Digital connectivity is now regarded by many as an essential utility, with modern life increasingly difficult without it.
In 2015 our predecessor committee expressed concern that poor broadband in rural areas risked causing harm to the rural economy and leaving behind rural communities who struggled to access online services that most of the country take for granted.
Although there has been a significant improvement in both broadband and mobile coverage since 2015, it has only barely kept up with increasing demand. Many rural communities and businesses, particularly in the hardest to reach areas, still struggle as a result of poor or no access to broadband and poor coverage of mobile data services. The digital divide between urban and rural areas, and between rural towns and sparser rural settlements continues to marginalise communities and be the cause of significant frustration.
The Government has recognised that connectivity must be treated as a utility with its introduction of the broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) and has outlined a commitment to ensure the divide between urban and rural areas is not exacerbated through various funding initiatives, a proposed “outside-in” approach in its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, and in recent commitments for an accelerated full-fibre roll out. However, given the continued challenges posed to rural communities and businesses, we are not confident that the Government has fully grasped the extent of the problem, the scale of the challenge, or the wider cost of poor connectivity for rural communities and the rural economy.
Our main conclusions are:
Published: 18 September 2019