Countryside 'could riot' if denied super-fast broadband header image

Published: 22nd Jun 2016

Slow broadband speeds in rural areas could see people "rioting", according to a Devon Conservative MP.

Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, believes the government risks fuelling an uproar regarding internet speeds as farmers will now have to claim EU subsidies through a new online-only system.

According to the politician, just eight per cent of the homes in his constituency enjoy super-fast broadband - a far cry from the national target of 95 per cent coverage by 2017.

Speaking at a House of Commons hearing to debate getting rid of traditional paper-based EU farming subsidy application from 2015 onwards, Mr Parish accused the government of focusing on easy targets when delivering its £1.2 billion broadband programme to towns and cities, rather than the countryside.

He said that farming groups were angry at the move towards a digital process, as it is clear the government has forgotten that people living in rural areas do not have access to super-fast internet speeds.

Mr Parish, who also serves on the rural affairs select committee, told the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) quango that it needed to rethink its tactics and focus on creating better connections in the countryside.

"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? There's no point talking about 95 per cent coverage - I'd be laughed out of court if I went to my villages where 95 per cent  haven't got it," he added.

In response, Chris Townsend, chief executive officer of BDUK, said that the UK's hardest-to-reach areas would be the focus of the third phase of the programme, which aims to get them connected to super-fast broadband by no later than 2020.

However, Mr Parish felt this was unacceptable, firing back the retort: "2020 is no damn good at all. This is crazy. Why are we putting public money in?"

According to George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, applying for EU subsidies online was a far cry from arranging a tax disc, as it is a complex process, comparing it to asking someone to move from driving a car to flying a jet fighter plane.