EACH year, thousands of people escape from towns and cities to spend a few days in the Oxfordshire countryside, leaving behind their everyday stresses and pressures.

These breaks away from jobs and technologies are not only beneficial for the holidaymakers, they also provide a welcome boost for our county’s economy.

However, the feeling of being ‘cut off from everything’ is far less attractive for those trying to run a modern business in rural Oxfordshire.

Poor broadband connection and mobile phone signal in the countryside is much more than an inconvenience or an irritation.

Lack of connectivity is leaving many hamlets and villages in the Oxfordshire countryside at a real economic and social disadvantage.

The impact on a rural business of poor connectivity can be very severe.

Slow and unreliable broadband strangles productivity and without it, firms can struggle to compete on the UK stage let alone an international one.

With the world becoming increasingly reliant on the internet month by month, this is a problem that we need to address urgently.

Most businesses in our towns and cities use the internet almost constantly for marketing, administration, managing their supply chain and selling products and services.

Rural firms – from farm shops and forestry businesses to wedding barns and glamping sites – are no different. The connection at my farm can be frustratingly slow, but I consider myself fortunate to have a strong enough service to complete online forms and maintain a website that keeps customers up to date with essential information about my Christmas Tree business such as opening times, tree varieties and prices, and new products in our on-farm Christmas shop.

For firms with a poor service, essential business activities become an impossible task. Emailing or downloading a medium-sized file such as a brochure can take hours. No broadband, no business.

The personal impact on an individual can be just as challenging.

As Government drives towards ‘digital by default’, important services are hard to access without reliable broadband. For farmers, applications for the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments through the Basic Payment Scheme will become online-only in 2015.

In addition, education resources, community information, entertainment and socialising are increasingly online-based.

A lack of digital connectivity can be frustrating and isolating. It certainly does nothing to bridge the urban-rural divide, which is less dramatic in Oxfordshire than in other parts of the UK.

The CLA has been campaigning on rural connectivity across the country since 2002, and the picture is improving. There is little commercial incentive for service providers to carry out the expensive infrastructure work required for superfast broadband in rural areas so it has been critical for Government to address the issue.

In Oxfordshire, the Better Broadband project will bring fibre broadband to over 90 percent of homes and businesses in the county by the end of 2015. It is expected that further projects will connect another five percent by 2017.

This is certainly progress but as the CLA National President Henry Robinson explained to a Commons Select Committee recently there is still a long way to go. Firstly, 2017 is a long way off for the thousands of rural business owners in Oxfordshire who are struggling to keep up with their competitors without access to fast and reliable broadband, or in some cases without any internet access at all.

With Government moving to online-only applications for EU payments for farmers in the coming months, there is a need for a much greater urgency.

Secondly, what about the remaining five per cent of the county that will not be connected under current plans?

The CLA is calling for a Universal Service Obligation for access to adequate broadband.

This would mean that there is an obligation on service providers to make available broadband of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) for every single property in the country.

This will not happen overnight, so in the meantime Government must look at alternative technologies such as satellite to ensure the final five percent of rural areas are connected.

The CLA will continue to campaign for effective, reliable and affordable rural broadband until every rural community, in every corner of Oxfordshire and across the UK, has the service it needs.

As the world becomes increasingly digital it is only with fast and reliable broadband that Oxfordshire’s rural communities will continue to thrive.

  • For further information visit cla.org.uk