Local MSP makes the call as superfast broadband coverage in Orkney set to fall short of the average across the Highlands & Islands region.
The Highlands and Islands Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project is a joint venture between Highlands and Islands Enterprise and BT, drawing on funding from the UK and Scottish governments. It aims to roll out fibre broadband across the Highlands and Islands, including Orkney.
Orkney, however, is only set to see 75% of premises covered under the project by the end of 2016, compared to a figure of 84% for the Highlands and Islands region as a whole.
The statistics have been confirmed by the Scottish Government in responses to parliamentary questions from Orkney MSP, Liam McArthur.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise has already warned consumers that “broadband speeds may vary” while “not everyone will see an improvement at this stage - although this may change as technology improves.”
Commenting, Liam McArthur said:
“Good, reliable and affordable broadband is increasingly essential, not just for businesses but also for households looking to access a range of services. It is also a key means of families and friends keeping in touch.
“It’s great news therefore that many islanders will be getting superfast broadband over the coming months. By the same token, however, it is a concern that around a quarter of Orkney premises look set to miss out. This falls far short of the coverage expected across the rest of the region, and short of what people in Orkney have a right to expect.
“Not only is the gap in broadband speeds between Orkney and the rest of the UK growing. Now it appears that a digital divide is opening up within Orkney and between Orkney and other parts of the Highlands & Islands.
“I believe that addressing this issue now needs to be the focus for Scottish Ministers and their agencies. Where additional resources are available, priority must be given to extending the availability of broadband in those places that fall below the average for coverage, such as Orkney.
“Previously, Scottish Ministers argued that setting a UK-wide target for broadband coverage risked disadvantaging Scottish households and businesses. They were right to do so. The same argument, however, now applies within Scotland where Orkney has a compelling case for additional resources.
“Plugging the remaining gaps in coverage is likely to require a range of different technologies, as well as improved mobile phone coverage. This will be the focus of discussions at the next meeting of the Orkney Digital Forum at the end of November.”
Liam McArthur MSP, alongside Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, will be hosting their next digital forum on Friday 27th November between 1pm and 3pm at the St Magnus Centre. The forum will focus on the alternative technologies that will be used for areas not covered in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme. Highlands and Islands Enterprise, BT, Vodafone and other have been invited to participate. More details to follow.
In the meantime Liam is calling for residents in Orkney to get in touch if their broadband speed is too low and sign his petition at www.liammcarthur.org.uk/broadband.
Notes: Please see Liam McArthur’s parliamentary questions to the Scottish Government, or click here.