Smaller and more remote communities in the Highlands and Islands are getting frustrated over the delayed arrival of faster broadband said Alan Reid MP.
He was chairing the Scottish Affairs Committee hearing on telecommunications in rural areas of Scotland, where senior managers from BT and Vodafone and the regulator Ofcom were questioned on telecommunications in rural Scotland.
At least 84 per cent of the Highlands and Islands will get superfast broadband by the end of next year from BT’s new fibre optic cable network the inquiry was told.
Mr Reid told Brendan Dick, BT’s Director for Scotland: “You will understand the frustration of many small communities. They see 84 per cent round about them getting superfast broadband but they are still struggling with speeds of often a few K, and their taxpayers’ money is going into other projects. You can understand their frustration; it is the uncertainty as to whether to pursue a wireless route or a satellite route, or wait for you to come.”
Brendan Dick replied: “We are doing our best, working with Government and HIE (Highlands & Islands Enterprise) to drive fibre as far as we can, as fast as we can, and to get as many premises passed.
“Clearly as time moves on, there will be more funding coming in which the Government will have to allocate.”
Mr Reid said that the uncertainty was frustrating small communities: “They talk, for example, to Community Broadband Scotland, who suggest that there might be a wireless solution. They contact satellite companies and get quoted a very large sum to sign up. They are unsure what to do. They do not want to spend a lot of money on another solution and then find, as soon as they have done that, that, hey presto, BT come along and give them a fibre-optic solution.”
Mr Dick replied: “If you were talking about (a community of) 10 or 20 people, it is highly unlikely to be a viable solution. The other thing I should add, and this is particularly important in the context of rural Scotland, is that we are continuing to look at technologies that are better for smaller communities. Although we have cabinets of some size now, and you have probably all seen them, we are looking at other solutions like fibre to the remote node, which is a baby version of that and would be more suitable for smaller communities. I personally would hesitate to say to anybody, ‘You are never going to get it,’ because life moves on and they might.”
After the committee hearing Mr Reid said: “Broadband is a critical part of modern society. Both the UK and Scottish Governments must put in the investment required to deliver 100% superfast broadband coverage. Whether it be by BT’s fibre optic cable network or by wireless or satellite it must happen soon.”