Rural businesses ‘being held back’

Connected: Superfast broadband is being rolled out across Lancashire
Connected: Superfast broadband is being rolled out across Lancashire
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A rural business advisor has joined in the row about poor broadband connections in the Lancashire countryside.

Preston-based Simon Haley said the lack of fast broadband connections was hampering farmers and others in the agricultural industry.

Simon was speaking days after Lancaster and Morecambe MP Eric Ollerenshaw quizzed ministers in the Commons about the roll-out of superfast broadband in Lancashire.

The MP said BT’s “near-monopoly” of Government contracts was leading to villages and areas of a city missing out on superfast broadband.

Mr Ollerenshaw claimed whole villages in his constituency were being neglected by the telecommunications giant as it rolls out the programme to improveconnection speeds.

Simon, founder of the online agricultural forum chatgroup AgriChatUK, said today that the problem went deeper than that, as farmers were relying more and more on the internet.

He said: “Unfortunately, it does seem to be a monopoly for BT in rural areas.

“Broadband is a massive economic driver for rural businesses. If they can get online then they can promote themselves to potential customers.

“But not just that, farms are being asked to do more and more tasks online, such as VAT, cattle movements, subsidy applications etc. Without a decent connection rural areas will find themselves further behind their urban counterparts. This digital divide and exclusion will become even more of an issue.”

BT has secured the majority of the contracts as the Government aims to deliver access to superfast broadband to 90 per cent of the UK by 2015.

Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, told Parliament in April the Government “failed to deliver meaningful competition in the procurement of its £1.2 bn rural broadband programme, leaving BT effectively in a monopoly position.”

But a BT spokesman said: “BT is investing huge amounts of its own money to improve fibre coverage in Lancashire whilst other companies chose not to invest.”

Meanwhile, the independently-funded Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) has been set up in north Lancashire to install broadband for the community.