Broadband essential for country folk

You look from your window and marvel at the surrounding fields in the distance. Across the road sits a little church, a few picture-perfect country cottages and an old-fashioned red phone box. You live in the country and it is heaven – until you turn to your desktop PC and try for the tenth time to load a webpage.

It looks lovely… but what about the bandwidth?

People who choose to live in rural areas are used to going without, with many happy to brave snowed-in winters and dwindling local amenities to live among the fields and fresh air. But as time has passed technology has come to play a bigger role in our lives, with the advent of the internet in particular changing the way everyone lives.

Social networking, online shopping and web banking have triggered a lifestyle revolution, seeing people tap away on their Samsung Galaxy Tab rather than talk, and shun the shopping basket for the much lighter virtual version. The Government has even pumped £530 million into UK broadband in a bid to make it the nippiest in Europe by 2015.

This is all good and well, but what about those who can’t climb on board the revolution? In some remote areas there is no internet access, whereas others have broadband connections which load at snail-pace. Areas with no broadband and only dial-up have been wittily tagged internet not-spots, but a £20 million Defra scheme is aiming to get residents in these areas surfing on their laptops as easily as the city-dwellers.

If people really want to benefit from the Community Broadband Fund they’re going to have to get their hands dirty. The fund fits into the Big Society idea of making communities work together. Villages or hamlets will apply for help in getting broadband, with linking to existing connections at schools and hospitals among the mooted ideas.

The move comes after rural folk said lagging behind in broadband would force many youngsters to hang up their wellies and head for the towns and cities – where they’d get broadband faster than a country hare.

But why is it so crucial to get these areas online? Well, there are several reasons – socialising, community and business. Many villages and hamlets have spent recent years getting used to life without a Post Office, and figures from February showed that 39 pubs were closing every week – many of them in rural locations.

So, without a Post Office or a pub, connections to other people and the wider world are poor for many village dwellers.

But this could all be changed with a decent broadband connection delivered through the fund. Older people who find it difficult to get out of the house would be able to have their groceries delivered from an online store, or stay in touch with friends via a social networking site. And if a young mum was too busy to get to the bank, she could do it on her BlackBerry PlayBook. It could revolutionise their lives.

What about rural businesses? Well they need faster broadband just as much as villagers do. With it they will be able to trade online, and if farmers have old buildings they want to rent out as office space, broadband access will be a major boost.
The fund isn’t the first to tackle the problem of rural web surfing. The Rural Broadband Partnership has been around for a while, working to help communities get online themselves via broadband projects managed by locals.

So if you live in the country and want to get online, there is plenty of help out there. If you’re prepared to put in the hours, perhaps next time you look out of your window, at the cat and the fields, your view won’t be spoiled by thoughts of the internet crashing yet again.

Live in the country and struggle with broadband? Comment below…