Calum Kerr MP, the SNP’s Digital spokesperson, has welcomed the UK Government’s announcement of a new voucher scheme for rural broadband, after making successive calls for the introduction of such a policy. 

The SNP MP, who put forward an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill in support of vouchers last month, has consistently advocated such schemes in order to tackle the widespread problem of poor quality rural broadband services. 

However, Mr Kerr warned the government against using the announcement as a “smokescreen” to distract from the government’s introduction of a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband. Proposals for the design of the USO were published by Ofcom on Friday. 

Commenting on the government’s announcement, Mr Kerr said: 

“I’m glad that the government has accepted the need for a voucher scheme for rural broadband: I’ve been pushing for the adoption of such a scheme since I was appointed as the SNP's Digital spokesperson.”

“This is a welcome step towards better connectivity for rural consumers and a clear acknowledgement that the government has listened to the SNP’s proposals for comprehensive measures to close the digital divide between rural and urban.“
“This is why I brought forward an amendment that sought to legislate for a voucher scheme within the Digital Economy Bill last month — it was voted down by the government, but it’s promising to see that the SNP’s promotion of vouchers has paid off. “

“However I’d question why the government feels the need to wait to bring this measure forward at some unspecified point in the future.”

The Digital Economy Bill was supposed to be about “an opportunity to secure our digital future, to secure the infrastructure and connectivity that we all know we need.” 

“We know that the future is comprehensive digital connectivity for both rural and urban and we know that a voucher scheme is viewed as a credible means to help us get there. So why must we wait for a green paper on consumer markets in the spring before seeing further action on this?“

Mr Kerr also noted the timing of this announcement followed on from the publication of Ofcom’s technical advice to the UK Government on design of a new Universal Service Obligation for broadband, commenting: 

“I want to warn the government not to use the announcement of this measure as a smokescreen to deflect attention from a poorly devised USO.“

“Yesterday, Ofcom produced their report on the design of the USO. This includes consideration of policies that the SNP brought amendments on during the committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill – specifically the consideration of upload speeds and a superfast minimum download speed of 30 megabits per second.”

‘Given the UK Government’s prominent commitment to fund new fibre networks in the autumn statement, they must now adopt the 30 megabits per second option. 

‘’Scotland is at the leading edge of digital ambition throughout these isles.  As new figures released in Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2016 report show, Superfast coverage in Scotland has shown the greatest improvement of anywhere in the UK, with a 14% year-on-year increase compared with just 7% for the other UK nations.

‘’Clearly, the comprehensive steps the SNP has promoted to tackle the digital divide have shifted the terms of the debate in Westminster. We cannot be complacent and recognise that an ongoing effort will be needed to reach our aim of universal superfast by 2021. All we ask for are the right tools so that we can keep moving forward.”