Countryside organisations are forming up behind a hardhitting Select Committee report that describes the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s broadband rollout project as ‘a failure’. The CLA points out that many rural areas remain in the ‘technological dark ages’. However, a less publicised effect of the present strategy’s inability to extend superfast broadband connection throughout the countryside is that houses without it become unsaleable.

‘I have, on several occasions, advised a client not to buy a house because of the lack of connection,’ explains Frank Speir, director of Prime Purchase. ‘As soon as you veer beyond the immediate commuterbelt land around London, most buyers require an element of working from home. If the house sits between villages, it’s likely to be at the end of a telephone exchange with a very slow connection. Sometimes, this can be overcome by a satellite connection, but if you’re at the bottom of a valley and there are leaves on the trees, it won’t work. At that point, I have to advise against purchase.’

Early results from the Knight Frank Rural Sentiment Survey 2013 show that well over half of respondents cite a fast connection as the main issue the Government should tackle to improve life in the countryside; 73% cite slow broadband as the main barrier to doing business. The Government admits that 10% of rural addresses will not be covered by their scheme. ‘The secrecy surrounding [these addresses] will hold back delivery of broadband to the countryside as other arrangements cannot be made,’ says the Countryside Alliance’s Barney White Spunner.

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  • Patrick Cosgrove

    BDUK’s grand plan to bring broadband to remote areas should never have been called a “Rural Broadband” scheme. A far better title would have been a “Heavily publicly subsidised extension of BT’s Commercial Roll-out Programme”. In those places where superfast broadband via fibre-optic cable is unlikely to reach and only 2Mb is guaranteed, speeds are already starting to slow as more and more people come on-line and are then persuaded to sign up to bandwidth-hungry packages from Sky and Virgin as well as BT which slow up the whole system.

    Looking ahead, if £250m nationally (and maybe £20m difficult-to-manage DEFRA money) is all there is to finish the job across the whole country, it will never happen if BT is handed the task (which appears to be an option under consideration). BT doesn’t employ wireless technology or subcontract to wireless and/or 4G providers, and they haven’t yet come up with a magic technological fix for long lengths of rural copper cable.

    In a few instances communities have devised their own schemes, but to do that you need money, expertise and co-operative landowners for trenched cable runs. Ofgem’s inability to insist that BT permits other providers to string overhead cable between telegraph poles makes the job more far expensive and difficult.

    Rural county authorities need to learn from the disastrous BDUK/BT process that has well and truly stitched up a great many rural communities They need to collectively lobby national politicians for a solution is agreed which arrives at parity of provision for rural residents and businesses, and one which isn’t tacked on to the end of the current roll-out but takes place in parallel.

    Although broadband is not an election issue in the way that, say, Europe is, it could still lose the Conservatives rural votes at the next election unless some clear leadership is provided.

    Patrick Cosgrove
    On behalf of the South-west Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband