Northern Isles’ Digital Deficit Highlighted at Holyrood

Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur today repeated his calls for the Scottish Government to prioritise investment in places falling behind in broadband and mobile phone coverage.

Mr McArthur took the opportunity of a parliamentary debate on broadband and mobile coverage in the Northern Isles, led by his Shetland colleague Tavish Scott, to reiterate his message about the importance of addressing this digital divide.

Speaking before the debate, Mr McArthur said: “This debate is needed to keep up the pressure on the government and its agencies to act. Even after the current round of investment, broadband coverage in Orkney will lag behind the rest of the region and far behind Scotland as a whole. That is not good enough and Ministers need to accept that this should be the priority for any future funding”.

Through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, which draws on funding from the UK and Scottish Governments, Orkney and Shetland are only set to see 75% and 77% of premises covered under the project by the end of 2016, compared to a 84% target for the Highlands and Islands region and a 95% target across Scotland as a whole by March 2018.

Speaking during the debate, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said: “As a nurse on one of the outer isles put it to me recently, a lack of mobile coverage is ‘potentially a life threatening issue.’ Whether it is responding to emergencies, providing advice to those attending to a sick patient or managing those with chronic conditions, having access to good, reliable broadband and mobile coverage is now essential.

“For local businesses too, the need for better coverage is now pressing. The tourism sector provides a perfect example. From the way in which visitors research their options and make bookings to the way they look to share experiences and images once on holiday, it is clear that expectations are changing rapidly. We need our digital infrastructure to catch up.”

Following the debate, Liam McArthur said:

“Debating this issue in the Scottish Parliament puts a spotlight on where action is most needed. It is not just that a divide is opening up between urban and rural areas, but also the fact that a digital divide is opening up within rural communities, such as Orkney.

“The consequences of this could be very serious in terms of retaining and attracting people to live and work in Orkney. Addressing it will require a collective effort from government, Council as well as Community Broadband Scotland and the mobile operators”.

Mr McArthur will be hosting a Digital Forum in Orkney early next month. The public forums will bring together Highlands and Islands Enterprise, BT, EE and others to answer questions on how broadband and mobile coverage can be extended across Orkney.


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