Farm leaders welcome plans for rural broadband expansion

Farming groups have welcomed ambitious plans to bring full fibre broadband to an additional three million homes and businesses in some of the UK’s most isolated rural communities by 2025.

BT’s infrastructure subsidiary Openreach said the new network would boost productivity, cut commuting and carbon emissions, and connect families, public services and businesses.

The connection to 3.2 million UK premises in these hard-to-reach locations, which was given the green light after a consultation by telecoms regulator Ofcom, is part of a £12bn investment by Openreach to build full fibre infrastructure to 20 million homes throughout the UK by the end of this decade.

See also: NFU survey highlights slow progress on broadband

Places set to benefit include the likes of Millom in Cumbria, Thurso in north-east Scotland, Ballycastle in County Antrim and Aberystwyth in west Wales. Openreach is due to publish the full list of the 251 locations, referred to as Area 3, where it will build the new network.

Full fibre broadband uses fibre optic cables to connect the exchange direct to each premises. Connections are capable of download and upload speeds above one gigabit per second, which is currently the fastest and most reliable broadband technology.

‘Welcome step’

Mark Bridgeman, Country Land and Business Association president, said it was a “welcome step” towards eradicating the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

He added: “Connectivity has played a vital part in home working during the Covid-19 pandemic and, with many individuals and businesses considering a move to the countryside, it’s essential that rural communities continue to receive better coverage.”

NFU business and rural affairs adviser Amy Cobbett said: “The new full fibre network that’s been promised will also help boost productivity and cut carbon emissions, in line with the farming industry’s net zero ambitions.”

The NFU’s aspiration is for agriculture to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole industry by 2040.

An NFU survey in January found that more than four in 10 farmers said they still did not have access to adequate broadband.

Although 90% of respondents believed broadband was essential for their businesses, only 36% felt their broadband speeds met their needs. Just 17% said they had access to superfast broadband of at least 24Mbps (up from 16% last year).

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Fast and secure internet connections will be a vital tool to help our economy recover and we have committed £5bn to make sure the hardest-to-reach areas of the UK aren’t left behind.”

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