Local support for broadband roll out in rural areas

A FORTNIGHT on from Abbey St Bathans being given a significant and much-needed upgrade to their broadband service, the Scottish Government has discussed the comprehensive rollout of broadband throughout rural Scotland in areas like Berwickshire where some villages are still lagging behind.

Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead told delegates at a specially convened rural broadband summit that broadband was vital to unlocking the next stage of Scotland’s economic development.

The summit followed the launch of the Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy and marked the publication of Our Rural Future - the Government’s response to the recent ‘Speak Up for Rural Scotland’ consultation - which identifies the provision of broadband in rural areas as a major priority.

Mr Lochhead told representatives from the telecoms industry, local authorities, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise: “This Government is committed to supporting rural life, rural communities and the rural economy. The provision of broadband is key to unlocking the next stage of Scotland’s development and ensuring that everyone has access to the opportunities technology brings.

“Our rural population is rising - up 20,000, or three per cent - between 2007 and 2009. At the same time the number of people employed in rural Scotland increased by five per cent to 513,000.

“We have made significant improvements to increase access to employment and services across rural Scotland but far more opportunities will open up with the provision of broadband.”

Campaigners involved with Abbey St Bathans’ fight for a faster connection speed, stressed the importance of communities throughout the Borders joining together to ensure that the region didn’t get left out in years to come.

Among them was Andy Rosher who said he’d like to see a Berwickshire Broadband focus group set up which can engage with SBC and the South of Scotland Broadband Partnership to ensure that Berwickshire gets a the right broadband, not just a service that is assumed to be correct.

He commented: “The great success of Abbey St. Bathans in securing investment in their exchange to provide reasonably fast broadband provision is to be celebrated. However, on a wider scale there needs to be a co-ordinated approach to ensuring all households and businesses in Berwickshire can access better standards of broadband service through the UK Government’s commitment to super fast broadband for all communities.

“I know for a fact that there are households throughout Berwickshire that cannot access broadband at all and many that can only obtain very slow and inconsistent broadband service. I know of some households that are in clear view of two major high speed transport links, the A1 and the East Coast main line and yet cannot obtain basic broadband access.

“This situation is undoubtedly not acceptable in this digital age, when so much of our lives are reliant on broadband, from education to health, entertainment to business. A continuing situation of slow and unreliable broadband will not only have a negative effect on businesses but will marginalise young people and force them out of the countryside and into towns and cities. I would call on Scottish Borders Council to engage with local communities for support in preparing their high speed broadband pathfinder bid for funding from the Government.

“The money to deliver faster, more reliable broadband is there, it is being made available by the UK Government. It is critical now that the end user is part of the process, it’s the only way to proceed with a strong bid that is truly capable of delivering high speed broadband to all communities in Berwickshire.”

John Lamont, who backed Abbey St Bathans campaign all the way also welcomed the proposed roll out, whilst agreeing with Andy that there was still some way to go to bring all of the Borders up to speed.

He commented: “I am pleased that the Scottish Government has recognised that the provision of broadband in rural areas is a major priority. People living in rural areas know how frustrating it is to pay for a broadband speed that they do not achieve and, in some communities, not to have any access to any broadband provision whatsoever.”

“There is still a great deal to be done in rural communities in the Borders and across Scotland. The UK Government has made clear its commitment to rolling our broadband in rural areas by 2015 and I hope that the next Scottish Government will show a similar enthusiasm after the election.”