The previous Labour government hummed and hawed about this rural-urban “digital divide”. Eventually, in 2009, it proposed levying a 50p tax on every fixed telephone line in the country: the proceeds were to be given to BT to allow it to connect even the remotest hamlets by 2012. The new coalition administration abandoned that plan, ditching the tax and pushing the target date back to 2015. Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative culture secretary, insists that the private sector ought to be able to bring broadband to the rustics. Only if it fails will the government consider subsidies.
Mr Hunt may be right. A string of small firms are offering fast broadband to offline areas, via cables, satellites or the airwaves.