Rural broadband funding should be spent elsewhere because “farming has existed without the internet for eternity,” a Labour MP has claimed.
Graham Jones, MP for Haslingden and Hyndburn, suggested public funding for faster broadband in rural Lancashire would be better spent in “industrial areas where the benefits would have been far greater”.
He made the comments in a blogpost on his website.
Lancashire County Council and Lancashire LEP were currently spending some £32m on super fast rural broadband, Mr Jones wrote. But it was difficult to see how the investment would create jobs, he added.
“Not only do the demographics suggest that upgrading from broadband to superfast broadband will not bring jobs, the geography does too.
“It’s fine for new businesses that are media intensive, have no product to shift and don’t meet clients, but the question is, how many will fit that category?”
Even with superfast broadband, factories were not going to locate down miles of country lanes where they couldn’t get planning permission and access was prohibitive, he said.
Mr Jones also dismissed assertions that rural people would benefit from better connections. “This case would have merit if deprived or poor people lived in Lancashire’s rural area, but they do not.”
He continued: “Farming has existed without the internet for eternity and mobile devices and 4G will be of greater significance than landline superfast rural broadband.
“The reality is, much of Lancashire’s rural hinterland is a playground for the wealthy and that’s the problem.”
The Countryside Alliance described the comments as criminal. In a digital age, the need for fast and reliable broadband was just as important as the need for gas, electricity and water, it added.
Mr Jones should remember farmers now had to do 90% of their administration online, said Sarah Lee, alliance head of policy.
“He has criminally missed the point of these plans,” she said. “People need to access more services online, especially critical government services; businesses need the internet for growth and much of everyday communication now occurs online.
“The plain fact is that demand for broadband is going to grow and we need communication networks that are going to not only meet the need now, but in the future.”