ISP 'should have legal obligation on rural broadband'
Internet providers should be under legal obligation to offer fast broadband speeds across Britain to combat the worsening digital divide between urban and rural communities, campaigners have claimed.
02 Nov 2009
The problem of slow Internet speeds in the countryside was first highlighted when the Prince of Wales warned of “broadband deserts” in rural areas.
It is estimated 166,000 people live in “not spots” where there is no Internet connection at all, whilst 2.75 million people – mostly in rural areas - have broadband speeds of less than two Megabits per second (2Mbps).
Government has promised to upgrade everyone to 2 Mbps by 2012. A "broadband" tax of 50p per month on phonebills will be used to provide even faster connections by 2017. However, campaigners said ministers have not done enough to ensure their goals will be met by private companies providing the services.
Charles Trotman, Head of Rural Business Development at the Country Land and Business Association, said the money from the “broadband tax” will not be insufficient to upgrade the old copper network to fibre optic so that higher speeds can be reached even in rural areas.
Broadband speeds of 2Mbps or more allow people to download video and music content more easily and run programmes like the BBC iPlayer.
"What is required is a legal obligation on the part of broadband service providers to ensure that everyone has access to a minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps," he said. "If the telecoms industry is feeling the financial pinch, why can’t the Government put in place a public-private partnership where the funds needed for new infrastructure are made available through a loans guarantee?"
Charles Dunstone, the Chief Executive of TalkTalk, also criticised the Government's plans for a broadband tax.
He said 100,000 poorer people will be forced to give up broadband connections altogether because of the new tax on their phone bills.
“This is an unjust and regressive tax on all phone customers which will subsidise mostly richer rural households that can afford high priced super fast broadband services," he said.
Mr Dunstone said the scheme is likely to delay next generation broadband roll-out in rural areas rather than hasten it as private investors will wait for public funds to be made available.
He said the private sector should be left to complete the roll out of rural broadband by encouraging competition.
“We now need to let the private sector drive next generation broadband as far as it can. Public funding at this stage – in what appears to be an effort to ‘keep up with the Joneses in Korea, Singapore and the Netherlands – is simply going to waste customers’ money and slow down roll-out," he added.