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Government to test rural broadband options with £7m fund

Government to fund tests of technologies that could be issued to improve internet connectivity for rural communities

The government is funding tests of satellite, wireless and fixed line broadband in rural areas in an attempt to grow rural economies.

A £7m fund has been set aside for the internet connectivity project which is part of a wider attempt to boost rural economies, with plans to make high speed connectivity available to tourism businesses and farmers in remote areas.

It is hoped that farmers will be able to modernise farming methods through connected drone technology, such as drones monitoring crops and livestock. Tourism businesses could use better rural connectivity to develop interactive experiences.

The fund is in addition to an £8m grant scheme announced earlier this year to help deliver improved, high-speed broadband via satellite connectivity for up to 35,000 homes and businesses in the most remote parts of the UK.

Chloe Smith, secretary of state for science, innovation, and technology, said: “The new £7m fund announced in today’s rural action plan will explore how we can boost connectivity even further for farmers and rural businesses in trial areas, through a combination of satellite, wireless, and fixed-line solutions.

“That effort will be supported by our new Rural Connectivity Champion, helping drive innovation and encouraging investment in rural advanced wireless connectivity.”

The fund is part of a wider range of government efforts to boost rural communities including plans for housing, transport, digital connectivity and jobs. The government said it will continue to make progress in improving broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas by delivering the £5bn Project Gigabit across the UK, including plans to procure all regional contracts in England by the end of 2024.

Project Gigabit was designed to accelerate the UK’s recovery from Covid-19, boost sectors such as tech and the creative industries, and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across Britain.

The government said the projects it funds will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ roll-out plans.

Elizabeth Anderson, interim CEO at the Digital Poverty Alliance, welcomed the announcement: “It is fantastic to see the government taking further steps to support the drive of providing connectivity and digital access for everyone.

“For some, access to wireless networks is an everyday norm; however, for millions, this is currently out of reach, leading to exclusion and acting as a key barrier when looking for jobs, or attempting to use services which are now commonly online as well as many other tasks that require digital access.”

“Digital technology plays a huge role in individuals’ lives, affecting our ability to learn, participate and interact, highlighting the vital importance of proving everybody with digital access.

“While it is great to see the government making steps in the right direction, we must all do more to support those who lack access with the hope of a fully connected UK in years to come. We must also remember that digital inclusion is about more than just connectivity, with devices, skills and trust in online services all vital.”

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