RSN Priority - A digitally connected countryside
All rural households and businesses should have the option of affordable and reliable access to broadband and mobile networks. Digital infrastructure should be considered essential for a modern economy and to enable fair access to services and other opportunities.
- Significant sums of public expenditure have been invested to extend the reach of superfast broadband networks into less commercial areas. This included match funding from rural local authorities (a cost not borne by urban authorities). However, there remains a noticeable gap between levels of connectivity in rural and urban areas.
- In England’s rural areas 11% of premises – households and businesses – are unable to access a broadband connection with a 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed. Industry regulator, Ofcom, considers this a necessary speed for everyday online tasks.
- In the most remote rural locations connection speeds can be significantly worse. A survey of its members by the National Farmers Union in 2017 concluded that half (50%) could not yet access a basic 2 Mbps connection.
- Mobile connectivity has improved, but the indoor signal is poor in England’s rural areas, with phone calls on all four networks only possible at 67% of premises. Meanwhile, using 4G on all networks – giving fast internet access – is only possible inside 42% of rural premises.
- Rural take-up of superfast broadband is fair where it is available, with almost four in ten premises upgrading. However, a rural business survey by Rural England and SRUC found only 19% had a superfast connection and most (59%) relied on standard broadband. It also found high rates of dissatisfaction with connection speed and reliability.
- The survey, cited above, identifies significant and wide-ranging rural business benefits from digital adoption. It estimates that if constraints to digital adoption, such as skills and recruitment, could be overcome it would unlock at least £12 billion of extra productivity per annum (Gross Value Added).
Sources are Ofcom (2018), NFU (2016) and Rural England/SRUC (2017).
Rural businesses say their top three benefits from digital adoption are:
- It enables remote working
- It improves access to customers and suppliers
- It boosts overall business efficiency
Broadband and mobile networks are improving and rural business adoption of digital technologies demonstrates real potential. However, there are significant challenges which should be addressed by a Rural Strategy. They are:
- Extending broadband networks to those premises still missing out;
- Future proofing broadband policy, so rural areas do not fall behind again;
- Capitalising on the benefits from the roll out of superfast networks; and
- Addressing issues with mobile network coverage (including 4G).