Universal Service Obligation for Broadband Welcome.. but rural communities still face same old catch up

ipad-820272_1920Drew Hendry MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey has called on the UK Government to put rural communities at the front of the queue for digital development and put an end to the digital divide once and for all.  Drew has been at the forefront of calls for a Universal Service Obligation to benefit the Highlands both as a Highland councillor and, now, as MP.

His latest calls follow the Prime Minister’s announcement at the weekend that the UK Government would finally be introducing a Universal Service Obligation for broadband services – although not until 2020. The much awaited proposals will give residents the right to request at least a 10mbps broadband connection, no matter where they live – putting broadband on the same ‘essentials’ list as water and electricity.

Commenting on the announcement, Drew Hendry MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey said:

“It is about time that the UK Government finally listened to our calls for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband and I also welcome the acknowledgement that broadband should be seen as an ‘essential’ provision. However a USO only really works if it delivers for the rural communities currently suffering from the digital divide.

“Despite the Prime Minister saying ‘Access to the internet shouldn’t be a luxury’ this announcement still means that many people in our constituency will have to wait up to five years for 10mpbs. It is very likely that in five years’ time 10mpbs will be as useful as 0.5mpbs is to the constituents who contact me now. I have challenged the UK Government to think ahead and ensure that the latest developments in mobile broadband, such as the developing 5G mobile signal spectrum, anticipated in 2020 are subject to a USO to ensure that rural areas get the chance to participate and compete. The anticipated speeds for 5g will leave Mr Cameron’s proposals in the dust.

“Indeed Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme already aims to deliver speeds over 24Mbps to 95% of the UK population by 2017 and Broadband Europe have commitment to deliver 30 Mbps connectivity to every European and half of the households a subscription at 100 Mbps by 2020. The ambition of 10mbps for the 5% by 2020 will still leave rural communities at the back of the digital development queue.

“The same mistake of thinking that the technology we are deploying today will be sufficient in the coming decades, or even in a couple of years’ time must not be made again. We should be looking at a robust universal service obligation that meets the needs of families and businesses in the future. Rural communities should, instead, be prioritised to ensure that there is no longer an inequity of service blighting businesses and communities.

“There are many opportunities in digital learning, tele-health, business and leisure in rural communities that can only be taken up with what is important infrastructure. There are some fantastic example of ambitious Community Broadband Scotland projects doing just this. Such as the one in Badenoch, where Badenoch Broadband is looking to deliver more than 30 megabits per second. That is the lowest level of ambition that should be expected from the UK Government and I will continue to challenge the Minister of Culture, Media and Sport to deliver more for our constituency.