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The lack of broadband in rural areas is creating a digital divide between town and country, according to a new report out today.

Overall, two thirds of the UK population has access to affordable broadband services. But the Countryside Agency's fifth annual State of the Countryside report found that this drops to a quarter in market towns, 7 per cent in rural villages and just 1 per cent in remote rural areas.

As a result the head of the Country Agency, Sir Ewen Cameron, warned that the digital divide is widening and called on the Government to set a realistic target for rolling out broadband to the UK's rural population.

In a statement he said: "Our countryside is a hive of economic activity...but our report shows that the restricted access to broadband is putting rural businesses and residents at a disadvantage.

"In particular, young people living in remoter areas need the same access to the latest entertainment, education and training, delivered through broadband, if they are not to feel disadvantaged compared to their urban counterparts."

In a Commons debate on broadband last week e-minister Stephen Timms said there was a "a powerful case for the importance of broadband in rural areas".

The Government is engaged in several initiatives including the creation of a rural broadband team in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to address the issue, he said.

But when quizzed about whether broadband should be made available to anyone who wants it as part of a universal service obligation, Mr Timms replied: "We have considered that, although it is not yet justified." ®

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