Connectivity challenge needs action at both a local and national level

Last week some stark findings on rural broadband were brought to my attention. But they didn’t come as much of a surprise. 

Research by ComRes found that 30 per cent of adults living in Scotland think their broadband isn’t fast or reliable enough, while over 35 per cent think that their connection might not be able to meet future needs. 

Not only is the status quo failing rural areas, but we also have to find remedies that are future-proofed for the next wave of digital innovation.

Industry experts reckon that the “internet of things” will soon transform the way we use digital technology by connecting up the various different tools we use in day to day life to the internet.  

But it’s widely understood that the reality outside of densely populated areas is scarcely even able to meet current expectations, let alone the needs of consumers five years down the line. 

As more public services go digital, media on-demand and streaming become the norm and as the potential of e-commerce continues to expand – we need to make sure that the digital divide is eradicated. 

This is an issue that I’m tackling on a number of levels. 

As the SNP’s digital spokesperson, I’m on the committee that will scrutinise the government’s forthcoming Digital Economy Bill. I’ll be calling on the government to be bolder and more ambitious in the measures they bring forward. 

A key part of the Digital Economy Bill will be the introduction of a Universal Service Obligation of 10 Megabits per second. While I realise that this would be an improvement on current speeds for some of my constituents – given that the USO may still require additional costs to be borne by the consumer, it’s unlikely to offer a breakthrough on rural connectivity. 

This is why I’ve also established working groups consisting of OFCOM, the Scottish Futures Trust and the Scottish Government – to work on areas that will allow us to leverage the best possible outcome for Scotland from the Bill, given our commitment to universal superfast coverage by 2021.

Closer to home I hosted the Borders Digital Forum with Scottish Borders Council on Monday. The meeting brought together community councils with experts from OFCOM and Digital Scotland to consider where we’re at and explore the best way forward for connecting their communities. 

While there’s a really important role for regulation and high level policy – rural connectivity requires local solutions. This is why I’ll be working to ensure that the Digital Economy Bill does not end up promoting a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  

But we know that the desire for change is out there -- 85 per cent of respondents to the ComRes survey said that upgrading broadband should be one of the UK government’s top two priorities. 

While the UK government prefers to splash out on extortionate vanity projects like HS2 and Hinckley C – it needs to adopt a transformative vision for digital infrastructure – a move that would unleash the potential of people across these isles.