Rural children's education suffering due to slow broadband, says survey

UNDERSTANDING: Neil Farmer, chairman of the Superfast Dorset  steering group

UNDERSTANDING: Neil Farmer, chairman of the Superfast Dorset steering group

First published in News

SLOW broadband in rural areas like West Dorset is restricting children’s education, according to a new survey.

The countryside-specific study conducted among rural communities by NFU Mutual shows that one in five families reliant on the internet for children’s schoolwork are let down as poor broadband prevents them from accessing essential online resources.

The Superfast Dorset project has pledged to bring fast broadband to 95 per cent of the county by the end of 2016, with Bridport, Charmouth and Chideock to be among the first areas to benefit.

Neil Farmer, chairman of the Superfast Dorset steering group, said the need for much better broadband in rural areas was well understood.

“The Superfast Dorset project is investing over £31million in providing access to superfast broadband (more than 24 Mbps) to 95 per cent of homes and businesses across Dorset by the end of 2016, “ he said.

“This is essentially a rural project, indeed much of Charmouth and Chideock are included in phase one of the project.

“This investment, which includes over £9.4million from Dorset’s councils, is because the needs of the rural communities for much better broadband is well understood.

“Without this project, rural Dorset would indeed be left behind. Instead, by the end of 2016, Dorset will be among the best connected rural areas in Europe.”

The NFU Mutual study also highlighted that many families feel urban children have an advantage over their rural counterparts because of better access to fast internet.

Rural households are less likely to have superfast broadband, but are also half as likely to use mobile broadband through 3G and 4G devices.

As a result, more than a third of those who do have internet access in the countryside say that it’s too slow for their needs.

NFU Mutual said that this not only affects children’s education, but is hitting the countryside financially as around one in seven rural people say they have to spend extra cash on long distance phonecalls because of poor broadband provision, paying out over £100 a year.

A similar number rely more heavily on text messaging as result, which costs them around £130 a year in mobile phone bills and one in 12 spend extra on letters and postage because they can’t rely on their internet service, with an estimated associated cost of £140 a year.

Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “As more educational resources become internet based, country children risk falling behind their urban counterparts. Studying via the internet is now a key part of children’s education and it’s unfair that learning opportunities are being affected by slow internet speeds. Rural communities are already falling way behind and as the digital revolution gathers pace there’s a real risk that the viability of some rural businesses will be threatened and children be put at a disadvantage.”

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