By Red Peel, Founder and Managing Director, Airband
National lockdowns brought upon by the pandemic highlighted just how deep the digital divide runs between rural and urban areas. As working from home became mandatory for many businesses, those in rural areas were pushed further into digital isolation as a result of poor broadband connectivity. In fact, research suggests that over 274,000 households and businesses in England still cannot access a decent fixed broadband connection higher than 10 Mbps.
*According to research undertaken by Airband, three in five of those in employment have mostly been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, experts predict that 63% of employers will implement hybrid working models to their business as restrictions continue to ease. For some, flexible working provides many benefits but for those in rural areas with dated broadband infrastructure, the advent of hybrid working poses a significant challenge.
As we turn the page and this ‘new normal’ begins, it is clear that hard-to-reach areas deserve better. It is time to bring rural areas out of digital isolation and provide them with the broadband they deserve.
Enabling business innovation and economic growth
With over 63% of UK employees working remotely, workplaces have had to be innovative in order to survive. As a result, we have seen a huge increase in businesses undergoing digital transformations to combat the disruption experienced.
Across all industries, businesses have been dependent on emerging technologies such as the cloud and 5G as a way of safely accessing new softwares, platforms as well as sensitive data. For rural businesses, digital aspects of an organisation such as customer privacy, data ownership and the wider sharing of data is just as relevant as it is to primarily urban industries. In fact, our research shows that 88% of the UK workforce consider a fast and reliable broadband connection important to their ability to productively work from home.
For rural businesses, getting future-proof infrastructure such as FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) broadband is essential. Not only will it enable access to digital transformation for economic growth but it will also help speed up the recovery of the damage caused by the global pandemic.
How governments and ISPs can help
The UK government has made a clear acknowledgement to bridge the digital gap between urban and rural communities. In fact, strides to close this divide can be seen in
the 2020 Spending Review which states that the government will be allocating £1.2bn to subsidise the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband to the hardest-to-reach areas. With this in mind, commitments must be made by ISPs and governments to democratise access to connectivity through the roll-out of ultrafast broadband in rural and hard-to-reach areas.
The pandemic has created a surge in demand for data led services such as video conferencing and virtual meetings calls for better connectivity. As such, broadband services must evolve with businesses. Access to innovative technology such as the newer FTTP broadband is imperative, due to its ability to support fast download speeds, large amounts of data and multiple users using the same network.
At Airband, we see first-hand the importance of high-speed internet in rural areas. That’s why our commitment was illustrated in December 2020 when we were awarded a contract by the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme, alongside Truespeed and Wessex Internet to install full fibre broadband across Devon and Somerset to more than 56,000 rural homes and businesses over the next four years.
Giving rural businesses the success they deserve
The effects of the pandemic have brought upon a myriad of challenges for so many across the country. As we enter the ‘new normal’ and hybrid working becomes implemented for many businesses throughout the UK, a fast and reliable broadband is more important than ever before.
We believe that having high quality internet is a human right and we are determined to help rural areas recover from the damage caused by the pandemic. In order to support rural economies to thrive and bring them out of digital isolation for good, the roll-out of high-speed fibre broadband is essential.
*Three in five (61%) of those in work have mostly been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 43% doing so for the first time while only 17% did this before the pandemic as well.