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Islanders to get legal right of 10Mbps broadband by 2020

THE UK Government has been accused of lacking ambition in setting a two-year target to introduce a “universal service obligation” (USO) giving everyone a legal right to broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps.

While sizeable pockets of the Shetland population are yet to receive such speeds – viewed by regulator Ofcom as the minimum required for households to use internet, email and video services – critics say that by 2020 much faster speeds will already be expected.

Ofcom has two years to implement the scheme, and UK Government minister for Scotland Lord Duncan said it was “vital that every home and business in the UK – including remote communities – has access to affordable, reliable, high speed broadband”.

It said the programme could be delivered by “a range of fixed line and wireless technologies” with a per premises cost cap of £3,400 allowing the government to reach 99.8 per cent of premises.

Consumers living in premises where the cost of delivering 10Mbps exceeded that threshold would be able to get a satellite connection or “would have the option to cover the excess themselves”.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said: “This is obviously good news but it is frustrating that we still have to wait for two years before we get anything concrete out of this.

“By the time we get the 10Mbps guarantee in 2020 the rest of the country will be expecting 30Mbps. I want Ofcom to get on with the job as soon as possible. Two years is a maximum and not a minimum.

“With each wave of development that evolves our government in Edinburgh and London make the same mistake. They start in the centre and hope that provision will trickle out to the edge. We know that this does not work and in the future we need to tackle this differently.”

The government’s statement said the 10Mbps minimum speed “will be kept under review and we expect it to be increased over time”.

Ofcom’s 2017 report Connected Nations showed that the number of premises without 10Mbps download speeds was 1.1 million, or four per cent, compared with 1.6 million, or six per cent, a year earlier.

It is hoped that a Scottish Government commitment to provide superfast speeds of 30Mbps to every home and business in Scotland by 2021 will effectively render the UK Government’s USO redundant north of the border.

However some have questioned whether that commitment can actually be delivered with the amount of public money currently available. 

Last month HIE digital director Stuart Robertson told the Northern Isles Digital Forum that 9,500 premises – around 75 per cent – in Shetland had access to superfast speeds, around half of which had taken up the opportunity.

But hundreds of homes and businesses in the North Isles and other remote pockets of Shetland are still left grappling with connection speeds that are hopelessly inadequate for modern digital life.