CLA: ‘Great strides have been made on ending digital divide’

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has said that “great strides” have been made on rural broadband, which the group says can kick-start a campaign to end the urban-rural “digital divide”.

The CLA is urging Government and industry groups to look at the recent “successes” on this issue, and to push on to achieve full coverage in rural areas.

After responding to a consultation from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on ‘Strategic Priorities for Telecoms’, the CLA highlighted the pledge for a full-fibre broadband connection in every home by the year 2033.

Since 2002, the CLA has been campaigning for a universal pledge on digital connectivity, and we’re delighted to finally see this on broadband. While we need to wait to see how this is met, great strides have been taken towards unlocking the potential of the rural economy.

The association also underlined the ‘universal service obligation’ of at least 10mb/second in 2020 as a key step to improving rural internet access.

The consultation process did, however, highlight a lack of consensus where mobile broadband is concerned, which currently has two conflicting targets.

The CLA explains that DCMS is working towards 95% geographic mobile coverage by 2022, while communications regulator Ofcom has proposed a target of 90% coverage by 2024.

The CLA represents, according to its own figures, over 30,000 rural landowners and businesses, and leads the ‘#4GForAll’ campaign.

Ofcom also rejected a proposal from the DCMS – which was backed by the CLA – for the introduction of rural roaming as a means of increasing rural 4G coverage.

The association argues that mobile operators will only invest in rural areas “if they are forced to do so” which, it says, makes rural roaming the “common sense” solution.

Mark Bridgeman, deputy president of the CLA, said: “We need to learn the lessons from the successes with broadband where Government and stakeholder consensus, as well as leadership by the regulator, achieved real wins for those who live or work in the countryside.

There is no reason why a similar approach should not be applied to rural 4G, starting with forcing mobile operators to adopt rural roaming.

“The CLA is ready to work with operators and Ofcom to work on the tangible steps which need to be taken towards ending the urban-rural digital divide,”he concluded.