IMPROVING THE BROADBAND infrastructure throughout the Highlands and Islands must take account of the needs of rural communities as well as those living in major towns.
That was the point made this week Rhoda Grant MSP, who has been campaigning for greater efforts in improving vital broadband services throughout her Highlands and Islands and Moray constituency.
The Labour MSP was speaking at a Parliament debate on the issue this week, pointing out that some rural areas still had the “worst broadband services in the UK” – despite the Scottish Government statements about the successes of the superfast rollout in the region.
Following the debate Mrs Grant said “The digital Highlands and Islands project has made, and will make, a real difference.
“Without it, many more people would be outside the reach of next generation broadband – it will provide the backhaul that is required for mobile phone network operators.
“However, that does not mean that we should simply say thank you and leave it at that – we still need to fight for 100% coverage and those who are the furthest from a connection have the most to gain.
“They are often the most disadvantaged as it stands, and access to next generation broadband would redress some of that disadvantage. The same is true with mobile coverage, 2G, 3G and 4G also have the ability to work over terrain in which laying fibre is difficult. We must also look at mast sharing and roaming to give the best coverage to mobile data users.”
The MSP pointed to Community Broadband Scotland which was set up to help provide “last mile” solutions – a major issue in broadband rollout has been that existing and out of date infrastructure cannot cope even when superfast broadband is in place on an exchange.
Moray residents have discovered to their dismay that even BT Broadband are often not fully aware of the issues, telling customers that they can have a superfast service – only to disappoint when engineers arrive to discover that old copper and lead cabling make that impossible.
Mrs Grant said: “We need to utilise all the technologies to ensure 100% coverage – access to next generation broadband is no longer a luxury, it is essential.
“People need it to submit their common agricultural policy forms and to apply for benefits. Students need it for their online course materials and remote communities have the most to gain from access to telehealth and telecare.
“There are businesses in my region that are looking to relocate because of their poor broadband connection – that is simply wrong.
“The Government needs to take the lead in driving forward the work. It must ensure that there are no not-spots in Scotland, either for broadband or mobile phone coverage.”