The Scottish government has been given the backing of independent groups, after it announced a scheme which will see faster broadband for businesses and consumers being made available across the country.
The question over how to expand the broadband infrastructure has been one that has plagued authorities around the UK and it seems that the conclusion reached by most, is that public sector money needs to pick up the slack where private sector investment falls short.
Ministers in Scotland have already committed a budget of over £185 million to updating the systems by which broadband is delivered. Now, the Infrastructure Action Plan, recently announced by politician, Alex Neil, proposes to commit the government to lessening the digital divide by 2015 and giving almost every Scottish resident and business world class internet connectivity before the end of the decade.
Of course promises of cash need to be back up by the money actually emerging, so this April a pot of £5 million will be established in order to fund small scale projects in the more remote areas of Scotland. This will pave the way for the creation of similar schemes across the country.
Interestingly, it seems that the Scottish government and local campaigners are particularly keen on developing mobile phone networks so that people with business phones will find it easier to make calls wherever they happen to be. This will also come with improved mobile data coverage, so that smartphones can be used to send emails, browse the web and even make VoIP calls, without the need for Wi-Fi connectivity.
The Scottish government is certainly ambitious in its plans, as it hopes that up to 90 per cent of homes and businesses will be able to get online at speeds of between 40-80Mbps within three years, presumably via the roll-out of FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) technology.
Given that the average speed for broadband across the UK is 6.8Mbps, this will require a sea change in the digital infrastructure, which will, hopefully, be facilitated by the Infrastructure Action Plan.
Labour spokesperson, Richard Baker, said that the economic benefits of broadband, enabling small businesses to harness cloud computing for data storage and hosting, should not be the only reason to improve broadband access in Scotland. He also pointed out that the availability of high speed internet was all about having a socially inclusive society, in which no one is left out of the equation.
However, Mr Baker argues that the SNP’s plans for broadband infrastructure development do not actually go far enough to meet the needs of businesses and consumers, who are currently off the grid when it comes to high speed web access. He believes that Labour would be better equipped to invest in the networks and meet the already ambitious targets in the coming years.
Campaigner, Annie McGovern, told BBC News, that most people in Scotland want the country to be one of the frontrunners when it comes to adopting cutting edge technology. In the interconnected digital age, faster web access is the only real way to guarantee that this is a possibility, since most devices and services now rely on the internet for much of their functionality.
The alternative is that broadband speeds stagnate in isolated areas, leaving businesses without the access they need and consumers without a means to stimulate the local economy on a digital level. Meanwhile, cities and towns will become broadband hotspots and the digital divide will only worsen, which means that the essential infrastructure work which is being proposed, must actually move from political pledge to reality.