A campaign group has warned of the dangers of a “digital ghetto” in parts of the Northumbrian countryside.
The Coquet Valley group fears an emerging chasm between those areas of the county which are set to get superfast broadband and digitally excluded areas where no roll-out is planned.
The We Want Better Broadband in the Coquet Valley group says that the current policy is set to create further marginalisation of rural communities, with impacts on house prices, commerce, education and social inclusion.
The group is targeting the rollout of universal superfast broadband and mobile coverage.
It has called on broadband and mobile providers and politicians to make Northumberland the first county in the UK with universal superfast broadband access. It will hold a public meeting tomorrow at Netherton village hall at 11am.
Northumberland has already been recognised under the Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund scheme as requiring special attention because of its rural make-up and geographic size.
In the Coquet Valley, Northumberland County Council has secured Government investment via Arch Digital, formerly iNorthumberland to upgrade infrastructure in Rothbury and Thropton, with Harbottle to follow.
But there are no rollout plans for areas such as Alnham, Alwinton, Hepple, Holystone, Netherton, and Sharperton. Mobile phone networks are limited or non-existent in much of the valley.
This is a situation that is repeated throughout Northumberland, says the group.
We Want Better Broadband in the Coquet Valley is a single issue campaign group that pushing for universal broadband and mobile provision in the Coquet Valley, and elsewhere in Northumberland.
“Current plans for the roll out of superfast broadband in Northumberland are no cause for celebration as our politicians would have us believe,” said group spokesman Stephen Waddington. “Without further funding the strategy is set to create digital ghettoes, further marginalising rural communities.
“Northumberland has an opportunity to leapfrog the rest of the UK in the delivery of universal superfast broadband. The benefits to education, business and inward investment are well proven. Sources of funding and technological solutions are available but we’re being held back by a lack of political ambition.”
The Coquet Valley campaign is engaged in grassroots parish council and village meetings to build awareness of the issue and involve local people in a data gathering exercise to prove the limitations of existing broadband and mobile systems, and prove the need for investment.
The campaign aims to publish its findings and call a public meeting in July to explore how the issue might be resolved. The group has sought to enlist the support of Northumberland County Council and Northumberland National Park Authority and is awaiting a response.
The group has set up a blog, Facebook group, online petition, and survey, and encourages interested parties to contact Malcolm Burke on 01669 650404.