Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur and Northern Isles MP, Alistair Carmichael jointly hosted the latest Northern Isles Digital Forum in Kirkwall today.

The forum is a joint initiative by the two Liberal Democrat politicians to address the problems surrounding digital services in the Northern Isles. It follows successful events in the past, at which representatives of some of the major players in the digital market answered questions from local people.

Both Alistair Carmichael MP and Liam McArthur MSP welcomed the highest attendance seen at a digital forum ever in Orkney, remarking it was a sign of the immediate need to improve digital services across the Northern Isles.

Invited participants at the meeting at the St Magnus Centre this afternoon included senior representatives from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, British Telecom, Vodafone and Cloudnet Solutions who are currently developing Orkney’s own White Space solution.

Commenting, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur said:

“My thanks first and foremost to both the participants for their informative answers and indeed the public who came along in numbers to put the questions to the key stakeholders where our digital services are concerned.

“It was quite apparent from across the forum today that the need for 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. The same is increasingly the case for mobile phone coverage”.

“It remains 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 there now needs to be a conversation on where the public sector steps in to support communities get connected when they are unable to.

“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.”

Commenting, Alistair Carmichael MP said:

“I would like to thank the participants and members of the public who came along today. As ever the discussions were robust and could have easily continued well beyond the time we had.”

“It was clear from the contributions made by those attending the forum that more must be done in terms of communicating the progress of work to consumers. It is simply unacceptable that consumers cannot find out the information that they need to know. No one expects to have superfast broadband immediately but accurate information about when it would be coming is essential. ”

“It was interesting to hear the progress of trials being carried out by Cloudnet in the use of white space to offer access to the internet. In order to fill in the gaps in mobile provision it will take a variety of measures ranging from the use of white space, satellite broadband and fixed wireless. I believe that the answer to digital connectivity in the Northern Isles lies in the use of varying technology”.

“Although the news that 76% of premises will be connected to superfast broadband by 2016 is welcome, I think BT and HIE should be more ambitious and aim for as much coverage as possible.”


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