SHETLAND could be a model for rural areas in Europe wanting to enjoy high levels of digital connectivity, according to Labour MEP Catherine Stihler.
During a visit to the isles on Thursday, Stihler suggested broadband developer Shetland Telecom should come to Brussels next year to show how digital solutions can be achieved.
On Thursday the Scottish MEP visited Lerwick’s fish auction before heading to Mareel and Shetland College to fact-find about the islands’ connectivity.
She also met Shetland Telecom staff and Shetland Islands Council officials and leader Gary Robinson on her whistle-stop tour.
Afterwards Stihler said that many other communities across the European Union would be “envious” of Shetland’s “innovative” approach to digital communications.
She cited Shetland Telecom, set up in 2009 to roll out fibre optic cables across the isles and now with a £450,000 annual turnover from direct sales, as a model for other regions in Europe.
“If you can solve this challenge here – and I’m not saying it’s all solved – and address the connectivity challenges, then other places could learn from that,” she said.
“What I’ve found out from Shetland Telecom is that you’ve spent to save, and in the future that is going to be of benefit.
“There’s still more to be done to get more people connected, but it’s a great story that Shetland has achieved so much and it’s something that many other countries would be very envious of.
“There’s a real energy here, whether it’s from innovation in the fishing industry, or the creative sector.
“I hope we can bring the people I spoke to today to share their experiences with a broader European audience, and that in the new year we will be able to showcase Shetland in Brussels.”
Stihler also suggested the proposed digital single market, an extension of the EU’s single market for goods, could help Shetland.
“The European Union has a single market of 500 million people around 28 countries,” she said.
“So having things like a single set of rules…will be helpful to both business and consumers in Shetland who can benefit from buying goods and services, and also be able to trade.”
Questioned about her views on her party’s new leader, she said she was pleased Jeremy Corbyn had made a firm commitment that the UK should stay in the EU, but she remained tight-lipped about his failure to sing the national anthem.
“I think…what can I say…people will pick on different issues,” she said. “At the end of the day we have huge challenges in our country, such as growing inequality and the referendum on EU membership.”