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Fibre-optic broadband

MPs and rural businesses have rounded on the government after it emerged that huge areas of the UK will be left out of moves to build a next-generation cable broadband network.

In an interview in the Telegraph, Lord Carter, who is helming efforts to promote universal broadband access, yesterday announced that there would be “no economic case” for constructing a next-gen network in “25 to 30 per cent” of the country. These areas are likely to be under-populated rural locations, many of which are already beset by broadband coverage problems.

His remarks were greeted with disdain by broadband industry experts, who expressed surprise at the unexpectedly large proportion of the country who would be excluded from the fibre-optic broadband revolution and questioned to what extent the scheme is solving the so-called broadband divide. Business groups also rounded on the announcement. Their concern was that leaving so much of the country out of the fibre optic roll-out could impair the nation’s chances of recovering from the economic downturn.

Now, criticism of the limited scope of the plan is mounting from other sectors. In a scathing attack, Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, president of rural economy group the Country Land and Business Association, has accused the government of failing rurally located businesses and Britons who live in remote areas.

Mr Aubrey-Fletcher commented: "This digital urban/rural divide is getting out of control. It is time for the hyperbole to stop and for government to consider the damage it is doing to rural areas and, in particular, businesses.”

Further obloquy has arrived from Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, who represents Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. Mr Alexander claimed that it “would be truly outrageous if it were to become government policy to deny the benefits of superfast broadband to rural Britain”.

The latest round of critical responses to the scheme follows concerns raised over the government's stated aim of ensuring that every home has a broadband connection of at least 2Mb by 2012. This broadband speed is regarded by many as insufficient to support the growth of new services such as on-demand TV.

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