Call to make Northern Isles digital infrastructure ‘fit for the 21st Century’

Northern Isles representatives Beatrice Wishart MSP, Liam McArthur MSP and Alistair Carmichael MP hosted a virtual roundtable involving local councillors, community council representatives as well as officials from Scottish Government and HIE to discuss how digital connectivity in the Northern Isles can be improved. The roundtables revealed the scale of the challenge in both communities and the difficulties experienced during a pandemic as a result of people having to work or study from home with poor or no internet access.

With significant ongoing delays in rolling out the commitment to superfast broadband through the R100 programme, there is still little detail on timelines for delivery, even though the Scottish Government signed a contract with BT last December.

Duncan Nisbet of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme presented updates alongside Stuart Robertson of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The Orkney discussion then heard from Shona Croy of Orkney Islands Council, with the Shetland group receiving updates from Tommy Coutts of Shetland Island Council.

Commenting afterwards, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said:

“Digital connectivity has always been a struggle in the isles, but the pandemic has made those disadvantages all the more exasperating. Helping people deal with handle that forms a huge part of any island representatives’ work, and so It was useful to have a forum to share information and try to seek answers to questions that constituents raise.

“However, we continue to see more questions than answers. The R100 rollout has already been delayed, and vouchers can’t really address the problem in the interim.”

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said:

“There is clear frustration at the pace of improvement, and the gaps that appear to exist between different government initiatives. After years of waiting, people in Orkney don’t care who delivers the broadband and mobile coverage they need, they just want to see it in place.

“The roundtable discussion was helpful in reinforcing the urgency of the situation, particularly with so many people currently working or studying at home. Scottish and UK governments must work closely with the island authority to ensure any roll out covers all of Orkney, from the outside in”.

Northern Isles MP, Alistair Carmichael added:

“To some in the isles dealing with interminable internet speeds, the prospect of superfast broadband still seems farfetched, but businesses, families and communities now depend on reliable access for virtually everything.

“That is clearly no small task, but the past year has made it clear that meaningful improvements are not optional. The isles need digital infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century.”

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