Four in 10 farmers have slow and unreliable broadband

Farmers say poor rural connectivity is leaving them behind as cities prepare for 5G and fibre broadband
Farmers say poor rural connectivity is leaving them behind as cities prepare for 5G and fibre broadband

More than four in 10 farmers still do not have access to fast and reliable broadband in order to run a modern-day farming business, a new survey shows.

The NFU's 2020 Digital Technology report, based on a snapshot of 430 farmers, highlights ongoing division between rural and urban connectivity.

It shows that more than 40 percent of farms across the UK experience sluggish broadband speeds, hampering business growth.

It comes as the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates farmers' frustration with the situation, as the rest of society moves to virtual meetings and remote learning.

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said modern farming relied on fast and reliable internet access, particularly during a time of great change.

"For too long, those living and working in the countryside have been dealt a poor hand when it comes to digital connectivity; waiting for improvements which never seem to arrive.

"It is completely unacceptable that in this digital age we have a two-tier system of haves and have nots – particularly at a time when communication has become even more important."

The issue of poor rural connectivity has been raised for years, with industry groups warning that sluggish speeds puts farmers at risk of adopting new technologies.

The current pace of change has also been frequently attacked, particularly with the introduction of 5G and fibre broadband technology in cities and urban areas.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently highlighted that people living in rural areas “risk being left even further behind” if the government fails to raise its game.

“The NFU is renewing its call to both government and the telecommunications industry to tackle the lack of rural connectivity as a priority," Mr Roberts added.

"We will continue to campaign for investment in the country’s digital infrastructure so that farm businesses can meet their huge potential.”

The survey follows Ofcom's annual Connected Nations report which shows that a quarter (27%) of UK households now have access to gigabit broadband.

But it notes that around 190,000 homes and firms do not have a 'decent' broadband connection defined as a download speed of 10 Mbits per second.

The telecoms regulator said around 43,000 homes or businesses cannot access either a decent fixed broadband service, or good 4G coverage, indoors.

One company looking to change this is SpaceX, which is currently testing its Starlink broadband service in the UK countryside, a technology which could prove transformative for farmers.

The satellites will beam high speed, low latency broadband to the ground, meaning a faster and more reliable service for users.