Better broadband must be for all in Scotland

Warnings from a House of Lords committee that the UK Government's broadband strategy could widen the digital divide demonstrate the difference between Westminster's policy and the Scottish Government, says Mike Weir MP.

The UK Government’s plans for broadband are wrong-headed - and are in danger of worsening the digital divide - as a new report from a House of Lords' committee has shown.

The report, published by the Select Committee on Communications, said the UK Government strategy had become preoccupied with delivering particular speeds to consumers instead of ensuring everyone benefits from connectivity, warning that “there is a very real risk that some people and businesses are being left behind, that inadequate access to the internet and all its benefits is actually afflicting their daily lives..."

The flawed strategy is typical of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition which lacks vision and fails to invest in the necessary infrastructure to build a fairer and more prosperous future for all our communities.

Urgent investment is needed in the smaller exchanges which cannot cope with demand for broadband. It is ludicrous that some of these exchanges, within minutes from towns cannot get anymore broadband connections.

The unambitious Westminster plans contrast starkly with the Scottish Government which is committed to making sure everyone in Scotland has access to next generation internet by 2020. Projects are already at an advanced stage for the Highlands and Islands which will reduce the digital divide in some of the most challenging areas of the country, and procurement plans have now been set out for infrastructure for the rest of Scotland.

Equal digital access allows everyone to take advantage of services online, but it is not just a social justice issue – it’s an economic one. Connecting the whole of Scotland to a twenty-first century communications network brings massive benefits in education and employment opportunities. It boosts a diverse economic model –allowing people to succeed on Skye as much as in Edinburgh. Recent research by Regeneris Consulting predicted that over the next 15 years BT’s fibre broadband could give the economy of a typical town a £143 million boost, create 225 new jobs and 140 new start-up businesses.

The Scottish Government is working, within its limited powers, to build a future for Scotland based on the principles of equality and sustainability, in stark contrast to a UK Government building a two-tier system between the have-and have-nots.

UK policies for broadband simply do not meet Scotland’s needs. This demonstrates again why we are better making decisions for ourselves in Scotland.

The report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications can be accessed here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldcomuni/41/4102.htm