NFU releases new broadband report asking government to 'prioritise rural areas'

The NFU is concerned about the Government’s broadband delivery programme
The NFU is concerned about the Government’s broadband delivery programme

With only 4 per cent of farmers having access to superfast broadband, the roll-out of complete mobile networks and affordable reliable superfast broadband to rural areas "must now be prioritised by Government."

"Both are essential to run safe and efficient farms, to comply with regulation, to promote farm diversification and for rural communities to enjoy family life.

"The Government need to put in place the funding, the legislation and business support to allow this to happen," the NFU have said.

These are the findings of the NFU in its new report Farm Broadband & Mobile Networks which is launched to MP’s in London today and which picks up on the results from a comprehensive NFU survey of farmers and growers.

Farming underwrites the food and drink industry and is worth £103 million to the UK economy each year.

The NFU is concerned about the Government’s broadband delivery programme, worth £1.7billion, which will leave an estimated 1.2 million premises without superfast broadband.

This is the equivalent to 5% of all premises, the majority of which will be farm businesses and rural communities.

At best, farmers within this last 5% could be offered far lower speeds of 10 megabits per second by 2020, whilst other industries and urban areas receive superfast speeds of 30Mbps or ultrafast speeds of 100Mbps plus.

'Barriers to growth should be removed'

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: "If our industry is to meet any of the ambitions of the long awaited Government 25 Year Food & Farming Plan, it will be essential for barriers to growth to be removed.

"Poor access to broadband and mobile networks is one such significant barrier and the current situation is neither sustainable nor acceptable.

"The Government is asking farmers to run their businesses in conditions that put them at an immediate disadvantage.

"We have heard of farmers waiting 15 hours to download a Countryside Stewardship guidance booklet, farmers can’t comply with increasingly online only regulation and aren’t able to contact their customers.

"Farmers can’t harness the brilliant range of agri-technology which relies on a reliable internet connection.

"To increase productivity you need superfast broadband, to get out of the farm office and into the field.

"Well over half of our members have diversified their farm businesses with the aim of supporting the wider rural economy, but they simply won’t be able to support this wider economy if they can’t offer high-speed broadband.

"This is tantamount to failure to provide the infrastructure that our industry desperately needs to flourish and compete in increasingly globalised markets."

Countryside Alliance Head of Policy Sarah Lee said: "We welcome the announcement but must still point out that the improvement figure will only extend to 95% of areas.

"While this is good news, we cannot have a 95% service for 100% need.

"There must also be a clear commitment and delivery of broadband to those households and businesses in rural areas who are in the “final 5%” that won’t be covered by this investment.

"If we want the countryside to compete economically and socially then we need assurances and urgent action so that hard working rural businesses and families are not disadvantaged."