If our government cannot do the right and equitable thing for our rural areas, then to me, it is time to force the issue and recognise access to the Internet at ultrafast speeds as a basic human right.
Politicians in England and the US have an enlightened attitude to rural broadband provisioning that is demonstrably absent from politicians in this country.
The English are pushing for productivity to grow faster in their countryside than in urban areas.
They see rural economic opportunities increasing rural employment in England by 6%.
They see the individual productivity of rural workers increasing at a faster rate than their urban cousins such that the two will be equal within a decade.
A new analysis by England’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (such a long title – DEFRA for short) determines that productivity could grow faster in the countryside than urban areas when the right infrastructure is in place.
The infrastructures that drives such a dramatic change are speedier broadband and better transport links.
The English government’s long-term economic plan provides for increasing rural connectivity, growing knowledge-based industries, changing working patterns and so spreading the base for innovation.
The consequence is a rise in rural jobs.
A similar message is clear in the US.  There, economic policy is changing from a focus on providing broadband access to as many unserved rural households as possible, to a focus on optimizing the overall value added to the economy by the use of the technology.
When the focus is on equal access, rural areas with low population densities are unlikely to be served because an economic business case is “difficult” as Steven Joyce once said.
With a different economic focus of maximising economic potential, then subsidized broadband access in locations with a low population density but high-production potential, becomes justifiable.
Our politicians see rural broadband as a cost to be avoided.
They spend $285 million dollars of telco earnings on 25% of the population under the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) but five times more, provided by taxpayers, on urban people under the Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) project.
Worse, our government have absolutely no plans to meet the communications needs of the 2.7% of our remote rural population outside of the RBI and UFB footprints.  These rural people have no protections from a telco’s price or service demands and little or no choice in their telecoms provider.
Another driver of rural growth in England includes improvements to rural transport links.
Contrast this with our government’s near exclusive focus on urban roads.
One area where our government have made a significant contribution to rural needs is the improvement in rural mobile phone coverage.  They have achieved this by contracting exclusively with Vodafone under the RBI, and, in last year’s round of radio spectrum auctions, with binding agreements for improving mobile coverage by each of the three mobile operators.
The downside is that by providing for improved mobile coverage, they have also consigned those rural people dependent on the same network, to a lesser standard of broadband service.
English and US politicians are showing leadership in improving rural infrastructure to achieve significant economic gains for rural people and businesses.  Their investment in rural broadband, mobile phone and transport networks, will unlock a huge potential for growth in rural areas.
Ultimately that means greater opportunities, more jobs and improved wages for a better rural future.
What is our government doing to achieve similar gains for our rural economy?  Not a lot beyond setting expectations for increased dairy productivity.
human-rightsIf our government cannot do the right and equitable thing for our rural areas, then to me, it is time to force the issue and recognise access to the Internet at ultrafast speeds as a basic human right.