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Slurp and surf

Country pubs get wired

Customers at the Piddle Inn pub near Dorchester will today be able to enjoy the benefits of broadband while downing their favourite tipple thanks to the latest government project to bring rural communities online.

The project, run by the Countryside Agency, the Department for Education and Skills and non-profit organisation Locals Online will provide five pubs in Dorset and four in Northumberland with computers, printers, webcams and wireless broadband connections. The idea behind the scheme is to give rural dwellers the opportunity to use new facilities.

A recent report from the Countryside Agency showed around two thirds of the UK's population had access to affordable broadband connections, but this figure dropped to a quarter in market towns, seven percent in rural villages and an appalling one percent in remote parts of the countryside. The figures are clear evidence of the growing digital divide between town and country.

"ICT can be a great way for people living in the countryside to access service that don't have a physical presence locally, as well as providing online education, leisure and government information," said Sir Ewen Cameron, Countryside Agency chairman.

"The Countryside Agency is examining a variety of ways in which rural communities can harness the power of ICT. We will be looking for ways in which rural pubs and communities across the country can access funding to provide such services on a long term basis," added Cameron.

It is not clear how long the projects — part of the government's national UK Online scheme — will run for or how successful they will be. It will act as a testbed for a network of sustainable community centres.

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