CLA fears broadband divide is leaving rural areas in 'Dark Ages'
Pockets of the rural South West will remain locked in the technological Dark Ages due to failure in broadband delivery, according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
The prediction comes after stinging criticism from a select committee of MPs over a lack of competition forced the Prime Minister to defend the Government's £1.2 billion investment in getting broadband to rural Britain.
Cornwall, Devon and Somerset have among the slowest broadband speeds in the country, but multi-million-pound publicly funded schemes are attempting to bridge the "digital divide".
BT has all the contracts, as well as the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Superfast Broadband scheme – which is funded by EU subsidies, rather than the UK government. It is hoped Cornwall will have 95 per cent of premises connected by next year.
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The Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme, where a £94 million scheme is under way, run by the two county councils, BT and the Government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, has a target of date of the end of 2016. However, concern remains over how quickly the service will be provided to all premises, particularly hard-to-reach areas, dubbed "not spots".
South West director of the CLA, John Mortimer, says in some cases BT and local authorities are hiding behind confidentiality and commercial sensitivity clauses that the Department of Communities and Local Government allowed to be put in place. This, he argues, means broadband providers, other than BT, cannot even begin to put together alternative proposals because they cannot find out where the so-called "not spots" are.
He said there was no possible "justification" for the remaining "not-spots" to be disadvantaged, particularly as almost all of it will fall on rural areas.
"The report by this influential Select Committee backs our long-held view that the system put in place by the DCMS will fail those communities and it will fail to meet the 2015 roll-out programme set by the Government," he added. "We appreciate that the solutions to delivering to the last 10% may not all be the same – but all deserve the same level of government support if the whole of the country is truly to enter the digital age."
The South West CLA is calling for more transparency plus clear and detailed information about 'not spots' so that plans can be put in place to plug the gaps.
David Cameron told regional journalists last week: "I think BT are doing a good job."