The UK government is taking big steps to boost the country’s digital infrastructure and address the lack of broadband coverage in rural communities, having committed £65m to a series of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) funded initiatives. As part of the Rural Connected Communities project, Flo-culture is developing live augmented reality and immersive experiences for tourists and improving broadband coverage in rural communities. But why is there such an interest in rural communities?
Rural communities are at a unique digital disadvantage. Online-banking, entertainment, employment, education, health – if people are connected and online, they can do it all easier and faster! But what if you don’t have broadband, or don’t own a smartphone?
These important questions have become frustrations leading to the reality of social isolation in rural areas of the UK that remain offline and therefore hard to reach and connect.
Cause and Impact of the Digital Divide
There are many different root causes of digital isolation. For some, it’s because they live in an area that doesn’t have broadband, others may lack devices at home, while some just haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to use them.
The Universal Service Obligation, providing a baseline level of services to every resident, has been around since the 1830’s when the Uniform Penny Post set a charge of 1p for anyone to send a letter anywhere in the UK. Nowadays this consumer protection ensures everyone has access to landline telephones and payphones regardless of where they live or work. That’s all very good, but what about broadband and digital access for all? Digital connectivity represents the baseline level of communication services in 2020 and yet is not available for everyone.
- How do you access Emergency Services if you can’t get a signal?
- What about the inability to “Shop Online” in areas without broadband? Surely a rural habitat would make this a “must-have” versus a “nice-to-have” as it is for most of us?
- With bi-weekly DVD’s from Netflix a thing of the past, how do the digitally disadvantaged watch The Crown, Umbrella Academy, or Queens Gambit?
Allowing the technology gap to grow will deepen the digital and social divides between urban and rural communities.
Improving Broadband Coverage in Rural Communities
The government-funded £4m 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT) brings together small businesses and universities and aims to use 5G to reduce digital exclusion across rural communities, improve Emergency Services, and – our role at Flo-culture – boost tourism across the UK.
As part of this testbed, our partners in Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) are also testing 5G and producing business models that can enable operators to boost rural connectivity, improve safety, and create innovative applications with the potential for commercial development.
By enabling the latest mobile technology, MANY is highlighting how connecting people can improve lives and enhance wellbeing. At the same time, we are influencing the government in their future rural connectivity policies. By exploring this, we will prove that mobile access can support the recovery of rural social and economic fabric.