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The Rural Services Network (RSN) has urged the next government to set "more ambitious" targets for public sector broadband schemes and focus on improving connectivity in the countryside.

In its manifesto for the 2015 general election, the body calls on MPs to focus investment on parts of the UK which are being left behind.

According to the RSN, two particular broadband issues demand urgent resolution.

It says the next government - whatever its composition may be - must permit greater flexibility in what its agency, Broadband Delivery UK, allows to be counted as match funding.

This is so that local projects with allocations can actually proceed, the RSN adds

In addition, it argues that service providers who receive public funds - namely BT in the context of the UK's rural broadband programme - should be more transparent.

The RSN believes detailed information about super-fast broadband availability - at a premises level - and costs should be released.

This is so public rollout programmes have the information needed to target investment and community-led schemes can proceed with more certainty.

In its manifesto, the RSN makes a number of other calls to government.

It says ministers should officially recognise that fast broadband infrastructure is of "fundamental importance" to rural economies and communities.  

"Without it the nation’s rural areas will be at a significant disadvantage, with impacts on business performance and access to services amongst other things," the body states.

The RSN is also calling for a more ambitious universal service obligation, "much higher" than the current 2Mb conceived in 2009 under the Labour government.

The body says the government should focus its broadband strategy and investment on achieving coverage where there is "genuine market failure": where there is no broadband available or in prospect. Following on from this, the next government has been urged to set out in more detail how and when it intends to reach the five per cent of premises outside its main super-fast programme.

Additionally, it says the government should "lobby hard" for a relaxation of State Aid rules applied to networks built with public subsidy. The RSN argues that the current European Union rules present "both technical and commercial barriers" to providing solutions in the deepest rural areas.

Finally, it urges the government to examine how improved mobile phone network coverage and competition can be achieved in rural areas. Suggestions include more mast sharing between broadband providers and regulated access to BT’s backhaul infrastructure for other 4G operators.

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