Slow Rural Broadband Affecting Education, Says Survey

One in five rural families reliant on the Internet for their children’s’ education say it is being negatively impacted by slow broadband speeds that leave them unable to access essential resources, such as BBC Bitesize, for schoolwork.

According to research carried out by insurance firm NFU Mutual, many families believe that slow Internet connections are leaving their children at a disadvantage against those in urban areas, who have access to much faster broadband speeds.

The survey claims that rural households are less likely to have superfast broadband, with 22 percent of respondents in rural areas having access compared to 32 percent in urban areas, while they are half as likely to use mobile broadband through 3G and 4G connections – however it is worth noting that more than four times as many rural households than urban households were questioned.

Rural broadband

As a result 36 percent of those who do have Internet access in the countryside say it is too slow for their needs, with many incurring additional expenses because they can’t use web-based communication services. Many say they send letters, texts and make long distance calls to compensate.

“As more educational resources become Internet based, country children risk falling behind their urban counterparts,” says Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual. “Studying via the Internet is now a key part of children’s education and it’s unfair that learning opportunities are being affected by slow Internet speeds.”

The government has allocated £530 million for the provision of superfast broadband in areas not being covered by commercial roll-outs as part of the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative, which claims to have connected more than 300,000 households already.

‘Not enough’

An additional £250 million is being handed to local authorities to extend coverage to areas where BDUK doesn’t reach, possibly through mobile technologies such as 4G. However NFU Mutual says that while government funding is most welcome, the countryside has yet to see any benefit.

While welcoming the recent announcement of a new £250m funding package to develop rural broadband, Price warns that previous similar initiatives have yet to bear fruit. “Rural communities are already falling way behind and as the digital revolution gathers pace there’s a real risk that the viability of some rural businesses will be threatened and children be put at a disadvantage,” he adds.

“With the Rural Community Broadband Fund due to be wound-down this month with less than 5 percent  of the money spent, the digital divide between rural and urban areas looks set to widen, with countryside communities left counting the emotional and financial costs.”

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Steve McCaskill

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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