Broadband Services (Access)

First Minister's Question Time — Prime Minister (Meetings) – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:11 pm on 13 March 2003.

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Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 3:11, 13 March 2003

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Executive will ensure optimum access to broadband services. (S1F-2585)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We want 70 per cent of the Scottish population to have access to affordable broadband by March next year. We are spending £24 million to accelerate access. On Monday, I announced the upgrade of telecoms exchanges in Buckie, Dingwall, Forres, Fort William, Nairn and Oban. In one stroke, that almost doubles broadband coverage in the Highlands and Islands. I think that that is welcome.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I welcome the First Minister's response. In his move to increase access to broadband, will he take account of the need to upgrade telephone exchanges on the periphery of our cities? I am thinking particularly of the exchange in Loanhead in Midlothian, which covers Scotland's biggest biotechnology cluster and world-class engineering firms such as MacTaggart, Scott and Co. Does he agree that such firms, which provide high-skilled jobs to hundreds of people, need access to broadband if they are to prosper and fulfil their potential?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Access to broadband is important for local communities, for jobs and for Scotland's local economies. Recently, we have allowed the market to make progress, but we need now to intervene and to secure further development. That is what we are trying to do. I hope that access will be available in many more areas in the next few years.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

On Monday, the First Minister announced developments with the pathfinder project in the Highlands and Islands. Will he confirm that he is satisfied that no competition law, regulatory or European Union state-aid constraints will prevent the benefits that accrue from the pathfinder project from being rolled out to businesses and individuals in those areas?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Yes, I am convinced that that is the case.