Rural areas underprepared for EU subsidy online switch

The Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, bemoaned the lack of rural broadband connectivity in his constituency as farmers are set to claim their EU subsidies using online-only services under the “digital by default” policy.

Mr Parish warned that the government is risking a “riot” due to slow broadband speeds across the rural areas of the UK. He estimates that only 8% of properties in the constituency currently have super-fast broadband, compared to the target of 95% by 2017.

Speaking in the House of Commons during a hearing of proposals to scrap the paper form for claiming EU farming subsidies, Mr Parish claimed that broadband rollout schemes were picking “easy cherries off the tree” by prioritising urban rather than rural areas.

He said: “What is the point of putting all this money in if you are just going to pick the easy cherries off the tree and leave all the rural broadband and difficult to get to (properties) not being provided for?

During proceedings, Mr Parish questioned Chris Townsend, chief executive officer of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK): “are you going to change your tactics and actually roll it out faster to those hard-to-reach rural villages? Otherwise there’s going to be a riot on your hands.”

Mr Townsend conceded that the most rural regions would be added to the super-fast network by 2020 at the latest; George Dunn chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association estimated that 12,000 farmers have a total lack of internet access and that most “don’t really understand they have a problem yet”.

He added, “they should have been doing it years ago when they made the decision they were going to have ‘digital by default’. We are running out of time to get a Plan B in place.”

George Eustice, another Cornwall Conservative MP, said there would be “Digital Support Centres” to assist those who do not have adequate internet speeds to make online applications practical.

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