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E-envoy: broadband divide will wreck rural economy

Andrew Pinder fears a bleak future for more remote parts of the UK if they can't offer the IT facilities needed to attract new firms
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Britain's rural areas face a bleak economic future unless affordable broadband services are made available across the whole of the UK, the e-envoy warned this week.

In an interview with ePolitix.com, a current affairs Web site, Andrew Pinder warned that companies will not base themselves in the countryside if high-speed Internet services are not available.

With the number of farming jobs decreasing -- the average age of a farmer is now 60 -- and many young people already moving away in search of work, many rural areas face a bleak future unless they can attract new forms of industry.

"Given that most new employment these days is IT-based, we need to have IT connectivity, particularly broadband, for industry to go to a rural place. So for the health of our rural communities, we just need to have broadband there," said Pinder.

"If we don't, we're going to end up with an empty countryside, and that's really bad for everybody; an empty and poor countryside," he added.

Currently, affordable broadband services are available to around 80 percent of the population, through BT's ADSL network or via cable. In remote areas, though, the availability is much lower.

The select committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs examined the factors behind this broadband divide this summer, and concluded that direct subsidy from the government was needed to persuade telcos to build high-speed broadband networks in areas where this isn't currently economically viable.

As e-envoy, Pinder's role is to lead the process of putting government services online. His contract expires in Spring 2004, and there is speculation that the government will replace the e-envoy role with that of a chief information officer who would crack down on public sector IT failures and bring stronger IT leadership and strategic direction across departments.

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