Action needs to be taken to ensure that those living in rural areas of the UK are not left in the broadband slow lane, a report has warned.
The report, from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC), makes a series of recommendations to ensure that rural homes can keep pace with urban areas.
It calls for more help to be given to community-based broadband schemes.
Alternative investment models need to be explored to ensure fast networks are rolled out in the country-side.
The recently published Digital Britain report – which laid out the government’s strategy for broadband – announced a telephone tax to fund next-generation networks in rural areas.
It also pledged to provide a minimum speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second) to all UK homes by 2012.
A CRC spokesman welcomed both moves but said it might not be enough.
"There is a danger, with the 2 megabits promise, that people will regard that as job done," he said.
He also questioned the so-called telephone tax, which will collect 50p a month from every household with a fixed telephone line to contribute to rolling out next-generation broadband to areas that providers see as economically unviable.
"It starts to address the issue but there are lots of unanswered questions and issues about whether it will provide enough funding," he said.
According to the CRC some 42% of the rural population in England are currently struggling on speeds below 2Mbps.
Rolling out next-generation broadband networks is expensive and becomes much less cost effective in rural areas.
But the report – entitled Mind the Gap – Digital England, a rural perspective – suggests ways in which offering fast broadband services to rural areas can benefit the UK economy.
It finds, for instance, that one third of people working from home live in rural areas. The government is keen to promote home working as a response to road congestion and global warming.
It also highlights how broadband services can be used by older people to improve the quality of the lives and offer access to government and health services.
A decent infrastructure would create more rural entrepreneurs which in turn could aid economic recovery, the report said.
In response to the report Lord Carter, minister for Communications and Technology, reiterated the government’s commitment to a minimum broadband speed and a fund for next-generation access.
"Together these two firm commitments will help ensure that Digital Britain does not become a two-tier Britain," he said.
There are around 40 community broadband schemes around the UK, many of them bringing fibre networks to rural areas.
The Community Broadband Network, which co-ordinates a lot of these schemes, has launched an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate them.
The Independent Networks Co-operative Association will act as a unified voice for local projects, promote common standards and set up a Joint Operating Network (JON) to provide technical and operational support for the patchwork of schemes.
Source: BBC News