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FSB to demand action

Scotland’s mobile coverage ‘unacceptable’

Andy Willox

Andy Willox: ‘missed opportunities’ (photo by Terry Murden)

The UK Government is being told it must take action to fix Scotland’s ‘unacceptable’ mobile phone coverage.

During an evidence session with the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) will highlight official figures showing that just 17% of Scotland’s geography has 4G mobile coverage, compared to 60% of England’s landmass.

In written evidence to the committee, the small business campaign group argues that Scotland-specific coverage obligations should be attached to future mobile spectrum sales.

Andy Willox, FSB’s Scottish policy convener, said: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a corporate high flyer, a local tradesperson or an international tourist, Scotland’s spotty mobile connectivity results in missed opportunities and wasted time.

“While some allowances could be made for differences in geography and population density, these figures show that the gap between Scotland and England is unacceptably wide – as it has been for some time.

“Ofcom have suggested that nation specific coverage obligations might be a means to address this embarrassing problem. The Scottish Affairs Committee must push the UK Government to take up this proposal.”

The Scottish Affairs Committee is currently investigating digital connectivity in Scotland.

In its submission, FSB highlights that while superfast broadband availability in Scotland has improved, it still lags behind England.

The small business membership body expresses support for the Scottish Government commitment to deliver universal superfast broadband in Scotland but warns that it is not well-understood that a voucher-scheme will be used for elements of the roll-out.

Mr Willox added: “The ambition to deliver universal superfast broadband in Scotland is absolutely right. But expectations are high and rising, and the Scottish Government must not disappoint communities and local businesses.

“They must clearly communicate with every currently underserved premises when they should expect superfast availability and what technology will be deployed to deliver this connectivity.”

FSB also argues that the Scottish Government, the UK Government and local government must work more closely together to develop digital infrastructure that works for Scotland – underlining that the adversarial approach adopted by opposing MSPs and MPs has not been helpful.

Mr Willox said: “Improving Scotland’s historically patchy digital infrastructure is a top priority for Scotland’s business community. Therefore, politicians from across the political spectrum must work constructively to develop realistic plans which deliver for local economies and communities.”

Open Reach milestone

Edinburgh will be one of the first cities to benefit from proposals announced by Openreach for a major acceleration of its ultrafast fibre broadband network.

Openreach, Britain’s national broadband infrastructure provider, has announced proposals to extend by 50% its target for rolling out Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) to reach 3 million premises across the UK by the end of 2020 through a new ‘Fibre First’ programme

Eight cities – Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester – make up the first phase of Openreach’s Fibre First programme which will connect up to 40 UK towns, cities and boroughs with FTTP networks, with build starting in 2018.

Openreach says tens of thousands of Edinburgh homes and businesses will benefit from this latest multi million pound expansion. Further details of the roll-out in the city are expected to be announced later in the year.

According to independent website thinkbroadband, more than 98.5% of Edinburgh households and businesses already have access to superfast broadband speeds of 24Mbps and above.

Openreach will continue to focus on delivering FTTP to rural areas, in partnership with the Government, to make sure some of the hardest to reach communities in the UK, get access to future-proofed, FTTP networks.

Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, said: “Through the Fibre First programme, Openreach is getting on with the job of building an Ultrafast Britain. We are accelerating our plans to build FTTP to three million premises by 2020 which sets the course to reach ten million by the mid-2020s with the right conditions. Where possible going forward, we will ‘fibre first’.”

Welcoming the announcement, Councillor Gavin Barrie, Convener of the Housing and Economy Committee at The City of Edinburgh Council, said: “I’m delighted that Edinburgh has been selected as one of the first UK cities to benefit from Openreach’s ‘Fibre First’ programme.”

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