Details of meeting on 14 September

Hello all

We now have full details of the location, timings and agenda for our meeting on 14 September. They are as follows:

1800-2000 in Committee Room 4

We will have presentations from Digital Fife, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Ofcom and we have already had a number of interested parties enquiring about slots for our next meeting.

The AGM as you will have gathered happened in late June and we were grateful to maintain a level of cross party support to enable us to continue into the next session. We welcome new MSP interest from Rhoda Grant who came along to the AGM and helped us gain Parliamentary recognition. There was a debate in the Parliament that day on rural broadband issues which proves that interest in issues of connectivity and digital functionality remain high. We have also had a lot of interest over the summer from new members including the Scottish Youth Parliament and we are very pleased to have a representative of the SYP now on our member list.  We now have a membership of some 125 inviduals and organisations.  

Our agenda for 14 September has been posted in the Agenda section and we look forward to welcoming you all to another session of meetings.

See you on Wednesday 14th September at 6pm.

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Annual General Meeting and new Interactive Broadband Map

Welcome back! It’s been a very long time since we posted here but very pleased to report that our CPG has been re-convened for Session 4. At our AGM on 30 June we saw support from Patrick Harvie, Fiona McLeod and Rhoda Grant. We will continue with Willie Coffey as our convener and John Park has also agreed to remain as Deputy Convener. Our next meeting will be on Wednesday 14 September when we look forward to welcoming all our old members back as well as new ones who have asked to join over the last few months.

Digital issues now sit at the heart of the new Government and the impetus added with publicly available funding to support broadband rollout means that we will have plenty to discuss going forward. We are keen to look at our remit at the next meeting and take suggestions from members if there are other issues around we should be looking at or developments that members would like to hear more about.

One exciting new development in recent days has been the release of a new interactive map from Ofcom detailing broadband availability, take up and speed on a region by region basis and provides an overall rating for each area. An issue that was indentified very early on by the CPG was the lack of information at the regional level so this takes us a good step further towards understanding more about current provision and areas that require more thinking in terms of broadband solutions. Have a look at the map here:  Ofcom Interactive Broadband Map

Some very interesting details are on the map. Edinburgh tops the whole of the UK for broadband speed at 10.1 Mbit/s and Scotland has fewer people receiving less than 2 Mbit/s than the rest of the UK nations, the Central Belt effect perhaps? On the other side of the coin, the Western Isles, the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands sit at the bottom of the ratings list, however the stats do not include Connected Communities coverage or satellite broadband take up vis the Avanti scheme. Surprisingly, despite being central, Clackmannan rates near the bottom, backing up statements given at a recent event on next generation rollout that the Central Belt should also seek to access some of the support funding available. Ofcom say that this has been one of their most popular web features. Have a look and leave us a comment with any thoughts you have. We’d also be very pleased to showcase any projects that are happening here on the blog over the Summer while we await the end of recess and the chance to get stuck back in! Get in touch!

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Xmas or X Box?

It’s been a while since we posted anything for you here so apologies and reassurance that normal service has now resumed.

There was plenty of news and interesting developments over the Christmas period (despite the snow!) that are worthy of highlighting. As reported here in a previous post, the Highlands will benefit from the BD UK pilot scheme but there was also good news for other areas of Scotland that received confirmation of awards of LEADER Broadband Challenge funding to help enhance communications in their areas. Around 1 million Euros has been earmarked for rural broadband development in areas including Forth Valley and Lomond, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and South Lanarkshire.

If it is possible to seek a positive from all of our troubles with weather here in Scotland over the last few weeks, then Learning and Teaching Scotland can perhaps offer us something. With an unprecendented level of school closures, GLOW came into its own as an ever ready resource for communication and for those diligent pupils still wanting to get their education fix.

Christmas is now considered a technology boom time as people tend to add personal communications and media devices to their wish lists in a way never seen before. The advent and clever marketing of the Wii and other consoles brought gaming to a new active and family audience and has captured many with the opportunity to sing and dance like Britney over the festive period. The latest mobile phone handsets and devices such as iPods and laptops mean that the take up statistics see a Christmas effect. Leave us a comment and tell us if you got anything in your stocking that has been a digital revelation. Which of all the amazing new communications and media devices are likely to help us here in Scotland tackle our issues with the rollout of technologies and take up of digital services? Look forward to hearing your feedback!

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Three developments towards Digital Scotland

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.”

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Superfast Highlands?

A report in today’s Press & Journal suggests the Highlands will be successful in its bid to become one of BDUK’s three superfast broadband pilots.  The paper says the news had been scheduled to be announced by David Cameron in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, but was withdrawn at the last minute. 

The P&J says the development “will provide a massive boost to private and business communications in about 20 towns and villages across the north.”  

It suggests UK Government funding will be topped up with additional money from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other sources, including the private sector.  An announcement is expected within the next couple of weeks. 

Also at the Conservative conference this week Ed Vaizey, UK Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, told a fringe meeting that the UK Government’s broadband plan is on track.  He said the Government would develop partnerships with businesses and local authorities to facilitate the expansion of broadband to rural and hard to reach areas, and that it hoped to publish a progress report shortly.

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BT’s Top Five Fibre Challenge

BT has launched a new website to gauge demand for superfast broadband in the UK. 

Communities not presently included in the roll out of BT Infinity are being asked to register their desire for high-speed internet access at The Race to Infinity

BT says it will wire up the five exchanges showing the biggest demand for fibre by December 31st 2010, with all responses logged to better understand potential demand for fibre-based services.

Exchanges need 1,000 premises votes to be eligible, with the winners enabled in early 2012 via fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) or a mix of FTTC and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).

The Race to Infinity will host a leader board showing which exchanges are gathering the most votes. 

The site is also a useful marketing tool for BT, with video explanation of “what superfast, fibre optic broadband could do for you” as well as links to Facebook and Twitter. 

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has already blogged on the campaign.  He says that while small and remote communities may not be eligible to win, “if the competition really does catch the imagination of the public, then the pressure will mount on both BT and the government to make sure that nobody is left trailing behind in the race to a faster future.”

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Digital Agenda – European Commission Recommendations News Release

Digital Agenda: Commission outlines measures to deliver fast and ultra-fast broadband in Europe

Three complementary measures to facilitate the roll out and take up of fast and ultra-fast broadband in the EU have been adopted today by the European Commission. This package comprises a Commission Recommendation on regulated access to Next Generation Access (NGA) networks that provides regulatory certainty to telecom operators, ensuring an appropriate balance between the need to encourage investment and the need to safeguard competition, a proposal for a Decision to establish a Radio Spectrum Policy Programme to ensure, inter alia, that spectrum is available for wireless broadband and a Broadband Communication outlining how best to encourage public and private investment in high and ultra-high speed networks. These measures aim to help the EU realise the commitments in the Digital Agenda for Europe to give every European access to basic broadband by 2013 and fast and ultra fast broadband by 2020 (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200). As outlined in the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (see IP/10/225), installing broadband infrastructure in Europe is essential to create jobs and prosperity.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said “Fast broadband is digital oxygen, essential for Europe’s prosperity and well-being. These measures will help to ensure that Europeans get the first-class internet they expect and deserve, so that they can access the content and services they want. ”

The package adopted today comprises:

A Commission Recommendation on Regulated Access to Next Generation Access (NGA) networks sets out a common regulatory approach for access to new high-speed fibre networks that requires national telecoms regulators to ensure an appropriate balance between the needs to encourage investment and to safeguard competition. This will provide increased regulatory clarity to all market players, which is necessary to stimulate investment in fast and ultra-fast broadband. The Telecommunications Framework Directive (2002/21/EC) requires Member States to ensure that their regulatory authorities take the “utmost account” of the Commission Recommendation, justifying any departure from it. (See MEMO/10/424)

A Commission proposal for a Decision by the European Parliament and Council to establish a 5 year policy programme to promote efficient radio spectrum management and, in particular, ensuring that sufficient spectrum is made available by 2013 for wireless broadband (which will significantly contribute bringing fast broadband connections to people in remote areas and to make innovative services available across Europe). Efficient and competitive use of spectrum in the EU will also support innovation in other policy areas and sectors such as transport and the environment. (See MEMO/10/425)

A Broadband Communication that sets out a coherent framework for meeting the Digital Agenda’s broadband targets and, in particular, outlines how best to encourage public and private investment in fast and ultra-fast broadband networks. It calls on EU Member States to introduce operational broadband plans for high and ultra high speed networks with concrete implementing measures, it provides guidance on how to cut investment costs and indicates how public authorities may support broadband investment, including making better use EU funds. It also announces plans by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to bring forward broadband finance instruments. (See MEMO/10/427)

Currently Europe as a region has the highest average levels of broadband take-up worldwide (24.8%) but its networks need to be further developed and upgraded. For instance, today only 1% of Europeans have a high-speed fibre internet connection directly to their homes, compared to 12% of Japanese and 15% of South Koreans.

The Commission’s measures aim to stimulate more public and private investment in fast and ultra-fast broadband networks, which in turn stands to boost demand for services delivered over broadband networks and thus trigger a virtuous circle of economic growth in the EU.

The Digital Agenda sets ambitious targets for broadband, ensuring by 2013 basic broadband coverage for all EU citizens and, by 2020, fast broadband coverage at 30 Megabits per second available to all EU citizens, with at least half European households subscribing to broadband access at 100 Megabits per second.

Background

Fast and ultra-fast broadband access could have a similar revolutionary impact on people’s lives as railways did more than 100 years ago. High-speed connections make it easier to work from home and on the move. They make new interactive online services possible in different fields, including education and health (like remote diagnosis). They also help SMEs to lower their costs and become more competitive through access to “cloud” services as well as making possible a new era of digital, user-controlled and high definition video services.

For more information, see MEMO/10/426.

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The BBC Micro – press ‘space’ to continue

The BBC did a recent article on the BBC Micro and it seemed like a fitting prompt to encourage our Convener Willie Coffey take a trip down memory lane, delving into his attic to retrieve his favourite computer and a few memories besides…..!

If you have any experiences to share or want to comment on Willie’s post, please do so at the bottom. We can plunge into unforeseen depths of geekery and retro-techno-memories! Thanks to Willie for putting fingertips to keyboard for us.

press <SPACE> to continue

Just think about it. Thousands of Scottish school kids in the 1980s grew up with this message indelibly printed on their psyche – every time they used the school computer, the BBC Micro!

No mice, no pop-ups, no pull-downs, no windows, no internet. Life was simple then. But at least the software worked.

If you take a trip down memory lane, all 32K of memory to be precise, you would find a lovely little micro computer with BBC Basic that was loaded with functions to make even the most nerdish of programmers drool at the prospect.

These were the heady days of creative genius; custom built educational software. Stand alone experiences that challenged the kids to think, reason, negotiate, make decisions, laugh, cry; and then press <SPACE> to continue to get to the next eagerly awaited screen.

Ah the joy of it all. Innocence expressed in such a tiny computer by the industry’s talented professional software designers of the day.

Those in the know (everybody in school) could press CONTROL-T to get to the Teachers section and you could vary the lesson plans and examples so that every session with the software could be unique. Such power exists Mr Klaatu? Indeed it does Professor Barnard.

Specification groups of teachers and advisers emerged to ‘unleash the power of 8-bit micro technology’ and we all gasped at the capabilities of the Simplified WORD processor for schools (SWORD) as its proud flashing cursor prompted you to give it a command on the BBC machine and then the RML 380Z micro.

Was it all a dream? Or did it really happen? Well, 20 (or is it 30?) years ago, the micros in schools boom was a silent revolution, well before it’s time. The technology was ground-breaking but still very limited compared to the mega, giga, tera byte world that we live in now.

Educational software was truly bespoke and tailored directly to the needs of the Scottish curriculum. Education Ministers came and went, enthralled at turtles walking all around the room. Our vision was limitless even if the e-turtles were just as slow as their organic carbon based cousins.

We even fixed the computers ourselves, having our own lab and technician plundering bits of one micro to go into another. It was like a scene from Dr Who with five minutes to go; warning lights flashing and sonic screw drivers eaking out and replacing the offending chips in the nick of time just before the launch of the Microspecial pack.

That’s real pressure Doctor!!!!

And now? The capabilities of our current machines are light years ahead of those micros. Limitless memory and super fast chips with everything now. But we don’t write stand alone software no more!

The kids live almost totally now in a virtual world of the internet, facebook, twitter, skype and mobile phone apps. And the wealth of educational resource material ‘out there’ is fabulous in its breadth and depth.

The world of learning has changed utterly and totally since the internet arrived. It has defined almost completely how we use technology in education. The computers are ‘windows’ into an external, virtual world full of riches – and rubbish!

Who is helping today’s kids on their journey through today’s cyber jungle?

Yes, our dear teachers who have also had to adapt quickly to huge changes taking place with the technology.

So just when they finally got used to pressing <SPACE> to continue, they are now grappling with multiple concurrent apps, downloads out of control, twittering school bullies and chit chat clubs on facebook with its whirlwind of icons and txt encrptd shrthnd tht only thos in th knw cn rd. U2 cn b an xprt! K?

Bless them!

My advice? Don’t bother with the manuals. Just give it your best shot! You did OK then when the revolution began.

Just hop on board each new micro special as it leaves the digital platform.

And prepare yourselves for the journey of a lifetime.

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Ofcom Communications Market Report & Scottish Household Survey Research Internet Take-Up and Use

In the last couple of weeks both Ofcom and the Scottish Household survey have published their annual statistical reports. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report for Scotland focuses on communication services, take-up and use and the Scottish Household survey has an excellent indepth section on the internet. Both reports have more data than we can go through in this short blog post and a broad array of information that falls outwith the remit of this group but of interest nonetheless. Follow the hyperlinks above to both documents if you would like to see the full reports but for now some of the key findings are:

  • Broadband take-up in Scotland grew by one percentage point to 61% – ten percentage points below the average take-up in the rest of the UK (Ofcom CMR Scotland 2010)
  • Lack of internet access for involuntary reasons (that is, non-adoption for reasons of lack of availability or cost) is highest in Scotland (Ofcom CMR Scotland 2010)
  • People in Scotland were more likely to rely solely on their mobile phone as a means of making voice calls (Ofcom CMR Scotland 2010)
  • Fewer Scots use the internet to access health, banking or government websites than the rest of the UK
  • Women are more likely than men to be non-users of the internet (SHS 2009)
  • There is a clear linear relationship between age and use of the internet, with use declining as respondents get older (SHS 2009)
  • Only 4% of those in households with income in excess of £40k do not use the internet (SHS 2009)
  • For the youngest age group (16-24 year olds) having either a disability or long-standing illness does not impact to a greater extent on internet use (SHS 2009)

Vicki Nash of Ofcom Scotland is going to talk more about the Communications Market Report and what the story behind the statistics is at our next meeting on Tuesday 21 September at 1800. Look forward to seeing and hearing from you then.

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Reform Scotland publishes Digital Power report

Reform Scotland have published Digital Power which offers a valuable contribution to the discussion about Digital Scotland. The report first examines the current digital activity level in Scotland, in other parts of the UK, as well as in other countries and makes a range of recommendations that would position Scotland at the forefront of digital readiness. The report goes on to put forward a case for the rollout of NGA, showing GDP growth in the top 5 countries in broadband adoption to be some 2.2% higher.

The report calls for a minimum access speed of 50Mbps across ‘the vast majority of Scotland’ but suggests an good intial step would be to map our exsiting fibre network.

The key recommendation is for the appointment of a single Minister within the Scottish Government with specific responsibility for designing, implementing and monitoring the Digital Scotland framework and strategy.

We have posted a link to the full document in the ‘Related Strategies’ part of this site.

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