Question Time — Scottish Executive — Enterprise, Lifelong Learning and Transport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:15 pm, 22nd March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what progress it is making on expanding access to broadband. (S2O-12421)

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The Executive has made significant progress, bringing broadband coverage to every Scottish community and to more than 99 per cent of households. We are determined to go further, which is why I have allocated £5 million to make access as widespread as possible.

We have now agreed with BT that it will increase broadband availability in at least 20 exchanges that currently have limited broadband capacity. A further £3.5 million has been allocated to support solutions for remaining clusters that are experiencing access problems. Further proposals will be announced over the next few weeks.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The minister knows my concern about many hard-to-reach locations in my constituency in which broadband access remains a significant challenge. Can he give Parliament any idea of how many individual connections the investment package that he announced can make in hard-to-reach locations, in order that we have some idea of how many people in rural areas will be able to be connected as a result of the announcements that he has made so far?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

We are not in a position to make detailed announcements today. The negotiations with BT are not yet complete, but I expect the first set of exchanges to be announced by the end of next week. The final stages of the discussions are taking place, and I can assure John Swinney that at least one exchange in his North Tayside constituency will be upgraded as a result of this first step in the next development of broadband in Scotland.

Thereafter, the priority is to invest the further £3.5 million. The first tranche of activity will require £1.5 million, and an additional £3.5 million will be allocated to reach another set of exchanges. The exact numbers involved have yet to be agreed with BT and the other contractors that could be involved in the project, but I assure John Swinney that every representation that has been made, not only from his constituency but from other Highland and remote constituencies, has been logged. We will attempt to make figures available in due course, and we will attempt to explain clearly and openly what percentage of those who are currently outside access to broadband will be helped by the £5 million investment.