Broadband Access

Enterprise, Lifelong Learning and Transport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:17 pm on 9th March 2006.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:17 pm, 9th March 2006

To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to ensure that people who live in remote areas can obtain access to broadband. (S2O-9252)

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

We have already taken major steps to achieve that, including the successful implementation of the largest broadband project of its kind in the United Kingdom. That has extended broadband access to 378 remote and rural telephone exchange areas and more than 1,600 communities. We have now fulfilled our commitment to bring broadband coverage into every Scottish community. More work is now being done to tackle the particular problems that individual households and businesses face in accessing broadband.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On 19 January, I asked the minister a similar question after a constituent had approached me about his difficulty obtaining access to broadband. Following some modest local publicity about that question, I have been somewhat inundated with requests and notifications from members of the public who, because they live a considerable distance from their broadband-enabled telephone exchange, cannot get access to broadband. What practical steps will he take to ensure that such individuals and businesses can be connected? Will the Executive take a clustering approach to ensure that groups of houses and settlements are brought together so that we can find a technologically proficient solution to the problem?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The short answer is that, yes, we will do all of that. As I mentioned in my response to John Swinney's question in January, we are commissioning a study for which independent consultants are due to be appointed next week. The study is due to report by the end of May and will consider all the technological solutions that can be implemented.

By 2006-07, we want to deliver broadband to as many households and businesses as it is possible to reach cost effectively. As John Swinney suggested, in the first instance that will mean that significant benefits might be available by grouping together or clustering demand so that we can find cost-effective solutions.

I want to make sure that every household and business that cannot be provided with that solution by 2006-07 at least gets a reasoned technical response, including an explanation of what can be done and the timescale within which that can be achieved. A budget has been allocated for that work—for procurement reasons, I have been asked not to disclose the amount involved—which will be used to continue to find the technical solutions that will allow more communities in remote and rural areas access to broadband by 2006-07.