With only four per cent of farmers having access to superfast broadband, the roll-out of complete mobile networks and affordable, reliable superfast access in rural areas must now be prioritised by government.
Both are essential to run safe and efficient farms, to comply with regulation, to promote farm diversification and for rural communities to enjoy family life. The government needs to put in place the funding, the legislation and business support to allow this to happen.
These are the findings of the NFU in its new report Farm Broadband & Mobile Networks, which was launched to MPs in London today and which picks up on the results from a comprehensive NFU survey of farmers and growers.
The NFU is concerned about the government’s broadband delivery programme, worth £1.7billion, which will leave an estimated 1.2 million premises without superfast broadband.
That's the equivalent of 5% of all premises, the majority of which will be farm businesses and rural communities. At best, farmers within this last 5% could be offered far lower speeds of 10 megabits per second by 2020, whilst other industries and urban areas receive superfast speeds of 30Mbps or ultrafast speeds of 100Mbps plus.
NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “If our industry is to meet any of the ambitions of the long-awaited government 25-year Food and Farming Plan, it will be essential for barriers to growth to be removed. Poor access to broadband and mobile networks is one such significant barrier and the current situation is neither sustainable nor acceptable. The government is asking farmers to run their businesses in conditions that put them at an immediate disadvantage.
“We have heard of farmers waiting 15 hours to download a Countryside Stewardship guidance booklet; farmers can’t comply with increasingly online-only regulation and aren’t able to contact their customers. Farmers can’t harness the brilliant range of agri-technology which relies on a reliable internet connection. To increase productivity you need superfast broadband, to get out of the farm office and into the field.
“Well over half of our members have diversified their farm businesses with the aim of supporting the wider rural economy, but they simply won’t be able to support this wider economy if they can’t offer high-speed broadband. This is tantamount to failure to provide the infrastructure that our industry desperately needs to flourish and compete in increasingly globalised markets.”
The NFU sets out ten key ways we can promote an effective superfast broadband and mobile phone network. Fundamentally we need government to keep to their commitment to make the UK the best connected country in the world and to ensure a system is designed that will actually address the rural market and boost competition. We also need the telecommunications industry to get positively involved in creating a competitive digital rural market for our members and their rural communities.