Law Society of Scotland raises concerns that UK Government broadband commitment is not universal
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The Law Society of Scotland has raised concerns that the UK Government’s commitment to universal broadband coverage across the UK may not really be universal.
As part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which was passed in April, the UK Government created a ‘universal service obligation’ (USO) for every household in the UK to have access to broadband.
The UK Government is currently consulting on the design of the USO, which gives every household in the UK the right to demand a broadband connection with a minimum download speed of 10Mps up to a “reasonable cost threshold”.
In response to a question on whether a limit of £3,400 is the right threshold “to extend coverage as far as possible at reasonable cost”, the Law Society raises concerns “that the ‘universal service obligation’ is not in fact intended to be universal”.
It also warns that if coverage is not universal, this would have a “particularly negative impact” on Scotland, which has a higher proportion of remote rural communities than the rest of the UK.
Among the concerns, the Law Society notes that a lack of access to broadband could impact on access to justice, something it also mentioned in its response to the recent Scottish Government Islands Bill.
Independent research has identified a risk that people in rural areas would not be able to find solicitors to provide legal aid.
For those in rural areas, if they cannot In that case, being able to access legal advice online would be essential, it said.
Courts and tribunals are increasingly also moving services online, with most employment tribunal cases now almost exclusively online, as well as many companies’ own complaints procedures.
The society also raises concerns about social inclusion, with access to, for example, online banking particularly necessary in rural areas.
Businesses too could be forced to relocate if they cannot compete due to lack of connectivity, as well as struggling to comply with HMRC requirements for online tax returns, the society said.
Farmers, meanwhile, will usually have to complete forms for subsidies online and could miss out on funding if they cannot get access, it added.
It said: “We are also concerned about wider social questions around inclusion where so many aspects of daily life rely upon internet access.
“This is not just a question of access to private goods and services, but as outlined above can include access to justice.
“As outlined in the consultation document itself, there are many areas of life where online access is a necessity and some services – e.g. online banking – can in fact be more crucial to those in more remote communities.”
The Law Society calls for the connectivity solution to be technology neutral, so that, for example, third generation satellites or mobile networks to achieve “genuinely universal coverage”.
The Scottish Government has already made a separate commitment to providing all premises in Scotland with access to a high-speed broadband connection of 30Mbs by 2021.