Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing said the decision to go with a …

Scotland1‘s rural and island communities have been badly let down by the UK Government2‘s broadband policies, which have missed a great opportunity, MSPs have heard.

A Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing said the decision to go with a 10 megabits per second Universal Service Obligation (USO) instead of one which would ensure superfast speeds was a “missed opportunity”. He said he has been seeking a meeting with Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock since October and it was “pretty dire” that one had not been forthcoming. Mr Ewing was giving evidence to Holyrood3‘s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on the Scottish Government’s digital strategy, including a commitment to provide superfast broadband access across the country by 2021.

He said regulation is needed to ensure internet providers reach less profitable areas such as rural and island communities, but since telecoms is reserved the Scottish Parliament4 cannot create laws in this area. Mr Ewing said he had urged the UK Government to create a superfast broadband speed USO to ensure access to high-quality broadband across the UK. He said: “Unfortunately the UK Government has chosen the short-term option and set the USO at just 10 megabits per second, that is a missed opportunity and it does demonstrate how the reserved nature of telecoms can often undermine our policy ambitions here in Scotland.

“It’s not the taxpayers’ job to fund the provision of mobile or internet services in cities where frankly commercial operators already do that and make a good return.

“Where our money in Scotland and the UK comes in and is required is to get the other parts where commercial operators wouldn’t otherwise reach, the rural parts and the island parts, and sadly that’s where we’ve really been badly let down by the UK Government.

“Mr Hancock is the current minister, although despite having written to him on numerous occasions and requesting a meeting in October he has not thus far been amenable to arranging one.”

Green MSP5 John Finnie said UK ministers’ lack of engagement with Mr Ewing was “not acceptable”. He said: “Our ability as a committee to scrutinise is impeded by the unwillingness of the relevant UK ministers to engage with the Cabinet Secretary.

“I think that on one level is a discourtesy to the Scottish Government but I also think it is a discourtesy to this committee. We need to have meaningful scrutiny.”

Committee convener Edward Mountain said after the General Election6 further efforts would be made to seek to take evidence from UK Government ministers.

SCDI’s Highlands & Islands Director, Fraser Grieve said: “The Highlands & Islands in particular has areas that do not have access to sufficient broadband speeds to meet the growing connectivity needs of those living and working in some of our most remote communities.

We need to not only see a plan to deliver a 10 megabits USO progressed, but to look at how we take the steps beyond that to ensure that rural Scotland it not left behind as connection speeds continue to increase in urban areas.”

Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing Said The Decision To Go With A ...

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