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NFU calls for 'targeted action' to help farmers get connected

Thursday, May 12th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

Just 4% of farmers have access to superfast broadband, the NFU has revealed, as it called for the sector to be prioritised in the rollout of faster speeds.

The union’s report, Farm Broadband and Mobile Networks, said that 4% of farmers also had no access to the internet at all.

58% had download speeds of 2Mbps or less, while 80% had upload speeds of less than 2Mbps.

The report features results from the NFU’s Digital Technology Survey, which polled 850 of its members last year.

As well as looking at broadband, it revealed that 70% of smartphone users had no access to 4G at all, while 16% didn’t have a reliable mobile signal in any of their indoor locations.

Yet despite poor mobile coverage, more than 90% said having a reliable signal was important for their business.

As it released the report, the NFU called on the government to ensure farmers and rural areas are prioritised in the remainder of UK’s superfast broadband rollout.

The report said both superfast broadband and mobile coverage are essential for “modern, efficient, profitable and safe farm businesses”.

Good broadband will help with the government’s aim to get everyone online while decent mobile signal is vital to work more efficiently and safely, the report said.

But despite needing good digital connections, current rollout plans are not sufficient to meet farmers’ needs.

Many aren’t included in BDUK rollouts because they’re remote from parts of the current network infrastructure and often don’t meet the cost criteria, the report said.

“For rural businesses, it costs more to connect to high speed broadband but the demand is still there.”

Mobile connectivity vital

Mobile connectivity is also vital, the report said, as it allows farmers to coordinate staff, use more efficient methods like precision farming, and call for help if needed.

But it said NFU members had reported that mobile coverage for voice and text was actually getting worse in some rural areas.

Cable.co.uk has previously reported on farmers’ warnings that poor mobile coverage could have fatal consequences.

The NFU's report called for “targeted action” to make sure rural communities aren’t left behind.

It said: “We need a system designed to actually address the rural market and boost competition to access the final 5%.”

The report raised 10 points that it thinks the government and the telecoms industry should prioritise to improve connectivity for farmers.

They include easier access for broadband providers offering affordable alternative solutions, a measurement of the actual broadband delivery “on the ground” and offline options for people who can’t get access certain online services.

It also said there should be fair land deals for farmers and landowners whose land is used for telecoms projects, as well as intervention to improve mobile not-spots and research into 5G technology to be targeted on agriculture and other spectrum advances.

Recently the government has been accused of backtracking on its promise to roll out superfast broadband to the final 5% of the country, saying it will favour a demand-led approach.

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