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Digital Future Proofing Urgently Needed

fibre optic cableA top research group has stated that digital future proofing is needed  to ensure that those of us with “very slow Internet speeds and unreliable connectivity are not cast adrift as the rest of the country gets ‘faster, faster’.”

The research which has built upon previous work by the University of Aberdeen has said that communities are at risk of being left behind.

The research was based on detailed postcode-level data published by the telecommunications operator Ofcom. It looked at places where there were  broadband speeds of less than 2.2Mbps and where it would take around an hour to download 900MB of data.

Dr Lorna Philip, co-author of the study said:

“Part of the issue is that there is a fixation on improving speed for the majority rather than improving universal coverage, but we need to stop focusing on speed and allow areas that have been left behind the opportunity to catch up or risk excluding them altogether.”

Co- author Dr Caitlin Cottrill added:

“The move towards ‘digital by default’ means that more important activity will have to be done on the Internet, but if you’re in a remote area with poor digital connectivity this can have a detrimental impact, for example for farmers who need to submit animal registrations or single farm payment applications online, or school pupils who are disadvantaged because they cannot easily access online learning resources to complete their homework.”

“Our paper suggests that digital communications policy and regulation would benefit from digital future proofing, to ensure that any public sector market interventions in broadband infrastructure developments effectively address the digital divide.”

The research acknowledges the role of alternative models of delivery in promoting coverage but also suggests that there would be geographical problems with them.

Broadband provision is a reserved matter to the UK Government which retains ultimate control over its provision and delivery. In Scotland the Digital Scotland programme is delivered through two projects – led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise in its area and the Scottish Government in the rest of Scotland. Other funding partners include the UK Government through Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), BT, local authorities and the EU via the European Regional Development Fund. BT is investing £126M in the programme. BT was the only bidder to put in for the contract in Scotland .

According to the Scottish Government more than 90% of Scotland now has access to fibre broadband. The research by the academics at Aberdeen University, however, states that the major hindrance to households and businesses in the ‘remoter’ areas is poor connectivity. They state that delivering a reliable service to those areas should be given priority instead of the need for speed in places already with a reliable connection.

You can access the full paper at the Journal of Rural Studies

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Related story: Fibre Optic Broadband for the Islands of Orkney – Is it Achievable?

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