Lack of broadband scuppers countryside entrepreneurs

Without a decent internet connection, how can rural youngsters become tomorrow's entrepreneurs?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In an ideal world, we’d love to see more young entrepreneurs setting up successful businesses from the comfort of their own bedrooms. But in this day and age, there’s one resource that they just can’t manage without: a high-speed internet connection. Unfortunately, if a new report is to be believed, the lack of broadband in rural areas is driving young people out off the countryside to pursue careers in bigger towns and cities. The social implications of this are worrying enough – but it also means that there’s little chance of them starting up and running local businesses. That’s bad for the area, and bad for the economy as a whole...

The report, from the Commission for Rural Studies, focused mainly on the ramifications for young people of lower broadband connection rates. It found that while 60% of urban areas are lucky enough to receive a cable-based broadband service, in villages and hamlets this drops to a measly 1.5%. Mobile phone coverage in these areas isn’t too robust either. The result, says report author Dr Stuart Burgess, is that around 200,000 young people leave the countryside every year, to head for the bright lights (and lightning-speed broadband) of the city.

Now, you might think it’s no bad thing if country kids can’t get high-speed access to Facebook and Bebo (maybe they’ll actually go outside and talk to each other). But the economic implications of this lack of broadband are actually a bit alarming. For one thing, it means people don’t have access to the online benefits enjoyed by city-dwellers – information sharing, money saving offers and so on. But it also makes it incredibly difficult for rural businesses to compete and scale, or for employees to take advantage of flexible working. So there are fewer jobs around – which forces more young people into the cities, perpetuating the vicious circle and accelerating the decline of the area.

All in all, Dr Burgess reckons this could spell serious trouble for the economies of rural areas. The Government's ‘rural advocate’ warned: ‘Wherever I go, I hear deep concerns. What they boil down to is that the countryside's long-term future is in jeopardy, because so many young people are being forced out of it.’ And since SMEs are so important to the health of the UK economy, it’s in all our best interests to make sure that rural areas get the kind of infrastructure that will foster enterprise.

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