Labour in £75m rural broadband pledge

THE Labour Party has pledged an extra £75m to bring faster broadband to the countryside.

The money would come from the government's urban broadband programme should Labour win the next general election.

Labour said it would divert £75m from the £150m 'super-connected cities' initiative to help connect those in most need - especially the last 10% of rural areas.

Shadow Defra minster Huw Irranca-Davies said overall the move would ensure better overall coverage of broadband across the country.

"A Labour government would switch half the money – £75m – from the super-connected cities programme to a digital inclusion programme.

"That could help some two million people get online.

"This is evidence of Labour being on the side of rural communities - delivering the infrastructure that will guarantee social and economic improvements to rural areas."

The government has currently committed to 95% of people in all local authorities to have a superfast broadband connection (25Mbps+) by the end of 2017.

But rural critics say this is too little, too late.

Labour's pledge comes days after the Country Land and Business Association suggested the government was under-estimating the situation in rural areas.

The CLA homed in on an admission by Defra minister David Heath that broadband speeds in his own Somerset constituency were slow than a 'man with a stick'.

CLA President Harry Cotterell said: "David Heath's description of slow broadband speeds in rural areas is far too generous. We believe his 'man with a stick' must also be confused and lost.

"We are pleased Defra is taking this issue seriously, but there still seems to be difficulty getting the message across to officials and ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The CLA had lobbied on the rural broadband issue for 11 years, said Mr Cotterell.

"It is vital the industry and government departments work together if they are to prevent the rural-urban digital divide from widening further."

The CLA was calling for a national broadband awareness campaign to illustrate the importance of connectivity.

"Rural businesses and communities will simply be unable to compete economically if they continue to be dependent on exasperating slow broadband speeds.

Mr Cotterell added: "For the rural economy, broadband should be considered as important as water, electricity and gas."


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