Farmers say poor rural connectivity is leaving them behind

The National Farmers Union (NFU) says it plans to hold the government to its pledge to improve rural connectivity after a new report highlighted the persistence of poor mobile and broadband coverage in remote areas.

A survey of NFU members found that 93 per cent of farmers consider a reliable mobile signal to be important for their business, but just 38 per cent said this was the case. Only 19 per cent said they had a reliable indoor signal in all locations, a figure which drops to 17 per cent for outdoor.

Nearly all farmers own a mobile phone, with 83 per cent having a 4G smartphone, and 96 per cent have access to the Internet. However, three quarters of all farmers are connected via copper – and eight per cent via satellite – and 45 per cent say speeds are not sufficient for their business.

Rural mobile coverage

Just 16 per cent have access to superfast broadband (a rise from four per cent in 2015) and 42 per cent have less than 2Mbps.

NFU Vice President Steve Robbins reiterated calls for Environment Secretary Michael Gove to keep his promise of £200 million in funding for rural fibre, arguing poor connectivity was hampering farmers’ ability to adopt digital technology and agricultural innovations.

“The benefits that farmers receive from applying full connectivity are many; from optimising the use of inputs to decreasing farm costs and improving productivity as a result,” said Robbins. “With the industry facing so much uncertainty, it is clear that farmers need as many tools as possible to maintain business resilience, and having access to digital connectivity is paramount if they are to compete with our international neighbours in the global market.

“Decent telecommunication and 4G coverage is also essential for health and safety with farmers often working long hours alone in isolated areas. Too often we see the consequences of farming’s poor safety record. It should be a given that if an accident happens, farmers have access to reliable mobile coverage in all farm locations to call for help.”

To improve rural mobile connectivity, Ofcom is considering coverage obligations for the winners of 5G spectrum licences, while plans for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) that would allow anyone in the UK to demand a decent broadband connection of 10Mbps or greater are advanced.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.