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Rural economy needs broadband - shocker!
Monday 29 September 2003 16:00:00 by Andrew Ferguson

ZDNet and other news agencies are reporting on an interview Andrew Pinder did for the website epolitix.com.

Mr Pinder raises the real concern that the rural parts of the UK are going to suffer without decent affordable broadband Internet access. The issue of population migration from rural to urban areas is raised, something that has been happening since the start of the industrial revolution, and something that very rarely gets addressed by politicians.

One of the problems is that for a lot of the UKs population, rural areas are portrayed as being nice and green rural idylls. The reality can be very different, many smaller companies may be trying to move out to smaller towns and villages to benefit from things like reduced rent, but the lack of decent affordable communications infrastructure can play a big decision when companies are relocating. The problem is not just getting broadband access to farmers. Farmers are just one part of the countryside, there are many smaller companies that are located outside the cities and trying to compete with companies who already have cheap always-on Internet access can result in lower sales, leading to companies eventually folding. Often though a lot of focus goes on the tourist industry in rural areas, but this should not be at the expense of the local manufacturing industry.

Regional Development Agencies can help, but often they are held back due to EU State Aid rules, the UK government potentially can assist if it declared Broadband as a 'Service of General Economic Interest' (see EFRA report, section 33. In France Alcatel (PDF document here) was active in lobbying for SGI status for Broadband, which places it on an equal footing with other utilities like Gas and Electric, e.g. lower rates of VAT are possible. How long will it take the UK government to move on this, or will great tracts of the UK remain unviable for years to come?

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