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New legislation 'discriminates' against farmers with slow broadband, MP warns

Wednesday, July 16th 2014 by Hannah Langston

The government’s plan to make Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) applications digital-only has been criticised by rural residents with slow broadband.

“If they want farmers online they should help them get a decent, fit for purpose connection,” Chris Conder, a dairy farmer and founder member of community ISP Broadband for the Rural North told Cable.co.uk.

“Farmers now have to trail many miles to land agents or auctions to fill in this stuff, or pay someone to do it for them. It’s very difficult when the day's work only ends late at night to fit in a trip to town.”

The government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme aims to upgrade 90% of the country to superfast broadband by 2017.

However, Charles Tassell, owner of a bio-diversity farm in Kent told us, “The problem with the BDUK rollout has always been that the last 10% of connections are going to cost almost as much to solve as the previous 90%.

“Unfortunately, a high proportion of these last 10% are rural based residents, farms and rural businesses, so this makes the drive to more online-only applications a worry to small but significant number of rural residents”.

While MPs are broadly supportive of online funding applications, Anne McIntosh (pictured above), Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Thirsk, Malton and Filey, Conservative) has voiced concern that “the lack of fast speed broadband hampers applying online”.

“My constituency will have the poorest cover in the whole of North Yorkshire from 2015/16 with 22% having slow speeds in exactly those rural areas where farms are based,” she told us.

“DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) says there are other options such as satellite connections but these are prohibitively expensive and discriminate against rural areas having to pay for broadband when urban areas connections are paid for from public funds.”

According to Ms McIntosh DEFRA previously suggested paper applications would be acceptable from 1 January 2015 for claims for farm payments. Farmers have now been told it won’t be possible to submit hard copy applications from this date.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, a Government spokesperson said: “We are on track to deliver superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017. Those who are not able to get online to apply for farm payments will be able to get specialist help from digital support centres.”

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