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While BT presses ahead with plans for a fibre-optic cable broadband network, rural areas suffering without high-speed internet connections could suffer.

That is the view of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), which has suggested that communications watchdog Ofcom should prioritise basic broadband access in the countryside before paving the way for speed boosts elsewhere.

CLA president Henry Aubrey-Fletcher was speaking in the wake of the news that Ofcom has settled on a regulatory framework with BT, who will now be free to start work on its £1.5 billion fibre network.

He said: "Ofcom has yet again failed to understand the needs of rural communities. Quite simply, the practical effect of deregulating broadband will be to create such a gulf between rural and urban areas that the rural economy could find itself on its knees very soon.

"If we are not very careful, rural people will become second class citizens compared to those in urban conurbations."

Mr Aubrey-Fletcher went on to highlight the fact that more government rural regulation is now managed online, underlining the need for modern internet services.

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