Thank you (host). And thank you to all of you for being here today, representing the vital businesses and services we need to transform the lives of our communities tomorrow.
Jeremy has already spoken about the context behind today’s meeting - an early and welcome example of our respective Departments’ genuine enthusiasm for working together to turn ideas into action.
Because this Government is about inclusion, not exclusion, and our Big Society is big because we recognise everyone is part of it.
This has not always been the case for our rural communities.
The broadband revolution has passed by too many of our rural villages and remote areas.
Many have inconsistent access, or speeds so slow they are all but unusable.
Many more, of course, have no access at all.
One third of all farmers have no internet access and yet it is increasingly assumed they will file their forms for payment online.
While those with access can download information on weather, disease patters and market prices - all essential tools of the industry.
Other casualties of the digital divide are the schoolchildren unable to file homework online or undertake online research.
People with illness who can’t access online healthcare and explore their options.
And those living in isolation, unable to join in the social networking sites that help the rest of us stay in touch with existing friends and reach out to new ones.
And in an age where we increasingly shop online for everything from food to fashion, rural communities have been doubly disadvantaged - both as consumers and producers.
We all need a vibrant working countryside - and not just those of us that live there - rolling out superfast broadband is probably the single most important thing we can do to ensure the sustainability of our rural communities and businesses.
Broadband for business will help more women in rural areas gain employment and help those who either are, or want to be, self-employed - creating new green jobs for those working from home.
Providing universal access to broadband is the Big Society in practice.
Digital access will bring environmental benefits too, reducing travel, bringing down the carbon footprints in town and countryside, as part of our new greener economy.
As the Government’s rural champion, today I want us all to take the first concrete steps in turning our vision of a rural broadband revolution into reality.
To roll out a broadband service level of at least 2Megabits to those parts of the country still without basic access.
To take the three superfast broadband pilots which currently exist only on paper and make them happen.
And to open up and co-ordinate our existing infrastructure to bring down the costs of laying new fibre, stimulating investment in next generation networks - so that superfast broadband can be rolled out to urban and rural areas in parallel.
Your views on how we can do this are going to be invaluable.
This Government is committed to supporting you as you enter this market, providing real incentives for economic growth and innovation.
In these tough financial times, there are huge opportunities here for those who grasp them, be they business providers or community projects.
And both commercial and community providers are already coming up with innovative solutions to geographical problems.
Business providers like Virgin Media, who earlier this year ran a pilot in Berkshire using telegraph poles to deliver 50Mbps broadband to an isolated village.
The GP’s surgery in Northumberland which provides access to patients.
The village in Kent where the local council, local businesses and BT clubbed together to get the best possible access for their community.
And community providers like the Cybermoor Community network in Cumbria, using contributions from many sources, including subscriptions, to lay cable and bring vital broadband access to isolated businesses and households.
More than ever, our jobs, public services and our relationships with the wider world rely on digital technology.
I in 5 people live in a rural community.
They are home to more than 1 million businesses, employing over 5.5 million people.
For too long, too many households and businesses in the countryside have been frozen out of the opportunities this technology provides.
It is time to bring our rural communities in from the cold.