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by Jenni Davidson
28 November 2016
SNP MP says UK Government’s digital strategy will leave rural communities behind

SNP MP says UK Government’s digital strategy will leave rural communities behind

Thurso promenade - Image credit: Reinhard Dietrich, Wikimedia Commons

The UK Government’s digital strategy will leave rural areas lagging behind, according to the SNP’s digital economy spokesperson at Westminster.

Calum Kerr MP, who will be leading on the UK Government’s Digital Economy Bill for the SNP, said the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement risks seeing investment in fast fibre networks in urban areas while rural areas will be left with speeds that will be “obsolete within a decade.”

The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk said he was “unable to fathom” why 10 megabits per second was considered good enough consumers in rural areas.

In response, he has called on the UK Government to revise its proposed universal service obligation for broadband speed to encourage providers to “push fibre further.”

Kerr said: “The Chancellor’s announcement may represent a welcome investment in high quality fibre networks, but its benefits are only likely to be felt in urban centres.

“The Government recognises that fibre infrastructure is the future, but it seems reluctant to accept that rural consumers also want to be part of the future too.

“Many are looking at the Government’s proposed universal service obligation in the Digital Economy Bill and are, quite rightly, unable to fathom why 10 megabits per second is good enough for some consumers in rural areas, when the networks of the future are likely to offer speeds at least ten times that fast.

“Across the UK, communities, councils and devolved administrations trying to achieve superfast speeds are backed into a corner due to this government’s clear lack of ambition on rural connectivity.

“They need to resolve to take bold steps to redress the digital divide – and resolve to push fibre further.”

The Scottish Government has committed to broadband speeds across Scotland reaching 30Mbs by 2021, and Kerr suggested that a flexible universal service obligation such as a voucher scheme, could help it deliver that.

“But if the USO is simply passed over to providers who are willing to provide 10 megabits to everybody by 2020, I am afraid that we will end up with fibre for the few, while rural areas are expected to make do with speeds that will be obsolete within a decade,” he said.

The Digital Economy Bill, which includes, among other things, a commitment that every household and business in the UK will have a broadband download speed of at least 10Mbs by 2020, has reached the third reading stage, with a debate in the House of Commons today.

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