Leader comment: Scotland finally set for digital age

Fibre broadband internet is now available to 95 per cent of Scots
Fibre broadband internet is now available to 95 per cent of Scots
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Scotland is blessed with large areas of some of the most scenic countryside in the world, but for many the downside of life in such idyllic scenery is isolation.

Scotland is blessed with large areas of some of the most scenic countryside in the world, but for many the downside of life in such idyllic scenery is isolation.

So if anything access to a superfast – or, more accurately, functioning – internet service is of greater importantance to people in the countryside than those in cities.

While a row has broken out between Holyrood and Westminster over whose internet is the fastest, the geography is different and the coverage is actually pretty similar. What seems fairly clear is that – after a frustrating time for some – both governments will finally ensure everyone has a decent internet service within the next few years. And that opens up significant opportunities for places off the beaten path.

READ MORE: Experts turn attention to growing rural digital economy

Financiers were once largely confined to London and Edinburgh but the internet age means that it is now possible to work in “the City” from a house surrounded by fields, trees and a babbling burn.

With many businesses moving online, it will be increasingly possible for a whole range of occupations to be conducted entirely from a computer. This could see repopulation of areas like the Highlands and the Borders, where many people would like to live if only they could still do their job. The pull-factor of the clean air and tranquility of such places is strong.

However an internet connection is, obviously, not the only factor.

The lack of shops and services – illustrated by RBS’s decision to close dozens of bank branches this year – is one problem.

READ MORE: SNP cuts to rural services budget ‘risk devastating Scotland’s farms’

As highlighted recently in The Scotsman, another issue is that people in remote rural areas can also face higher charges for deliveries – something that can prove fatal for a small business that needs to buy in or ship out goods in large volumes. Higher petrol and transport costs also raise the price of goods in general.

All this means rural living might initially sound appealling, but people could be put off if they investigate the consequences of a move more closely.

We also have to decide as a nation whether actually we want to repopulate our hills and glens.

Many planners have been reluctant to allow “houses in the countryside” amid the fight to prevent urban sprawl.

And some will doubtless fear new development could ruin the environment we prize so much.