THE Welsh Assembly Government's announcement to commit millions of pounds rolling out basic broadband to most of Wales' "not-spots" was described by Farmers' Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan today as excellent news - even though it comes eight years after the union began campaigning for better provision in rural areas.
Mr Vaughan, who does not have broadband where he lives at Dolfor, near Newtown, said: "We've been told our phone line is too antiquated yet, increasingly, farmers are expected to supply information on cattle movements and so on via the internet but officials sometimes don't understand when you say you haven't got a connection.
"There are other inconveniences too - such as my grandchildren having to go to the library to do their homework via the internet."
And a few months ago the union slammed HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) "absurd" decision to force farmers in areas with no or poor broadband provision to submit their VAT returns on-line from 1 April this year.
Clwyd West MP David Jones, now parliamentary under-secretary for Wales, stepped in and protested to HMRC's director general Dave Hartnett stressing there are many areas of North Wales, including Gwytherin and Cwmpenanner in his constituency, which have no satisfactory broadband access.
The union also received support from website ISPreview.co.uk - an independent source of Internet Service Provider (ISP) information, listings and reviews since 1999 - which stated HMRC's move "appears absurd" at a time when the Government's own Universal Service Commitment (USC), which aims to deliver a minimum broadband ISP speed of at least 2Mbps to virtually every household in the UK by 2012, had not even begun to be implemented.
"It's obvious that the HMRC don't fully appreciate the problems facing farmers and other businesses in rural communities like Powys," said Mr Vaughan. "But we are hoping for better things from the Assembly's scheme which is due to start later this summer."
Initial funding of around £2m has been allocated by the Welsh Assembly Government for its new scheme and discussions are also under way to access European assistance from the Rural Development Plan (RDP). Support will be available for up to a maximum of £1,000 for individual premises.
Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones said the scheme continues the Assembly Government's commitment to provide improved services for rural areas and, particularly access to the internet which is critical for those living and working across Wales.
There are now about 1,800 people registered on the Assembly Government's broadband "not spot" database. "It is vitally important that the Assembly's efforts to acquire European assistance from the RDP reach a rapid and successful conclusion," Mr Vaughan added.