by Felicity Humphrey, Action with Communities in Rural England
Affordable, regular transport and a Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s on every corner. When you live in London or Edinburgh you won’t find yourself travelling miles just to see your GP.
You also don’t have the agony of not being able to make or receive a phone call.
Not having signal – seems like a bit of a 1st world issue doesn’t it?
There are bigger things to worry about.
But what if you couldn’t access universal credit, because it’s completely online and you couldn’t get connected purely because of where you lived… Wouldn’t that start to feel … Unequal? And would that be a silly 1st world issue – not being able to get the money you need to put food on the table?
It is the Government’s ambition for the country to be a world leader in 5G, but how many of us are really living with a digital deficit?
In February this year, Rural England published the State of Rural Services 2018 report. The report found that more than half (58%) of rural homes could not access 4G compared with just 17% in cities; cities that will now receive 5G. Not being able to have access to mobile connectivity in a world that is being built on technology including fundamentals like healthcare, banking and education is catastrophic for those living in unconnected areas.
As fast as digital connectivity moves forward, and society’s dependence on it deepens, the divide in access to the benefits between rural and urban areas becomes greater.
National rural charity ACRE (Action for Communities in Rural England) presented evidence to the Rural Broadband and digital only services inquiry held by the EFRA Committee on Wednesday 12 June.
Jeremy Leggett, ACREs Policy Adviser said “The divide between urban and rural has the potential to get much worse and the government’s intervention seems to have lacked effectiveness. Indeed, as fast as digital connectivity moves forward, and society’s dependence on it deepens, the divide in access to the benefits between rural and urban areas becomes greater.”
The fundamental barrier for rural areas is not technological, but rather economic and political.
ACRE added. “Up to now, the UK Government has sought to use public money to accelerate roll-out to rural areas, a plan that has not proved successful. If here is to be an equality of service throughout the UK, government needs to use its regulatory powers to ensure an equity of provision for all.”