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Tories: no value in 100% broadband coverage

David Cameron on a visit to Shetland. His government's consultation claims 100 per cent broadband coverage is not value for money.

NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael is pressing the Tory government to make sure they do not “walk away” from their commitment to rural communities when rolling out broadband services.

He was speaking following the publication of a UK government consultation document on the definition of a universal service for broadband, which states that providing 100 per cent coverage does not “represent value for money”.

“A universal service obligation for broadband is a good idea, but they miss the point by trying to set it at less than 100 per cent provision,” Carmichael said.

“They also appear to have lost any sense of urgency as they do not anticipate having this in place until 2020. It is pretty clear that they have chosen to listen to the big telecoms companies rather than the communities concerned.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael fears rural dwellers have been abandoned by the Tory government.

“Once you depart from 100 per cent coverage alarm bells should always start ringing in the isles. Viewed from London or Edinburgh to talk about 95 per cent may seem reasonable, but in the isles past experience tells us that we are more likely to be part of the five per cent that is left behind.

Carmichael said there were a million rural homes that will not have access to the promised 10Mbps speed broadband by 2017, and he said those households had “just been abandoned by this government U-turn”.

“Last week we saw the Conservatives attract significant support in rural Scotland,” he said. “I wonder if those people who voted Tory in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, the Borders and the Highlands realised they were voting for this sort of treatment.”

At March’s digital forum meeting in Lerwick, BT and HIE said 40 per cent of Shetland households (a figure now up to 45 per cent) were able to access what the telecoms company continues to term “superfast” broadband as part of the BDUK update.

That definition is disputed because BT is only using fibre technology as far as town and village exchange points and not directly to homes and businesses – meaning even the most centrally-located premises will struggle to receive truly “superfast” speeds.

At that time BT said nine cabinets had been installed in the Brae, Cunningsburgh, Hillswick, Sandwick, Sumburgh and Walls exchange areas, while work was underway in Bressay.

Exchanges at Bigton, Bixter, Veensgarth and Whiteness, Robert Thorburn of BT said, would get fibre for the first time between April and June.