Jim Armitage: Rural businesses let down by poor internet connections


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The Independent Online

Outlook The criticism of David Cameron for being on holiday while Isis loonies ran amok last week seemed unfair. After all, the poor man was only in Cornwall – hardly the most impenetrable part of the planet for modern communications. Or is it?

At about the same time, on perhaps more trivial matters, I too received a call from the office back in London to do a spot of work while holidaying in God’s own county of Devon.

I was staying in the ancestral bungalow in sunny Salcombe, where money from London and Home Counties bankers and corporate tycoons has changed the place out of all recognition from when I were a lad.    

But despite all the new luxury holiday developments owned by Land Rover-driving business types, who surely are far too important to be incommunicado from the office for a fortnight, as I was to discover in my attempts to research and file copy for The Independent, mobile phone coverage for voice calls was patchy: smartphone and iPad internet access was practically non-existent. As for office emails? Forget about it.

A race through the town’s swanky coffee bars and hotels ensued until finally I found one whose wi-fi was running quick enough to be useful. Even there, though, it seemed barely faster than the bad old days of dial-up internet.

Many a time when staying in blissful Devon, I’ve pondered relocating, but with such poor mobile links, you have to be joking – my line of work would be impossible.

It’s not just whingeing holidaymakers on call to the office who suffer. Like my granddad, who made a decent living as a skilled gardener for Salcombe’s well-to-do, Devon folk are an entrepreneurial lot. But great businesses there are missing out because customers on the move can’t get mobile internet access for information.

It’s the same across swathes of the West Country and other rural areas: despite years of claims from politicians that they’ll bring them the same mobile access that most of the Western world has been enjoying for the past decade, little improves.

Friends say I’m missing the point: what could be better than being totally out of reach of the office? 

But even if work emails and calls are an irritation, I still want to be able to use my mobile to book the kids’ surfing lessons, find the address of that restaurant, search where to get a David Cameron wimp-wetsuit. In other words – spend my money with local businesses.

Until the phone companies get their  acts together – with a meaningful kick  up the backside from the Government  – the economies of Devon and other great parts of the country will be needlessly  held back.

So, have some holiday crisis talks about that, Mr Cameron.