Ultrafast broadband can help boost Scotland's economic recovery

The pandemic has lasted a lot longer than any of us imagined. Back in the early days of setting up makeshift offices at home, with laptops propped up on piles of board games or balanced on ironing boards, few people pictured still working remotely a year on.

That transition is one of many we’ve been forced to make during this crisis. The broadband network built by Openreach during the last decade enabled millions of people to switch to home working overnight. It provided the foundation for us to work, live, learn and socialise from home.

Even birthdays, weddings and, sadly, funerals have all had to move online.

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With so many important moments dependent on good connectivity even as we start to return to a degree of normality, the importance of a high speed, reliable broadband service has never been more obvious.

Today, the Centre for Economics and Business Research has published updated research showing that upgrading to ultrafast full fibre technology would produce a massive economic windfall right across the UK and at home here in Scotland

It could attract 76,000 new people into the Scottish workforce and see 24,000 increase their hours, boosting the Scottish economy by nearly £2bn. This added value, job creation and innovation will be vital in getting the post-pandemic economy back on track.

At Openreach we’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far in terms of keeping people connected through these difficult times and excited about what we can contribute as the network continues to develop. Our engineers worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to expand the network, solve problems, upgrade homes and reach communities in the remotest corners of the country.

There is no company that is more ambitious when it comes to building the infrastructure that will drive Scotland’s digital future.

At this juncture we face challenges that include supporting the recovery of businesses, balancing a gradual and safe return to normality and addressing the climate crisis that looms large over everything we do.

Openreach has a lot to offer in tackling these problems. Beyond the direct economic and employment boosts which CEBR has identified we can contribute through improved connectivity, we are eager to help Scotland lead the charge towards net zero, with ultra-reliable connections enabling more home working and slashing emissions from commuting.

We know there are still barriers in our way, but with focus these can be overcome. For a long time, network builders have stressed the importance of cutting back the red tape that can obstruct fast, efficient upgrades to infrastructure. Simplifying access to shared properties and the way roadworks are managed, or ensuring full fibre is mandated for new builds, may not sound like the most exciting subjects, but they are changes that would speed up our ability to deliver.

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The CEBR report confirms that a full fibre roll out is a prize worth fighting for. It can help us move beyond the challenges of Covid-19, make rural parts of Scotland more attractive areas to live and work in, and super-charge the green revolution.

Now we need to work positively with our teams, governments and partners to realise the staggering rewards that better connectivity can bring to Scotland.

Katie Milligan is Chair of the Openreach Scotland Board

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