The Scottish Government has announced a target of making superfast broadband available throughout the whole of Scotland by 2020. Its recent position paper – A Digital Ambition for Scotland – also says the rate of broadband uptake in Scotland should at least match the UK average by 2013, and be the highest of the UK nations by 2015. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report for Scotland 2010 put uptake of 61% – 10% below the UK average and the lowest of any UK nation.
The paper brings together work from across the Scottish Government, highlighting the potential that increased availability and uptake of reliable and fast broadband will have on business, education and the public services. A more detailed strategy is promised within the next three months.
Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External Affairs, will be responsible for co-ordinating the Scottish Government’s digital ambition, with help from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth (John Swinney), the Cabinet Secretary for Lifelong Learning (Mike Russell) and the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism (Jim Mather)
Secondly comes the Digital Scotland report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The think tank warns that Scotland is falling behind international competitors when it comes to delivering high-speed broadband, and calls for an “optic fibre backbone akin to the trunk roads of our transport network”.
It puts the cost of such a network at about £100m, and calls for a Digital Scotland Trust to be established to raise finance, procure, operate and maintain the core digital infrastructure.
The report’s author, Professor Michael Fourman, warns that the UK Government’s current digital policy will not deliver the infrastructure Scotland needs. He said: “We should not, and cannot, rely on the UK government to deliver this for us. The Scottish government and Scotland’s local authorities must work together to drive forward the digital agenda, as they are the bodies that hold many of the levers to do so, such as planning regulations, procurement and business rates.”
The report also calls for social hubs in every community, where internet access is available to all, in libraries and other community centres, and where support is available to groups who would otherwise be excluded from digital society.
BBC Trustee for Scotland (and FRSE) Jeremy Peat made particular reference to the Glasgow area, and the particularly low levels of take-up uncovered by Ofcom. He said: “I very much welcome this thoughtful report and wholly agree with the importance of spreading access to high speed broadband across Scotland – and encouraging its take-up. I would note, regarding take up, that the reasons for low broadband take up in West Central Scotland also merit attention.”
Finally better news is that the Highlands and Islands was selected as one of four rural pilot schemes to take part in the UK government’s next-generation broadband rollout. First Minister Alex Salmond, addressing the Convention of the Highlands and Islands in Orkney this week, said this would deliver enormous opportunities to rural Scotland. He said the total commitment to the area was likely to exceed £30 million, with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) matching the pilot funding with additional investment from the private sector.
Local MP, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander said: “I am delighted that our government is delivering for the Highlands. This scheme will be a springboard for attracting investment and developing our infrastructure. It is vital that we build on it and I look forward to continuing this momentum in the coming years.”