Broadband (Highlands and Islands)

Scottish Executive Question Time — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 16th September 2010.

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Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 11:40 am, 16th September 2010

To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to help secure public access to the pathfinder broadband network in the Highlands and Islands. (S3O-11370)

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Although the Scottish Government fully recognises and supports the wider benefits that can potentially be gained from the pathfinder north and south networks, the matter is complex because of the potential for contractual and state-aid issues to inhibit non-local authority access. That said, we are actively exploring with pathfinder partners and Cable & Wireless the opportunities that might exist to realise the potential benefits. The most recent meeting between officials and Cable & Wireless took place on Tuesday 14 September and discussions are on-going.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am grateful for that response and hope that the minister will continue to encourage his officials to be actively involved in supporting Highland Council and the other councils in the region when retendering for the project comes up in the not-too-distant future. Will the minister also encourage Broadband Delivery UK to support Highlands and Islands Enterprise's recent bid for the roll-out of broadband in the region and ensure that, as part of that, the pathfinder network has such public access in future?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Indeed I will. We will continue to be as active and supportive as the member suggests. Indeed, at this point, I should recognise and express my appreciation for Mr Peacock's continued informed interest in the area. As he has indicated, we are continuing to press BDUK on this issue and will work with Highland Council, HIE and Cable & Wireless to ensure that we get the very best possible outcome.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Although Shetland became fully connected to pathfinder north in December 2009, there are still concerns across the islands, especially on Unst and Yell, that general access to high-quality broadband is at best patchy. What is the Scottish Government doing to improve the broadband service to all people in Shetland?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I would be interested to hear in greater detail about the points that the member raises. It might well be a case of taking the path of least resistance and taking up the new LEADER broadband funding that has become available. I encourage the member to raise the issue with people in Shetland. If she requires any clarification in that respect, we would be glad to help her.