Britain’s Prince of Wales has thrown himself into the digital Britain debate, warning that a lack of high-speed internet access could be deadly for stressed rural communities.
The countryside remains peppered with “broadband deserts,” Prince Charles wrote in the Telegraph, and too many rural households are unable to access the internet at satisfactory speeds.
“The handicap this places on those rural businesses, schools, doctors' surgeries and local authorities... is immense,” he said.
The government’s Commission for Rural Communities estimates that more than 2 million people in rural towns and villages are unable to access broadband speeds of more than 2Mbps. BT says 18% of households in rural areas are not getting high enough ADSL speeds because of the distance from the local exchange.
Livestock farms had been hit particularly hard by the digital divide, the Prince said.
“If [farmers] are to stay on the land they will need all the help they can get, and denying them broadband, and effectively cutting them off from the internet, will only be more likely to drive them off the hills and into the towns and cities.”
Prince Charles said his charity group, the Rural Action Program, is considering setting up a fund to help support rural communities, and that “access to broadband must surely have a part to play.”
At least 59% of rural households are connected to broadband, Ofcom said last year. At the time, this was actually two percentage points more than the proportion of urban households connected.
The government has since announced plans to ensure the entire population is connected to the internet by 2012. But rural bodies are concerned that the government's Digital Britain initiative could leave less-populated areas behind.