William Eichler 18 August 2016

Holyrood 'must do more' to roll-out broadband, auditors say

The roll-out of high-speed broadband in Scotland is making ‘good progress’, but more needs to be done to extend coverage to rural areas, auditors say.

The Scottish government is committed to ensuring everyone in Scotland is able to access the internet at any time and on any device by 2020. In order to achieve this, in 2013 they paid BT £412m to extend Scotland’s existing fibre broadband network.

Audit Scotland reported 2.2 million out of 2.6 million premises had access to fibre broadband by March 2016 – 1% more than the Scottish government’s original target. They also noted more than 500,000 of these gained access through the BT contracts.

However, the auditors went on to warn the remaining areas are more rural and harder to reach. They said these remote areas are likely to need more complicated and costly engineering solutions before they can get high-speed broadband.

The Scottish government also needs to decide what it intends on doing with the remaining £42m it has for rolling-out broadband, the auditors added.

‘Fast, reliable internet access is increasingly essential for everyday life, so it’s encouraging to see good progress being made in rolling out fibre broadband,’ Caroline Gardner, auditor general for Scotland, said.

‘However, there is a lot still to be done by the Scottish Government if it is to achieve its vision of a world class digital infrastructure, particularly in improving download speeds in rural areas.’

‘It’s important that it continues to monitor the cost and progress of broadband rollout so that these communities aren’t excluded,’ Ms Gardner added.

A report, published by Deloitte last December, found increased digitalisation could add up to £13bn to the Scottish economy.

Responding to this report, deputy first minister John Swinney said: ‘Scotland is already making good progress in digitalisation.

‘We are driving the £410m roll out of superfast broadband across Scotland, supporting businesses and individuals to get online, and working to ensure our people have the right skills to both get online and make a career in the digital sector.’

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