Government broadband strategy failing rural economy

Figures released this week reveal that the rate of internet take-up is slowing under this government.

Many homes and businesses in rural areas do not even have the option of accessing the internet because the Government backed away from Labour’s commitment to universal broadband access by the end of 2012. According to the Country Land and Business Association, at least a fifth of rural areas do not have broadband access at all.

A recent survey by the Communications Marketing Association and the Federation of Small Businesses found that “many small businesses cannot access broadband connections and so it hampers their productivity and ability to grow – nine per cent cannot access broadband at all, and 22 per cent cannot access current generation broadband at least one of their sites.”

Commenting, Chi Onwurah, Labour’s shadow Minister for Innovation, Science and Digital Infrastructure said:

“This Government is out of touch with the needs of rural people and businesses. Lack of internet access and broadband is a barrier to economic growth. The last Government promised Universal Broadband by the end of 2012 but this Government has abandoned that promise and is damaging the rural economy.”

The figures on Internet access in the UK released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on 15th February 2012 show that 8.20 million adults (or 16.3% of the adult population) have never used the Internet as of 2011 Q4.

The rate of the decline of the number of adults who have never used the internet has been slowing. The proportion halved from 35% in the 2006 to 18% in 2010 under Labour, whereas it subsequently dropped by only 1.7% by the end of 2011.

Adults belonging to low income groups are more likely to never have used the Internet. 8.1% of adults in employment whose gross weekly pay was less than £200 per week, 6.9% of those with wages between £200-£299 and 4.5% of those with wages between £300-£399. This is compared with less than 1% of those earning more than £700 a week.

Adults from regions hit hard by the recession and Government cuts are less likely to have accessed the Internet. Northern Ireland (25.4%), the North East (20.2%) and Wales (19.7%) are the regions with the highest rates of adults who have never accessed the Internet, compared with London (13%) or the South East (13.3%). These harder hit regions also have more rural communities and broadband not-spots.

The Government has delayed Labour’s universal broadband pledge by 2012 by three years. Information obtained by Labour in December 2011 through freedom of information requests showed that even the 2015 target is unlikely to be met. Results include:

70% of councils said that they had not made any plans, provisions or budgeted to take advantage of the Government’s funding allocation for broadband provision.

74% of councils said that they had had not made any assessments concerning the likelihood that the roll out of superfast broadband in their areas will be completed by 2015.

Only a handful of councils have said that they might be able to meet the 2015 deadline, on the condition that they receive adequate funding.

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