House of Lords urges more focus on rural connectivity

House of Lords urges more focus on rural connectivity
A House of Lords committee has called on Ofcom and the government to focus more closely on improving connectivity in rural areas.

A group of peers have called on the government and regulators to do more to ensure rural locations can benefit from the same strong broadband and mobile tools as their urban counterparts.

A new report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy said these parts of the country are still being overlooked, with the result that poor fixed-line and mobile connectivity is significantly holding back the economy in these regions.

Therefore, it called for a new strategy for the rural economy that will place a high priority on digital connectivity alongside issues such as overhauling planning rules and addressing matters such as business rates.

Committee chair Lord Foster of Bath commented: "Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long. We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked." 

While the study welcomed efforts including the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which gives residents and businesses that are poorly-served by broadband connectivity the right to request a service with download speeds of at least 10Mbps, it says current regulations do not go far enough.

In particular, it was noted that current download speeds regarded as acceptable for a decent internet connection under the USO are "too modest", while the threshold of £3,400 per premises for the rollout of improved services should also be reviewed to ensure hard-to-reach homes and businesses are able to benefit.

When it comes to mobile, it called on Ofcom to consider introducing new roaming rules in rural areas to address the problem of 'not-spots' where some of the major operators lack coverage.

It also recommended steps to encourage network operators to encourage mobile network operators to share transmission masts more often at locations where they offer a practical means to improve rural connectivity.

The report comes as a separate study from the Scottsh government highlighted the benefits that strong connectivity can deliver. It found the implementation of fibre broadband through the publicly-funded Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband scheme is set to generate economic benefits worth £2.76 billion over 15 years.

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