Poor internet access hampers rural Scotland
SCOTLAND must take "urgent action" to give rural homes and businesses high-speed internet access, a leading think tank will warn this week.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh said Scotland is falling behind its UK and foreign rivals in broadband provision and called for the creation of an "optic fibre backbone akin to the trunk roads of our transport network".
In a report entitled Digital Scotland, to be published on Tuesday, the Society said the network would deliver broadband to an extra 1.5 million people in rural areas. The authors said Scotland now has the lowest percentage of households with high-speed internet in the UK, at 61 per cent, compared with 73 per cent in England, 70 per cent in Northern Ireland and 64 per cent in Wales. In 2005, Scotland was behind only England.
Report chairman Professor Michael Fourman said: "Communication is the life blood of society. Scotland's future depends on having in place an effective digital infrastructure that will underpin a successful economy, vibrant culture and strong communities.
"But when it comes to delivering access to high speed broadband, Scotland is falling behind its international competitors, and so will fall behind in all areas in which high quality communication is vital: the economy, health, education, the delivery of public services and social interaction."
The report called for a Digital Scotland Trust to be established to raise finance, procure, operate and maintain the core digital infrastructure.
Fourman said: "Scotland must take the lead in developing its own digital infrastructure. 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."
Researchers identified populations of at least 2,000 people, using post code area data, where the cables should run. The authors said 99 per cent of Scotland's population would be able to access the network and that technical solutions could help many of the remaining 1 per cent tap into the "spine", with local communities setting up "last mile" arrangements using technology that might already be in place.
The cost of extending Scotland's fibre optic cable network over the next five years was put at around 100 million.
Sir Angus Grossart, chairman of the Scottish Futures Trust, said: "This report should be implemented. It will be a potent lever to liberate and develop the abilities and potential of Scotland, at a low cost."
Alasdair Allan, SNP MSP for the Western Isles, said: "It would be in everyone's interest if broadband width could be improved. People in remote and rural communities can only participate fully in Scotland's economy if they have broadband at a decent speed."
David Cairns, chairman of ScotlandIS, the trade body for Scotland's software, IT and creative technology businesses, said the report represented an exciting opportunity, but warned that "if we fail to seize the day we also face the threat of a weakening competitive position because other countries are not standing still".
Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: "This report will be considered carefully as we develop our Digital Strategy, which will be published within the next few months.
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