Rural campaigners fear that digital divide getting wider
People living in the West countryside are being overlooked as money is being poured into improving the already good internet connections in the cities, campaigners have warned.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller has announced £114million to help nine cities – including Bristol – move towards “ultrafast broadband”. But within a few miles of Bristol there are places with “ultraslow”, or even no, broadband, and the Countryside Alliance is worried the digital divide will grow even wider.
Currently Bristol has average sync speeds of 9.9Mbps, according to the watchdog Ofcom, with only 4.5 per cent of the population getting less than 2Mbps, while the city enjoys 90 per cent superfast broadband availability.
Yet in Somerset the average sync speed is just 5Mbps, 17.7 per struggle with less than 2Mbps and only four per cent have superfast availability.
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The picture is even worse in Herefordshire with average speeds of just 5Mbps, almost a quarter of people getting less than 2Mbps and no superfast availability at all.
In Gloucestershire only a third of the population get superfast broadband, the figure for Wiltshire is 43 per cent, and it is less than half in North Somerset, at 48 per cent.
So eyebrows have been raised at the decision to give Bristol £11.3 million to give it ultrafast broadband of up to 100Mbps, and high speed wireless internet access.
Countryside Alliance executive chairman Barney White-Spunner said they supported investment in broadband to boost economic competitiveness and growth.
“However the Government needs to ensure that there is equal focus and appetite for delivering broadband in rural areas, which is, by comparison with urban areas, far inferior,” he warned.
“It has been almost two years since the pot of rural broadband investment was announced and since then progress for delivering broadband in these areas has been even slower than the broadband connections rural people have to suffer.
“Those who are trying to live and work in rural areas are being overlooked – they are not asking for special treatment, they just want a broadband connection, let alone one that is ultrafast.”
The Government has a target of the UK having the best broadband network in Europe by 2015 and the fastest of any major European country. Ofcom says average residential speeds across the UK have risen 22 per cent in 12 months, from 6.2 to 7.6Mbps.
But the data shows a worrying postcode lottery between different areas, as well as a further gap, between the countryside and cities.