It’s easy to take good connectivity for granted if you live and work in a city. But for those in rural communities, the lack of connectivity has been a long-standing sore point.
It was economically unviable for large telecoms companies to invest in hard-to-reach rural communities. This lack of access limits the economic opportunities of people and businesses living in these rural areas. It’s hard to take part in the digital world if you can’t get online.
This means people and businesses with the skills to be successful flock to the places with the best connectivity. We contend that COVID-19 improves the business case for rural connectivity. Like it or not, it’s going to be led by gentrification. People who used to travel into city centres for work are now WFH. They demand the best connectivity and will be prepared to pay for it.
Knowledge industry workers have realised they don’t need to live in London or even the South East any more. They are reassessing their priorities and selling up in London and moving to the shires. Yorkshire has seen house price growth of nearly 10 per cent year on year, according to some surveys.
It’s happening all over the western world. In San Francisco, tech workers are giving up their tiny rented shoebox flats for $5,000 a month and buying four-bedroom waterfront houses in Lake Tahoe. A survey by the New York Times said one in three remote workers would move to a new city or state if remote working continued. Airbnb is a good guide to what’s happening in this direction: it is reporting longer stays in more rural locations.
Plainly, being outside in more sparsely populated places is more attractive and appealing than being inside in heavily built-up locations. This trend will increase demand for rural connectivity and where there is demand, supply follows.
The kit is developing all the time. The previous challenges facing remote rural areas with lots of big hills and deep dales can be overcome by new technology such as white space and fixed wireless. The Government is releasing taxpayer funds to speed up this process along through various schemes.
The trend will have enormous benefits for rural communities, connecting people and businesses to economic opportunities. They don’t need to be based in central London or even Leeds to take advantage of these. In a way, that’s levelling up parts of the country that have been separated by geography for centuries.
Having equal access to digital connectivity spreads opportunities more evenly: what we call digital inclusion. We know that there are lots of talented young people all over the country but because they don’t live in affluent areas, they struggle to get ahead.
Boosting digital connectivity should challenge that blockage – and help reunite communities. Some business leaders are saying the money for HS2 high speed rail should be spent inside on ubiquitous connectivity – free WiFi for all. It would certainly get here a lot quicker!
- Natalie Duffield is chief executive of Intechnology Smart Cities