Superfast Broadband (Shetland)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 19 June 2013.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

9. To ask the Scottish Government when people and businesses in Shetland will be advised whether their area will be included in the 75 per cent of the islands that Highlands and Islands Enterprise has stated will have access to superfast broadband. (S4O-02270)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Highlands and Islands Enterprise and BT expect to announce this autumn the first locations that are to be upgraded through the Highlands and Islands next generation broadband project. That will follow completion by BT of the first phase of its detailed network planning. Further regular announcements will be made throughout the project. At this stage, therefore, it is too early to say where in Shetland the first locations will be.

It is important to stress that that transformational project will deliver significant improvements to broadband connectivity to at least 75 per cent of premises in Shetland. No commercial roll-out was planned in Shetland, which demonstrates the impact that public sector investment will have on the islands.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I thank the Deputy First Minister for the honesty of that answer. Does she accept that, as I understand it, there are no plans to improve any of the seven exchange activate telephone exchanges in Shetland and that therefore the policy is the wrong way round? Surely, the aim should be to get broadband to areas that currently have no broadband, or little of it, rather than to enhance the provision in areas that already have it.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I think that is a slight mischaracterisation of the policy. I believe that the policy that we are pursuing is the right one; it is ambitious and it is about delivering infrastructure right across the country. It is too early at this stage to answer precisely Tavish Scott’s question about exchange activate broadband, but it is important to point out that for any exchanges that are not upgraded, there will be access to an innovation fund to assess technology options once the fibre backbone has been deployed and new innovative solutions are available to exploit the fibre, which has the potential to benefit very small exchanges in the longer term. I hope that that is reassuring to some extent, but I am happy to keep Tavish Scott and other members who have an interest in the issue updated with more details as the projects roll out over the next few months.