Brown pledges fast broadband for rural areas

People in rural areas will be given access to super-fast broadband under a Labour government, Gordon Brown has pledged.

In a speech on Monday (22 March), the prime minister said every home in the UK would have high-speed web access.

Describing broadband internet as the “electricity for the digital age”, Mr Brown said it must be available for all, “not just some”.

While he did not set a date to provide faster broadband for the country, he said Britain would be a “world leader in the digital economy” by 2020.

In his speech, Mr Brown set out his plans to make Britain “the world leader in the digital economy” by 2020 – although there was no date set to provide the faster broadband for all homes.

He argued the change would bring in cheaper and better public services, create more sophisticated entertainment and make trading easier.

Super-fast broadband is generally regarded as speeds of 50Mbps (megabits per second) or above.

Labour has already pledged to guarantee nearly every household access to at least 2Mbps by 2012, but Mr Brown said he eventually wanted to increase that to 100% access to super-fast broadband.

The government is planning a 50p-a-month levy on landlines to prevent rural areas missing out on a fast network.

But the Country Land and Business Association said Mr Brown’s plans had failed to address the real broadband issues facing rural communities.

“We find it ironic that the Prime Minister is talking about the risk of a digital divide when one already exists,” said William Worsley, CLA president.

“Gordon Brown said ‘just imagine if you were not part of that broadband world’. Unfortunately, many people in rural communities are in exactly this position.”

Mr Worsley said a lack of broadband put financial pressure on rural businesses at a time when they wanted to be reinvesting.

“That’s something broadband-enabled businesses are able to do,” he added.

The Conservatives have also pledged to bring broadband to all by introducing a high-speed broadband network in Europe if they win the general election.

Attacking Labour’s plan to tax landlines, they said they would instead force British Telecom to open its network to competition and use the BBC licence fee to fill in gaps in the broadband network.