‘Digital by Default’ and the ‘hard to reach’: Exploring solutions to digital exclusion in remote rural areas

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In the UK, the geography of ICT infrastructure required for Internet connectivity is such that high speed broadband and mobile phone networks are generally less available in rural areas compared with urban areas (Farrington et al, 2015) or, in other words, “Generally the more remote and sparsely populated a location, the more likely it is to experience slow or no broadband connectivity” (Townsend et al, 2013). Against a policy backdrop of UK Government efforts to bring forward network infrastructure upgrades and to improve the accessibility of broadband services in locations where there is a weak commercial investment case (BDUK, 2011), this paper considers the options for the ‘final few’ in the prevailing ‘Digital by Default’ public services context (Cabinet Office, 2012). The paper outlines the Rural Public Access WiFi Services (Rural PAWS) project, a study focused upon enabling Internet connectivity for commercially ‘hard to reach’ rural areas in the UK. The Rural PAWS concept and the experiment are introduced before findings from a pilot deployment of a broadband service to households in a remote rural area, who may be classified as ‘digitally excluded’, are presented. The paper then reflects on our field experiment and the potential of the Rural PAWS service model as a solution to overcoming some of the digital participation barriers manifest in the urban-rural divide. Early indications show that the Rural PAWS model has the potential to encourage participation in the Digital Economy and could aid the UK Government’s Digital by Default agenda, although adoption of the model is not without its challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-777
Number of pages16
JournalLocal Economy
Issue number7
Early online date30 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

The research reported here is supported by the award made by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub [award reference: EP/G066051/1].


  • Rural broadband infrastructure
  • hard to reach
  • final few
  • Digital by Default


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