MPs are asking farmers and rural communities whether new plans for improving broadband connectivity are adequate enough for rural areas.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) is launching an inquiry into rural broadband and digital only services.
Broadband, mobile infrastructure and access to digital services remain a central issue for rural communities.
An NFU survey from January this year shows that only 16% of farmers have access to superfast broadband, an increase of 12% since 2015.
EFRA intends to hold a short inquiry, following up on its 2014-15 inquiry, to examine the government’s current proposals and delivery of digital connectivity to rural areas.
Chair, Neil Parish MP, said the committee has revisited the subject because digital connectivity remains a 'core issue' for many rural communities.
“The government has identified the challenges for improving digital connectivity in rural areas and recently made numerous policy and funding announcements.
“We want to know if these plans for improving connectivity are adequate for rural areas and what is being done in the short term to improve delivery of broadband and improved mobile phone coverage to those living there,” he said.
The committee will also test how the government plans to ensure access to the growing number of online public services at no extra cost to rural consumers.
As previous select committee inquiries have shown, delivery of broadband in rural areas in the past has been poor.
Mr Parish said the government cannot allow this problem to continue: “The government and service providers need to ensure that equal access to a high-quality, cost-effective service is accessible to all.”
EFRA is seeking written submissions that address the following questions:
• What are the barriers to delivering superfast broadband and improved mobile phone coverage in rural areas at an affordable cost to consumers?
• Is enough being done to address the disparity in coverage and digital service provision between rural and urban areas? What is the impact of the urban-rural digital divide on rural communities?
• Is the current Universal Service Obligation (USO) adequate for the needs of rural communities and businesses and will it be effectively delivered? Given technological developments, including provision of 5G, will the USO provide the necessary level of connectivity for rural areas in the next decade?
• Are the Government’s recent policy and funding announcements for improving digital connectivity adequate for rural areas, and how robust are the plans for delivery?
• How well do digital public services work in rural areas where there are poor internet connections? What support or alternatives are available for those in rural areas with poor or no connection to use digital public services and how effective is it?
Written evidence should be submitted through the Committee’s web portal by midnight on Monday 24 June.