit for Rural Growth", which sets out its vision for the future of rural broadband and calls for a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups to further influence the rural broadband debate.
CLA president Harry Cotterell said, “Broadband acts as an economic driver for rural businesses as well as helping the social development of rural communities.
"But between 15 and 20 percent of those who live in rural areas are still unable to receive anywhere near the government’s benchmark minimum of two megabits per second (Mbps). There is still a huge amount to be done to ensure coverage is universal."
Cotterell said it was "unlikely" that the government’s objective for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 will be realised.
He said, "We are calling on the government to step up and agree to a universal service obligation rather than just a commitment. There is no legal sanction behind a universal service commitment - it provides the government with a get-out clause if the benchmark is not achieved, and it is very unlikely it will be achieved by 2015.”
The policy paper also calls on the government to provide an appropriate framework to allow rural communities to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband.
Until a full fixed-line broadband infrastructure is put in place, says the CLA, other technologies must be used to bridge the "rural/urban digital divide". The CLA is advocating a “patchwork-quilt” model whereby other technologies, such as WiFi and satellite, become widely available and used.
But "the government must create the right conditions for this to happen,” said Cotterell
The Rural Broadband Fit for Rural Growth paper also calls on local authorities to ensure contracts awarded to infrastructure providers include fair compensation provisions for any failure to meet time and coverage requirements.
Cotterell said, “We do not believe Broadband Delivery UK’s bidding process is working. The system adopted by the government is too bureaucratic, which has discouraged many of the big market players from taking part. Moreover, payments to providers must be performance-related to ensure a fast and effective broadband service is rolled out to rural areas.”
Cumbria County Council has finally accepted a bid from BT to rollout broadband across the region, including many rural areas, in a deal that is likely to exceed £70 million, as part of government agency Broadband Delivery UK's infrastructure roll-out programme.
Cumbria secured £17.1 million from the agency and is awaiting confirmation on a further bid of £15.4 million from the European Regional Development Fund.