James McClafferty: Future is fibre for a digital revolution

Digital infrastructure is vital to grow new businesses. Picture: Getty Images
Digital infrastructure is vital to grow new businesses. Picture: Getty Images
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FEW will have missed recent headlines speculating that the threat of recession looms over Scotland again. But lost in the blame game being directed towards Brexit and Indyref 2 is the elephant standing in business premises, public buildings and homes across the country – our bursting-at-the-seams digital connectivity.

While many of Scotland’s traditional industries are facing decline, the digital sector presents massive opportunity to drive accelerated economic growth and investment through business expansion, new start-ups, academia, job creation, skills development and innovation – but only if we have the infrastructure to support it.

In this year’s Tech Nation Report, Glasgow was shown to have one of the highest concentrations of high-growth digital tech firms in the UK. The ­digital sector in Edinburgh was ­noted to have grown by 85 per cent and by a whopping 171 per in Dundee.

The report also found that the biggest challenge ­facing UK digital tech businesses right now is sourcing and securing talent. What attracts talent? Digital capabilities that meet the needs of the brightest entrepreneurial minds now and in the future.

This clearly demonstrates the potential that already exists in Scotland, but also shows what we could lose if demand for bandwidth ­continues to outstrip infrastructure capabilities.

According to the World Economic Forum, the UK lags at the bottom of the list of digitally-connected nations with an average speed of around 14mbps compared to 20mbps or more across Northern Europe and Asia. Over the past few years, CityFibre has been working hard to address this gap by installing entirely new pure fibre infrastructure across the country. Our footprint now reaches 42 cities, including four in Scotland.

However, we cannot keep doing this alone. Policy and regulation is moving in the right direction following recent announcements from Ofcom and the Chancellor’s plan to start rolling out the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund later this spring.

It’s time that we stopped focussing on areas of uncertainty and instead put energy into things that we can be confident about. In the past, investment in traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways has delivered significant economic benefit.

Digital infrastructure is no different, and its benefits are much farther reaching in many ways. It not only supports those who build it, it drives competitiveness, productivity and efficiency in those who use it – whether it’s small businesses, universities or public services such as schools and hospitals.

It also underpins new ­digital services, for instance tele-healthcare for rural and vulnerable patients, e-learning for school, college and university students and smart city platforms such as CCTV and street lighting.

If Scotland is to continue to punch above its weight in technology and innovation, it needs to invest in the future, and the future is not paved in asphalt, it is lined with fibre.

James McClafferty is head of regional development in Scotland, CityFibre, www.cityfibre.com