Superfast broadband and mobile phone signal should be available to all at fair prices and speeds equitable with urban areas. Connectivity has become necessary to the social and economic sustainability of all communities. It is an essential of modern life and has the potential to address constraints and limitations arising from rural geography. For Scotland’s rural economy to thrive, sufficient connectivity (a minimum of superfast broadband speeds) has to be available to all, regardless of geography. Inequity of connectivity leaves our fragile communities behind and excludes many of the one million people living in rural Scotland from participating socially and educationally and excludes them from economic opportunity. Many rural areas are struggling to keep their communities alive while knowing that superfast broadband would:
- Increase the economic attractiveness of their local region, retain citizens and businesses and attract new businesses;
- Reduce the urban-rural divide by enabling health, education and government services to be delivered online, widening access to services located in cities;
- Reduce rural isolation by allowing direct communication with family, friends and colleagues;
- Increase promotion and consumption of local crafts, foods, trade and performing arts.
We call for:
- The Scottish Government should redirect resources to quickly facilitate the provision of community/national backhaul, local backbone networks and community hubs to support access networks. This will prime the pump for Internet Service Providers to provide connectivity either commercially or through community projects, possibly including State Aid funded projects.
- The Scottish Government, having made the commitment to reach 100% super-fast coverage, should accept that this is a stepping stone to ultra-fast speeds and ensure that there are clear upgrade paths available to all rural networks.
- Rural communities should be supported through access to specialist advice according to their needs. This might include business planning, technical advice, help with funding, legal guidance regarding way leaves and other support. There needs to be a mechanism for accessing this support and sharing knowledge amongst community projects in a collaborative way, and not through the current Community Broadband Scotland approach, which has blocked many projects rather than facilitate them.
- Existing rural broadband and rural initiatives and resources should be coordinated to best respond to rural broadband requirements and overcome obstacles that currently impede rural broadband deployment. These should be addressed and managed by the team responsible for reaching 100%, as a singly managed project, with clear accountability for delivery.
- A Scottish Broadband Conference, using an Open Space type of facilitation, that brings together all stakeholders, including Scottish Government, community projects, network providers and suppliers, to evaluate the status quo and share views and solutions.
- The Scottish and UK Governments to work together towards a high speed 4G/5G mobile network in rural Scotland to serve rural business, agriculture, and those places outwith the reach of the fibre networks.
- Rural communities to receive subsidised broadband improvements first, rather than perpetually catching up with urban areas.