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Slow broadband speeds are placing businesses in rural areas at a competitive disadvantage, a campaigner has warned.

According to Graham Long, Chairman of Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset, official figures show that nine per cent of rural areas in the UK are unable to access speeds of 2MB.

Speaking to the Somerset County Gazette, he said this means businesses in non-urban areas are struggling, as these speeds are insufficient for their purposes.

"We're facing discrimination," he commented.

"It is a digital rural apartheid and it is not right that people here should be missing out on this technology because of where they live."

Mr Long therefore believes more businesses will choose to leave rural communities and set up in towns and cities instead.

Furthermore, he suggested slow broadband speeds could make it difficult for homeowners in the countryside to sell their properties.

Somerset County Council has sought to offer assurances to those concerned at the pace of superfast broadband rollouts in Devon and Somerset.

A spokesperson for the authority said the Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme has already improved connectivity to more than 250,000 premises in towns, villages and rural areas across the two counties.

"This puts us on track to reach around 90 per cent coverage by the end of 2016 - and take-up is good too," the official stated.

The council described this as "fantastic news" for residents and businesses, as many are are able to access fibre broadband speeds "far in excess of those found in many cities". Nevertheless, the spokesperson acknowledged there is "more work to do".

This comes shortly after the Connected Nations 2015 report from industry regulator Ofcom revealed that broadband access in rural areas has improved, with coverage reaching a rate of nearly four in ten premises.

However, 48 per cent of homes in rural areas were found to be unable to receive broadband speeds of 10Mbps or above.

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