Judith Donovan CBE, Chair of Keep Me Posted, comments on OFCOM's report on broadband and the growing divide between rural and urban areas.
The broadband divide is widening – details published by OFCOM have revealed that rural areas are massively lagging behind cities when it comes to broadband speeds. Perhaps more concerning, it appears that the drive for ‘superfast’ internet access in well served urban areas continues to be prioritised over addressing black holes in the countryside communities that need it most. A report by the National Audit Office last month suggested that the promised roll out of faster services to 90% of the UK will not be completed by the 2015 target date and is, in fact, two years behind schedule.
The OFCOM report suggested that the difference between average urban and rural speeds increased from 9.5Mbit/s to 16.5Mbit/s between May 2011 and May 2013. This widening divide stands to leave whole communities without the basic infrastructure to do the things that a lot of those living in cities take for granted, from looking for the best deal on their financial products to accessing their bank account online, something I am well aware of living in the Yorkshire Dales. For farming communities who have had to deal with recent changes to their DEFRA subsidies and payments that involved moving the entire process online, this will be a cause for huge concern.
In the rush for businesses to utilise new technologies and provide slicker, more cost effective service, there is a real risk of people who cannot access the internet being completely left behind. While online services have been a boon to those who can use them, there is still a need to ensure that those who can’t are not left isolated and without options. Businesses must endeavour to find solutions that suit all of their customers, not just the proportion who are online.”