Farmers ‘losing out’ in roll-out of superfast broadband

Farmers are getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to superfast broadband rollout, according

Farmers are getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to superfast broadband rollout, according to an NFU report. - Credit: Archant

Farmers are missing out on the roll-out of superfast broadband, with just 4% having access to it, a study has found.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) launched a hard-hitting report this week on the impact of poor communications on rural businesses.

Its survey highlighted that just one in 25 farm businesses has access to superfast broadband and eight out of 10 have upload speeds of 2Mbps or less.

Just over half (52%) of those surveyed had a reliable mobile phone signal in just a few outdoor locations. Farmers from East Anglia were among those who took the findings to Westminster on Tuesday, and put the case for better broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas.

Past NFU county chairman George Gittus, whose farm business near Bury St Edmunds includes a business park and bed and breakfast accommodation, was one of the farmers featured in the NFU report, Farm Broadband & Mobile Networks.

“People invested in diversifying in the previous decade as encouraged by government and these projects are now in jeopardy as the original tenants have not got the service or internet access that they had when they started. We have gone backwards,” he said.

“Poor connectivity stagnates business and we have lost customers and revenue because of it.”

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Suffolk farmers met with MPs and also discussed other issues including water resources for agriculture, support for renewable energy and delays with the Basic Payment Scheme. Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, hosted the visit.

The NFU is concerned about the Government’s broadband delivery programme, worth £1.7billion, which it says will still leave an estimated 1.2 million premises without superfast broadband. This is the equivalent to 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, while other industries and urban areas receive superfast speeds of 30Mbps or ultrafast speeds of 100Mbps plus.

NFU vice president and Clacton farmer Guy Smith said: “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 on-line 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.”