Funding limitations, the lack of a legal requirement, and a perceived lack of understanding as to the needs of rural areas mean the government is “unlikely” to reach its Universal Service Commitment (USC) of providing at least 2Mbps broadband to all by 2015, according to a policy paper by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
In the paper, marking 10 years of campaigning for affordable broadband in rural areas, the CLA argues that the The paper states that the £1 billion the government committed to meet its USC is insufficient, with industry studies placing the costs closer to £15 billion.
The CLA also stated that too much pressure is being placed on the private sector to finance the broadband network, when broadband "needs to be regarded as a benefit to all in society".
In the paper, the CLA says that the USC is a “vague promise” rather than a legally binding obligation, and calls on the government to implement a universal service obligation by 2015.
"We are calling on the government to step up and agree to a Universal Service Obligation rather than just a Commitment. There is no legal sanction behind a Universal Service Commitment – it provides the government with a get-out clause if the benchmark is not achieved, and it is very unlikely it will be achieved by 2015," said CLA president Harry Cotterell in the paper.
The CLA calculates that, currently, between 15 to 20% of those who live in rural areas are unable to receive anywhere near the government’s stated benchmark of 2Mbps.
In addition, the CLA said that while it is accepted that many rural businesses currently do not need higher broadband speeds to operate efficiently, this perception must change as in the future applications will become increasingly sophisticated and require more bandwidth.
While it said that a universal fibre network is the best solution and its ultimate objective, the CLA said that a “patchwork-quilt” model where other technologies, such as WiFi and satellite, should be considered to help rural areas achieve at least 2Mbps.
The CLA also calls on the government to provide an appropriate framework to allow rural communities to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband to take advantage of unused public sector bandwidth to feed into community wireless networks.
"Broadband acts as an economic driver for rural businesses as well as helping the social development of rural communities. But between 15 and 20 percent of those who live in rural areas are still unable to receive anywhere near the government’s benchmark of two Megabits per second (Mbps),” said Cotterell.
"Although there have been some notable successes in the 10 years since the CLA started campaigning, there is still a huge amount to be done to ensure coverage is universal," he said. "We have set out our first-ever rural broadband policy because we believe the government must do more to help the countryside. By seeking to form a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups to agree common objectives, we can help to deliver a comprehensive broadband strategy."