Local MSP, Rhoda Grant, Labour is supporting a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to make it an immediate priority to ensure that all rural areas currently out of range of local broadband internet coverage are provided with a reliable superfast broadband internet service suitable for 21st C communication within the shortest possible timeframe.
The petition has been submitted on behalf of Laid Grazings and Community Committee, Sutherland. Its purpose is to prioritise broadband installation for Laid and all rural areas who do not have broadband at present, at the earliest opportunity. Petitioner, Hugh MacLellan, states that it’s been submitted in the interests of growth in the Scottish economy as a whole, and with a view to boosting business opportunities and employment throughout Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% Broadband programme commits to delivering 100% superfast broadband coverage across Scotland by the year 2021. However the community in Laid believe this needs to happen sooner as many homes and businesses in the area currently remain at an economic disadvantage due to the lack of access to superfast broadband. The petition states that “the present situation is adversely affecting Scotland’s rural economy and employment possibilities, and change and progress in this matter are urgently required.”
The village of Laid in North West Sutherland, like many rural areas, does not have broadband. A fibre optic cable laid three years ago runs through the village but petitioners state there are no plans at present to install an exchange system to enable the houses in the village to receive broadband. The NC 500 tourist route also runs through the village and petitioners say tourists are not prepared to stay in B&Bs as there is no acceptable broadband.
After a local petition signed by residents of Laid and visitors who stayed in the area gained 750 signatures over summer 2017, the community decided to take their case to Parliament. They want to see broadband established not only in the village of Laid but in many other rural areas who are in a similar position.
Rhoda Grant said:
“Having campaigned for over a decade to have broadband services improved throughout the Highlands and Islands, I welcome the Laid community’s drive and determination to seek improvement for their area.
“Like them, I believe many other rural areas will welcome the intention of this petition and I would encourage people from far and wide to support it.
“The Scottish Government has finally accepted that broadband is no longer just a nice thing to have, but is a necessity in today’s digital world, so let’s see them move a bit quicker to support our rural areas.”
Broadband provision is a matter reserved to the UK Government, however, over the last few years the Scottish Government has intervened so that more communities are served.
The Scottish Government is committed to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Scheme – delivering superfast broadband access –speeds of at least 30Mbps – to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021. This is a unique commitment compared to the rest of the UK. The UK Government’s commitment can be found here:High speed broadband to become a legal right
The Scottish Government also has the 4G Infill Programme with £25million to address ‘not spots’. Orkney to Benefit from Funding to Deal with Notspots The Scottish 4G Infill Programme funds new mobile telephone masts in locations with no existing 4G mobile coverage to improve mobile connectivity for communities and businesses
Peter Reekie, Scottish Futures Trust Chief Executive said:
“Over the last 3 years, SFT has been working closely with Industry to create a collaborative platform for the development of a publicly funded intervention to extend 4G coverage into the more remote rural areas of Scotland. This has enabled SFT to take into consideration their feedback, build on the experience gained from our pilot projects and incorporate the lessons learnt from similar programmes.
Mr Ewing, Connectivity Secretary, said:
“Widespread high-speed and reliable mobile coverage is just as vital as broadband, and ensures that people, communities, and businesses are able to stay connected.
“Improving mobile coverage across Scotland is key to achieving our ambition to become fully digitally connected. Our innovative Mobile Action Plan outlines how we are working with industry and other partners to improve coverage. The Infill programme will target the areas where it can make the most difference, achieving better and cost-effective connectivity in some of our most remote and challenging areas.”
An initial 16 ‘notspot’ sites have been identified, and about 60 to 70 areas will be targeted throughout the project.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame