Finance Secretary, John Swinney has acknowledged, in response to questions from Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur in parliament this afternoon (4 November), the need for further urgent action to fill gaps in broadband coverage that are likely to remain even after the current broadband roll-out programme.
Mr McArthur highlighted that while a national target for broadband coverage has been set at 95% of premises Scotland-wide, the figure for the Highlands & Islands is 84% and for Orkney this falls to 75%. Mr Swinney accepted that this meant more has to be done, through Community Broadband Scotland and other initiatives, to identify and support technology solutions that help deliver a high quality service to those who need it.
The exchange came during Finance, Constitution and Economy questions in the Scottish Parliament. Speaking afterwards, Mr McArthur said:
“While I welcome the investment that is helping to deliver high speed broadband to communities across the Highlands & Islands, including Orkney, it is clear that significant gaps still remain. Indeed, coverage in Orkney is likely to fall well short of coverage across the region, which in turn is well short of the national target for Scotland.
“I firmly believe that closing those gaps must be the priority for government and its agencies. This may require different technology solutions, but I am confident that these already exist. It is now a question of identifying the best way of delivering them.
“Some progress is being made in this regard but I was pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that more needs to be done. This is essential if we are to avoid the current ‘digital divide’ opening up even further.
“Access to good quality, reliable and affordable broadband is no longer a luxury. Along with decent mobile phone coverage, it is now an essential tool for local businesses. However, it is also increasingly the only way for people to access services or keep in touch with family and friends. So I will continue to press the Scottish Government to ensure that provision in Orkney keeps pace with that elsewhere in the country”.