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A huge digital divide still exists between broadband connections in rural and urban areas, according to a new report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The study found 95 per cent of people in urban centres - 50 per cent of the UK population – had access to a broadband connection. This falls to just one per cent for those living in remote rural areas and to just three per cent for rural businesses.

Even in market towns, such as Northampton, which count for 15 per cent of the population, broadband access is only available to just over a quarter of residents.

The MPs haver urged the government to put in place practical polices which will ensure broadband is accessible to all areas at an affordable rate. They are also calling upon Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stand up for those in rural communities.

A draft proposal will now be put before the House of Commons which calls on the government to develop "a strategy which sets out the funding to be made available and the steps to be taken, according to a clear timetable, to make broadband accessible to all."

The Minster for Rural Affairs, Alun Michael, confirmed it was the government’s aim “that every community in the UK irrespective of location, should be able to access broadband at affordable rates within a reasonable time.”

However this was not helped, said the committee, by the government’s policy to let the broadband market develop without any intervention.

The committee instead supports BT’s call on the government to take a more active role in accelerating the growth of rural broadband. The possibility of telecomm regulator Oftel working with BT to speed up the process should be investigated, it says.

BT is to decide shortly which telephone exchanges will be upgraded to offer the service, however the committee recommended that BT set a level for all exchanges, now matter how high, so at least rural areas would know if they were unrealistic in hoping for broadband to arrive.

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