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NFU: Poor Rural Broadband And 4G Harm Future Of British Farming

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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National Farmers’ Union says government must do more to improve rural broadband, claiming just 4 percent have superfast

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned of an impending crisis in the farming industry, if the UK Government does not do more to support the rollout of superfast broadband and improve mobile coverage in rural areas.

Its report claims that just four percent of farmers have access to superfast broadband and only 52 percent have a reliable mobile signal – despite 98 percent having a mobile phone and 56 percent owning a smartphone.

More than two thirds receive Internet services via a copper connection, with others using fixed wireless and satellite services. Tellingly, 58 percent have speeds of less than 2Mbps.

Recent figures from Ofcom claimed that while the average urban download speed was 50.5Mbps, while the rural average is 13.7Mbps.

Read More: Are the government’s satellite broadband plans working?

Connected farming

BT Cumbria Fell End fibre broadbandThe NFU says farmers need better mobile coverage to coordinate staff and contractors, make use of GPS services and ensure a safer working environment as many work in remote areas with heavy machinery.

Better fixed connectivity will allow farms to continue to diversify away from agriculture, boosting revenue. Poor broadband also prevents farmers from accessing government services and being compliant with industry regulations, according to the NFU, which argues that less efficient farming will struggle to provide the food needed for a growing population.

“Poor access to broadband and mobile networks is one such significant barrier and the current situation is neither sustainable nor acceptable,” said NFU vice president Guy Smith.  “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.”

Recommendations

Springboig bowling club.The NFU said the government should look at ways of targeting the ‘final five percent’ not covered by superfast broadband projects, such as more comprehensive satellite and community broadband schemes.  It points out the work Gigaclear has done to connect rural communities to fibre to the premise (FTTP) networks and that NFU offers discounted satellite packages from Avonline.

The government already offers satellite broadband vouchers to some areas of the UK and is consulting on a new 10Mbps universal service obligation (USO) that would allow anyone to ‘request’ to be connected to this proposed minimum speed. The NFU hopes that work done to implement the USO will allow for future upgrades to speeds faster than the new USO.

Read More: What Next For Rural Mobile Coverage?

The report also calls for a review into the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) – a £150 million government scheme aimed to improving rural mobile coverage. Around 600 possible sites were identified but just 75 were built before the scheme closed earlier this year.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it is working hard to improve coverage in rural areas.

“Improving mobile coverage and taking fast broadband to rural areas is one of the Government’s top priorities,” said Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey. “We are offering immediate assistance to those with the slowest speeds with our satellite broadband scheme, and our plans will give every farm in the UK the legal right to request a fast broadband connection.”

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