Improved rural connectivity could boost the UK economy by over £65 billion, new economic modelling has found.
The report, titled ‘The Great Rural Revival’, addresses four sectors central to the UK’s rural economy – tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and small businesses.
It finds connectivity improvements could boost rural employment by 6.8%, creating an additional 284,000 new jobs.
Over the last decade, digital connectivity has been improved in rural communities across the UK, creating new opportunities within previously disconnected regions.
However, a digital divide remains between rural and urban communities, which is preventing rural communities and economies from achieving their growth potential, with many areas still unable to access reliable connectivity.
The analysis, by Virgin Media O2, shows that across the UK, the East of England would benefit most from digital connectivity upgrades, unlocking a £12 billion boost for the local economy and 42,000 new jobs.
Other regions set to benefit include the South West, where the local economy could unlock £7 billion and benefit from 39,000 new jobs, as well as Wales, where £5 billion could be unlocked alongside 25,000 jobs.
The regional analysis demonstrates how improving rural connectivity directly supports the government’s levelling up agenda, which aims to spread opportunities more equally across the UK.
Jeanie York, chief technology officer at Virgin Media O2, said the new analysis demonstrated how improved rural connectivity could "herald a Great Rural Revival".
"The last decade has seen fixed and mobile networks rolled out to new corners of the UK, and now the transformational potential of connectivity has been made clear with the ability to unlock £65bn of new growth in rural areas.
“Through working closely with industry partners, the UK government, planning authorities and landowners, we can deliver the essential network upgrades that will help to bridge the rural-urban connectivity divide.”
The report also highlights how improved connectivity could enable and power new technologies which transform rural economies and life.
This includes drone farming and smart livestock monitoring to wearable technology and automated booking apps for the hospitality sector.
Meanwhile, around a quarter of rural business decision makers surveyed as part of the report said they would make greater use of technologies such as cashless payments, video calling/conferencing or online booking if connectivity was improved.