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The government has been urged to create a more flexible national minimum standard of broadband speed to stop rural areas being left behind.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the government's commitment to universal broadband coverage is a "significant step forward".

However, it is concerned that as the broadband needs of homes and businesses in rural communities increase, they will end up lagging behind because the national minimum standard will become obsolete.

The LGA has therefore argued that a more flexible approach should be taken if premises in non-urban locations are to avoid slipping into a "digital twilight zone".

This would ensure that when the national download speed average goes up, the minimum standard will also increase.

Councillor Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the People and Places Board at the LGA, said: "It is paramount the minimum standard is constantly monitored and reviewed and it keeps track with national average speeds, and that speeds users experience at peak times are still within minimum standards."

He pointed out that broadband is one of the biggest drivers of jobs and economic growth and could be crucial in making places attractive to businesses who might otherwise not locate there.

Furthermore, he said broadband can be vital in enabling housebound relatives to live independently.

Councillor Hawthorne added that achieving universal speeds of 10Mbps should "be just the start" and something to build upon, as demand for and the availability of faster speeds will continue to grow.

According to figures from the LGA, nearly half of households and businesses in rural locations cannot reach speeds of 10Mbps, while estimates suggest up to a million premises will still be without high-speed broadband in two years' time.

The organisation has also calculated that by 2023, the average household will require bandwidth of 19 Mbps.

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