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Community / Minister keen to prioritise rural areas for broadband

THE SCOTTISH Government says it will take an “outside-in” approach to rolling out superfast broadband access the country – meaning that rural areas could be the first to benefit.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that areas like Unst and Yell, which have historically suffered from poor connectivity and don’t have fibre broadband, should be prioritised in the government’s £600 million R100 programme.

The project aims to see all premises in Scotland having access to superfast broadband of 30Mb/s by 2021.

An Audit Scotland report published earlier this year, however, warned that providing access to the country’s most remote areas will be difficult.

Islands and connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse responded to Scott in parliament by saying that the Scottish Government’s approach of “outside-in” means that remote and rural communities will be prioritised first.

He also praised the work of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, which achieved its aim of providing fibre broadband to 95 per cent of premises in Scotland by the end of 2017.

It is understood, meanwhile, that there is interest from Faroe’s state owned telecoms company in helping to bring fibre broadband and 5G mobile data to Unst ahead of the proposed spaceport launching on the island.

Speaking after the parliament questioning, Scott reiterated that Shetland’s islands “need to be first”.

“They have been left behind so far. Fibre optic cables must be laid to the house and business premises so that people can gain the advantages of superfast broadband,” he said.

“Audit Scotland are worried about how long this is all taking. So are islanders. Businesses in the isles need to know when they can expect to be connected.

“The government claims it is on track to begin R100 in the second half of 2019. It must guarantee this happens and that a clear timetable for connection is set out. I will meet the minister responsible to push that Shetland is first in the queue for this vital investment.”