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Academics have urged ministers to make connecting rural communities to superfast broadband a priority.

According to a study by Aberdeen University, the focus on improving speeds for the majority means those that are excluded are at risk of being left behind.

Dr Lorna Philip, from the university’s Department of Geography and Environment, said the urban-rural digital divide is a "fact of life for the final few in rural communities".

Indeed, she said these people can only access an internet connection that is just marginally faster than dial-up broadband, who also live in areas where mobile internet coverage is "poor or non-existent".

"Part of the issue is that there is a fixation on improving speed for the majority rather than improving universal coverage," she commented.

Dr Philip has therefore urged policymakers to stop focusing on speed and give areas that have been left behind "the opportunity to catch up or risk excluding them altogether".

She added that unless public bodies commit to investing in digital infrastructure and policy mechanisms to support alternatives to fixed broadband connections, hard-to-reach areas will continue to fall further behind when it comes to both connectivity and speed.

Ministers have already promised to implement a new broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) that ensures everyone in Britain has a legal right to request minimum speeds of 10Mbps by 2020.

However, BT recently tabled an offer to deliver universal high-speed broadband, which would mean many premises could receive speeds substantially faster than 10Mbps, thereby rendering the planned USO unnecessary.

The government intends to work with BT over the next few months to develop the plan, which would be legally binding if it is approved.

A final decision will be made following a consultation on the proposed USO.

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