Failure to improve broadband in rural Shropshire attacked
Residents in rural parts of the county are at a massive disadvantage because of poor internet access, a councillor said today.
Shropshire Council is moving more and more of its services online, while at the same time failing to deliver on promises to improve broadband, said Heather Kidd, Shropshire Councillor for Chirbury and Worthen.
And she said the authority's decision not to prioritise rural areas as part of a multi-million pound improvements package added insult to injury.
Instead, the council plans to use the £23 million to get superfast broadband to as many homes and businesses as possible, rather than concentrating the money on rural areas.
"The council insists that you register for schools and many other services over the internet and yet they have failed to deliver effective broadband to huge swathes of the countryside," said Councillor Kidd.
"In much of my ward it's dreadful, and there is no transport available to libraries to use the internet.
"For the many residents on limited means things are particularly bad."
She said access to the internet for many was actually getting worse.
Rural bus services had been hit by funding cuts, making it harder for those without cars to get to library internet computers.
Library services are also under review and services where residents could use the internet to talk directly to Shirehall have been stopped.
Nigel Hartin, Shropshire councillor for Clun, added: "Registering your child for school, applying for a Single Farm Payment, income tax and animal passports are amongst services that require a good internet connection.
"Councils have a moral obligation to help all of their area prosper both socially and economically.
"By failing to deliver on their promises on broadband they have put many small businesses in rural Shropshire who rely on the internet at a massive disadvantage. Worse they are making life very difficult for many people of limited means who live in areas like mine.
"For example, I know of a couple who can't afford a computer and therefore can't register their child for school – and even if they could afford a computer the signal could well be too poor."
Councillor Kidd said there were still hopes more money may be made available through the local enterprise partnership between the council and businesses. "We will be pressing hard for any such cash to be spent giving rural Shropshire a decent service," she said.
The Government has set a target of bringing superfast broadband – which covers speeds of 24 megabytes per second and above – to 90 per cent of the UK by 2016, rising to 95 per cent by the end of the following year.
A speed of 24 megabytes per second would allow people to download films and upload large files to websites in a matter of minutes.
The Government has pledged £11.38m to get the work done, with Shropshire Council providing the same amount.
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