Excitement must not mask the digital divide

THE CLA is renewing its call for Government to eradicate the digital divide between rural and urban areas in the North after a new survey highlighted the importance of the internet to the country’s economy.

A report from The Boston Consulting Group claims the UK is ranked top of all G20 nations in terms of the amount the internet contributes to its GDP.

But CLA North’s policy and public affairs director Douglas Chalmers is concerned that statements like this only add to the complacent belief that everyone can join in the e-boom.

He said: “The Government minister responsible for communication, Ed Vaizey, has said that most people in the UK can access broadband at a decent price but this only masks the fact that large geographic areas are currently excluded from useable and affordable internet connections.

“Our reliance on broadband communication for business purposes can only increase, and the remote rural areas without effective connection will be left behind.

“This not only adversely affects the sustainability of these businesses and communities, but on a national scale means that they cannot make their potentially significant contributions to the country’s economic recovery.”

The CLA has told the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications that the Government needs to provide a Universal Service Obligation for broadband of at least two megabits per second (Mbps) in rural areas to close the widening digital divide.

The Association submitted its response to the Committee’s inquiry on superfast broadband stressing that not enough is being done to ensure those who live and work in the countryside have access to even the basic 2Mbps speed, let alone superfast broadband.

Mr Chalmers added: “The Government is moving more of its services online and recognises that broadband is essential to the economic well-being of rural areas.

“However, there is no legal requirement to deliver the basic 2Mbps speed that many rural businesses currently struggle to receive.”