Progress on rolling out fast broadband and mobile connectivity to rural Britain is unacceptably slow, an NFU survey of farmers has found.
The government and the telecommunications industry must ensure farming businesses are able to reach their full potential by making rural connectivity a priority in 2020.
Based on the NFU’s latest survey on digital connectivity, more than four in 10 farmers say they still don’t have access to adequate broadband.
Although 90% of respondents believe broadband is essential for their businesses, only 36% felt their broadband speeds met their needs.
Just 17% said they had access to superfast broadband of 24Mps+ (up from 16% last year).
In terms of mobile phone connectivity, 84% of smartphone users now have access to 4G.
But only 41% believe the signal they receive is sufficient for the needs of their business.
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said: “It really is completely unacceptable that in this high-tech digital age we appear to have a two-tier system of haves and have nots.
“British farming is first and foremost a business that relies on having fast and reliable access to the internet, yet as our new survey shows, more than four in 10 of our members feel they still don’t have adequate access to broadband services needed to run a modern-day farming business.”
Health and safety issues
But it’s not just the farming business that is affected by poor digital connectivity, he added.
“A lack of mobile signal can have potentially serious consequences if you need to call for help in an emergency while working alone, and issues of mental wellbeing from feeling isolated can also be affected without having someone to talk to on the other end of a phone.”
From March this year, people living in areas of poor broadband connectivity will be able to request a minimum download speed of 10Mps under the new Universal Service Obligation.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to bring full-fibre broadband to every home by 2025.
Meanwhile, an industry-led £1bn Shared Rural Network, backed by the government, aims to provide 4G mobile coverage to 95% of the UK – but this won’t be finished until 2025.