Govt 'not doing enough' to bridge urban-rural connectivity divide

Govt 'not doing enough' to bridge urban-rural connectivity divide

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The government has failed to address the digital divide between urban and rural parts of the UK when it comes to delivering strong broadband and mobile connectivity, a group of MPs have stated.

A select committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said there continues to be a significant gap between the technology available in towns and cities and what is on offer in less-populated areas, which marginalises remote communities and leads to significant frustrations from residents and businesses.

While the government has accepted that digital connectivity should be treated as a utility, it has failed to recognise the extent of the problem, the scale of the work needed to close the gap, or the wider economic cost of poor connectivity, the group concluded.

Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish said: "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."

Although the committee welcomed the government's commitment to the Universal Service Obligation (USO) and prime minister Boris Johnson's pledge to achieve nationwide full fibre coverage by 2025, Mr Parish stated the committee is sceptical that current efforts are ambitious enough.

In particular, the committee said the specifications for the USO are currently inadequate and lack ambition for rural areas. It described this scheme as far from 'universal' and noted its minimum standard of 10Mbps download speeds will be obsolete soon after its introduction.

Commenting on the report, deputy president of the Country Land and Business Association Mark Bridgeman said its findings clearly illustrate that without a renewed focus on remote areas, the urban/rural digital divide is only likely to get worse.

He added: "For too long, those living and working in the countryside have been dealt a poor hand when it comes to connectivity, waiting for improvements which never seem to arrive. We need urgent action now."

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