Rural business owners who struggle to find affordable broadband are up in arms over grey areas in government plans to deliver broadband connection to more remote areas, that it is claimed could leave such firms struggling in the face of the credit crunch.
Last week Lord Carter’s delayed Digital Britain report was unveiled. Among its recommendations and pledges were that the UK should have universal broadband access by 2012, with a minimum speed of 2Mb.
However, according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) the report has neglected to provide concrete details as to how some of the UK’s more remotely located villages would be connected. The lobbying group is also concerned by the fact that Lord Carter has categorically ruled out public money being used to fund the initiative in the short-term.
Their feelings were articulated by the organisation’s president Henry Aunrey-Fletcher, who noted that the businesses he represents feel “disappointed” by the report and that Lord Carter had “failed to understand the frustration” of country dwellers who are paying substantial sums for a broadband connection.
Mr Aubrey-Fletcher added: "The CLA has been the only national organisation to vigorously campaign for affordable broadband connectivity to all rural areas in Britain. The fact that we have got so far is testament to our belief that without broadband, rural business remains uncompetitive and the digital divide between urban and rural areas is actually increasing as the pressure to communicate electronically comes from all directions.”
Now in a bid to discover if a realistic delivery plan is in place, the CLA has written to the government posing a series of questions. They include why significant sums of public money are not being earmarked to fund the delivery of the network as has been the case overseas. The government is also being asked to answer what will happen to businesses in the period before 2012, when lack of affordable business broadband will make them more vulnerable to the economic downturn.
Previously Gordon Brown has intimated that state funds could be used to help internet service providers meet the costs of the fibre-optic roll-out. However, no such indications have been forthcoming that government money is earmarked to ensure universal broadband access.
The controversy comes just days after TalkTalk looked to capitalise on the prevailing economic mood with its newly announced Emergency Plan. This scheme waives the £6.49 monthly charge for customers who are struggling to pay bills for six months. During this time they are only required to pay line rental and receive a pared-down broadband and home telephony service to help them through the worst of the credit crunch.
However, pertinently this scheme only applies to consumers rather than businesses, who would instead be left to continue paying over the odds for a broadband service despite the tough operating conditions.