Weekly update: world's fastest rural broadband, mobile coverage and Gala Water Hydro

This is a critical time in politics. Scotland is working to preserve its relationship with Europe, Donald Trump has just been elected President and the UK government is still in a state of limbo over Brexit. 

There’s been no shortage of political drama. But let’s be honest: we can’t say with any certainty how things will stand a year from now. 

But that doesn’t mean that politicians should not focus on day-to-day issues. It can be all too easy for problems that have a major impact on people’s lives to get lost in the bigger picture. 

Getting this balance right is a crucial part of being an effective MP. 

So I was pleased to have had the opportunity to keep my work on rural digital connectivity moving forward both in Parliament and in the constituency over the past two weeks.  

For the second meeting of the Borders Digital Forum we looked at alternative models for delivering broadband. This included a talks from Heriot Community Broadband and Barry Forde of Broadband for Rural North (B4RN).

B4RN delivers the world’s fastest rural broadband to over 3,000 customers in hard to reach areas using community fibre scheme. 

There was a clear enthusiasm about how local groups could collaborate with B4RN to set up their own projects here. 

This could be a major step towards the first-class connections our region deserves.   

Mobile coverage debate

On Tuesday I secured a debate in parliament on the 700Mhz spectrum band. This is an area of policy that could have a significant impact on rural mobile signals. 

Spectrum licensing policy is the main way government sets the terms under which mobile networks operate. Unfortunately, successive UK governments have seen these licenses as a cash cow for the treasury. 

Instead I think we need to look at all of the social and economic benefits that comprehensive mobile connectivity can achieve. 

700MHz is particularly well suited to providing mobile data coverage over wide geographic areas. So this measure, if done correctly, could do a great deal to resolve the unacceptable fact that nearly half of Scotland’s landmass has no mobile data coverage at all. 

It’s really important that we start to redress poor mobile data coverage in rural areas. 92 per cent of under 35s now view their smartphone as their primary device for accessing the internet, so the demand for mobile data is only going to increase.  

Gala Water Hydro scheme

I was delighted to welcome the announcement that the Gala Water Hydro scheme has secured £1.5 million in funding from the Scottish Government. 

Not long after I was elected I was given the opportunity to support this project. 

It struck me as a really innovative way to bring a major part of the town’s heritage back to life. 

On top of that, it will engage locals to engage through a community shareholder scheme, which I’d encourage you to support as the project moves forwards. 

This Gala Water Hydro Scheme represents another positive step that shows, alongside other regeneration efforts, that the town is starting to turn a corner.