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Where does broadband sit on your wish list?

Date Published: 11/04/2012

Not so many years ago most farm businesses would not have felt broadband connectivity to be the necessity it is today.

Ethernet cable
We're going to have to fight for the right to rural broadband

But as the world has rapidly moved online, internet access has failed to keep pace in rural areas. While city dwellers are now relishing the prospect of 100Mbit connection speeds (and even beyond) with which to consume their streaming Hollywood hits, Lady Gaga videos and BBC iPlayer re-runs, anyone surrounded by fields is likely to be struggling to complete even the most basic, essential online tasks because of their often second-rate data connection.

The chances are that many farming folk could live with this (who’s got time for all those blockbusters anyway?) if it weren’t for the fact that more and more of the red tape and bureaucracy is moving away from paper and onto t’internet – from VAT returns to movement licenses.

Of course it’s cheaper for the telecoms operators to upgrade urban exchanges and replace copper (and sometimes even alloy!) cabling with fibre optics when it doesn’t have far to run. They see instant return from higher population densities jumping on to the new service and have little incentive to tackle the miles of lines across and through fields that might only reach a handful of properties.

That’s not to say it shouldn’t be done though. It’s increasingly critical. You can’t run a business without the internet now and you can’t help the Government repair the national balance sheet by diversifying and expanding your business if you are unable communicate reliably and quickly with customers.

Arguably, usable broadband is more critical in the countryside, where people can be isolated and high-than-average suicide rates are well documented. A friendly face on a Skype chat could be invaluable to some.

As ever, all the complaining in the world won’t fix this, so it’s highly encouraging to see Farmers Weekly tackling the issue head-on. The magazine has launched the “Battling for Broadband” campaign, with a view to promoting the rural need and ensuring the Government keeps its promise of broadband for all by 2015. In all honesty that promise itself possibly doesn’t go far enough because, even if the target is met, it will still leave some stragglers on 2MBit speeds, which is barely enough. But it’s a start and it’s important.

The pressure has to be kept on though. Money has been made available to local authorities, but anecdotal evidence is starting to come through that it’s not always going to reach where it’s needed (rumour has it that at least one administration is going to use it for urban wi-fi improvement – something the market is taking care of very nicely by itself!).

So Organic Farmers & Growers is 100 per cent behind the FW campaign, and we’ve told them so. There are a lot of rural dwellers out there – not just the farmers but the village folk around them – who can and must  keep the pressure on their MP, local councillors and even BT itself. Get along to the Farmers Weekly website and use their tools to tell your story of internet woe and grab the template of a letter to send to your MP.

Meanwhile, you might like to fire up your imagination by checking out the Broadband 4 the Rural North (B4RN) project, which is about the community taking the matter literally into its own hands by digging trenches, laying fibre and setting up an ISP of its own. Wonderful, pro-active stuff, with the farmers at the heart of it.

Farmers and other rural businesses have to demonstrate demand for the service and refuse to be fobbed-off with minor enhancements while the rest of the country enjoys the ability to download the latest George Clooney offering in high definition in under a minute!