Shadow farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies has pledged an extra £75m for rural broadband if Labour wins the next election.
Labour would switch urban broadband funding to where it is needed most in the countryside, Mr Irranca-Davies will tell an NFU fringe meeting during the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on Monday (23 September).
“A Labour government would switch half the money – £75m – from the super-connected cities programme to a digital inclusion programme,” he will say. “That could help some two million people get online.”
The pledge follows claims made earlier this week by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) that the coalition government is failing to take problems caused by slow broadband connections seriously enough as DEFRA moves to an all-online farm payments system.
Speaking at a similar fringe meeting during the Lib Dem Party Conference in Glasgow on Tuesday (17 September), farm minister David Heath acknowledged that rural broadband in his Somerset constituency was woefully slow.
“A man with a stick would be quicker at delivering a message than my so-called broadband,” said Mr Heath. Talk about 90% coverage sounded great – except for the 10% of people who weren’t covered because they lived in rural parts of the country, he added.
The CLA wants a national awareness campaign to highlight the importance of faster broadband. 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.”
Digital infrastructure is the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), rather than DEFRA. Mr Cotterell said: “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 DCMS.”
He added: “Rural businesses and communities will simply be unable to compete economically if they continue to be dependent on exasperating slow broadband speeds.”
Government ‘underestimates’ rural broadband problem