Rural broadband in the slow lane

Farmer with tractor and laptop computer

Farmer with tractor and laptop computer - Credit: Getty Images/Creatas RF

APRIL 18, 2014: Smallholders increasingly rely on the internet, but many people in rural areas have slow or non-existent broadband. Jules Moore investigates

Smallholders increasingly rely on the internet, but many people in rural areas have slow or non-existent broadband. Jules Moore investigatesThe influence of the internet on all our lives appears to be an unstoppable and growing force; smallholders are no exception. With land, feed, fuel and other essentials costing more to buy, making a smallholding pay its way is not easy and using the internet is an increasingly valuable way of reaching out to customers. Yet government statistics from 2010 show that as many as 23% of rural households have little or no broadband (with slow broadband being defined as under 2Mbps (megabits per second) rising to 47% of the most isolated dwellings. With some 10 million people living in areas defined by the Government as ‘rural’, that is a lot of people getting left behind in this digital age. The Government had pledged ‘to ensure fast and reliable access is available in all rural communities as part of our commitment to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015’ and promised that all households would have minimum broadband speeds of 2 Mbps. However, this has now been moved to a pledge to give superfast broadband to 95% of households (which equates to much less than 95% of the country by acreage) by 2017 with no mention of the minimum coverage of 2Mbps. Our house is 1.8 miles from the nearest roadside cabinet, which effectively rules out ‘superfast’ or ‘fibre optic’ broadband. (We have tried, twice). Our download speed is usually just under 2Mbps, which is a lot better than many rural areas, though it is anything but reliable or consistent. We don’t live in a completely rural backwater either – the edge of Bristol is less than seven miles away and we are minutes from the market towns of Thornbury and Chepstow. We are hardly in the middle of Dartmoor! As websites get ever bigger, they become slower to download and, without superfast broadband, a lot of us are just getting left behind. I find the internet to be a valuable research resource and finding information takes minutes where it would have taken days. I couldn’t have written this article without it and I certainly can’t run my business without it – I can’t remember the last time I had a booking through the post. I advertise my livestock online and find other breeders the same way. The internet is here to stay and very useful. So is there anything you can do? * Read more about Jules's suggested solutions in our March issue, on sale now: