Looking forward to easy broadband access

MY FOOTNOTE on meeting the challenge of youth unemployment coincided with a milestone on the road to easier broadband access.

Surrey and Sussex Jobcentreplus stated they receive more than a million hits daily on their online job search facility.

But our rural communities suffer from a lack of speed and reliability in accessing the internet, confining to the slow lane not only our young jobseekers but also scores of small businesses that are the backbone of the rural economy, and homeworkers that we know outstrip the numbers of those in urban areas three times over, not to mention farmers increasingly required to get online to register for agricultural support, cattle registration, VAT claims and so on. You can begin to see the scale of the drag on the economy.

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State at the DCMS, just announced measures designed to reduce the digital divide between urban and rural communities, including:

Establishing a digital hub in every community to tackle one of the big problems with rural broadband services: the backhaul costs - the connection from the community to the internet;

Cutting the costs of and access to infrastructure. Increasing shared access by working with house builders to make new homes broadband ready, and cutting the costs of laying cable by clarifying the rules on streetworks;

Opening up existing infrastructure to reduce the costs of laying new fibre, legislating if necessary;

Auctioning off areas of the radio spectrum to pave the way for a new generation of mobile broadband services.

A Rural Community Broadband Fund expected to be worth up to £20 million to help bridge the urban/rural digital divide.

Pilots to test the feasibility of this were launched in October and a new wave of broadband projects has started, covering Norfolk and a swathe of the southwest.

The good news is communities who missed out in the competition for pilots now have the Secretary of State’s assurance he intends by July to announce funding allocations for each local authority. These will be made available once the DCMS has reached agreement with the authorities on other sources of funds and their plans for delivery.

Our community can finally start looking forward to a time when those without access to broadband, many of whom are already socially disadvantaged, will no longer be excluded from what large sectors of the population consider basic services, such access to benefits, cheaper online bills, the opportunity for online training and instant access to your local police station for appointments and crime reporting.