Rural community losing on all fronts

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Poor Penistone.

The area around the Pennine market town in Barnsley has some of the highest rates of home working in the country - but some of the worst broadband speeds.

And the Digital Region disaster means it will stay that way for quite a while.

The taxpayer-funded project to lay superfast cables across South Yorkshire was set to cover 80 per cent of the county, but not rural Penistone.

But it also meant the area was ineligible for £530m of Government funding for rural broadband.

Robert Barnard, Conservative councillor for Penistone, said: “It’s been a disaster. It’s let down the residents who are desperate for it.

“Some people don’t have any broadband and in other villages they only have 1.5Mb.

“There are high numbers of professionals working from home around Penistone. And farmers have to fill in a lot of forms online these days.

“At parish council meetings I attend it’s nearly always on the agenda.”

A DEFRA spokeswoman confirmed South Yorkshire was ineligible for its Rural Broadband Development Fund.

She added: “Fast and reliable broadband is crucial in building a stronger economy and fairer society as it enables rural businesses to grow and compete.

“We are on track to deliver superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017.”

Meanwhile the four South Yorkshire councils are negotiating a £20m contract with BT to lay new fibre optic cables.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “The local authorities and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK are jointly funding a new project which will provide superfast coverage to most of the premises that were previously covered by Digital Region as well as other remaining premises in South Yorkshire.

“Although contracts are still being finalised, BDUK and the local authorities are expected to contribute around £8m each to the project which will take superfast broadband to 97.8 per cent of South Yorkshire by about December 2017.

But BDUK does not cover Sheffield City Centre.

The spokesman added: “Commercial suppliers have indicated they have plans for further roll-out in cities and the Government anticipates the potential for coverage to be provided by the private sector without public subsidy.

“We will continue to monitor private sector superfast deployments on delivering the capability that consumers need.”