Written evidence submitted by the Countryside
1. In May 2008, Ofcom published a report which
assessed television, radio, internet and communication habits
across the regions and nations. The report found that rural households
were more likely to have broadband connections than those who
live in urban areas, indicating that 59% of rural households had
broadband services, compared to 57% in urban homes. There is clearly
a high demand for broadband in rural areas, however rural towns
and villages do not benefit from the level of competition common
in urban areas due to low consumer density and poor existing infrastructure.
2. Broadband service in rural areas is often
poor. The National Farmers Union ran a poll last year regarding
broadband access in rural areas and results indicated around 40%
of respondents reported that they couldn't get broadband at all,
while 90% who could access broadband didn't get a reliable connection.
3. The Countryside Alliance therefore supports
Ofcom's proposal to structure the release of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz
spectrum to ensure the continuation of four-player wholesale mobile
4. It is vital that rural communities and businesses
have access to effective and affordable broadband if the digital
divide is not to grow even wider and rural economies are going
to grow and prosper. Reliable broadband is imperative for competitive
and successful enterprises in a growing digital economy. The Coalition
Government has made clear its desire to make more public services
available online, which provides a more cost effective means of
accessing public services. However online access to public services
will only work if they are accessible to all and do not exclude
those in remote areas, who already struggle to access public services.
5. Farming businesses are increasingly required
to meet certain obligations online, such as VAT returns, animal
movements and applying for agriculture support. Farming businesses
and other rural businesses can only meet these obligations if
they have a decent and reliable broadband connection.
6. The Countryside Alliance therefore supports
Ofcom's proposals to apply a coverage obligation to one of the
800MHz licences, however we have urged Ofcom to increase this
from 95% to 98% population coverage.
7. It is important that there is competitive
roll out of broadband services, if the current problems of high
prices and poor service in rural areas are to be overcome. The
Alliance would like to see the spectrum auction designed to maintain
as much competition as possible in the marketplace, allowing operators
to compete on a level playing field to ensure market growth, which
benefits consumers and ensures greater choice for those living
in rural areas.
8. It is hoped that the sale will take place
in late 2011. Any delay will seriously jeopardise the ability
of this Government to meet a universal service commitment. The
auction of the radio spectrum provides a huge opportunity for
all the mobile companies to provide better broadband at competitive
prices. However, if the auction is not structured to maintain
competition, a duopoly may emerge and rural coverage will suffer
whilst prices for "non profitable" areas increase. Set
up costs for the mobile companies to increase coverage is not
going to be huge as it will just be an expansion of coverage over
their current masts. There is no need to dig up the countryside
which is expensive, time consuming and riddled with planning concerns.
9. Valuable low-frequency spectrum will be required
to make mobile broadband accessible and affordable in the countryside,
but rural users must not be left in a position where the low-frequency
spectrum is monopolised by a few operators, and where only two
players have the amount of low frequency spectrum required to
deliver universal broadband at 2mbps.
10. The Countryside Alliance has urged Ofcom
to ensure that an outcome of the auction is a competitive market
to support universal coverage at 2mbps in all parts of the UK.