A rural community in northern Scotland has challenged the Scottish government’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to work a day in their makeshift rural office
Delays in rural broadband roll out, as well as to the availability of interim support schemes, are gaining the ire of Scotland’s rural Highland communities, with the local Finderne Development Trust now challenging the government’s connectivity minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to spend a day in their shoes.
The Trust has set up a ‘remote office’ out in a field in rural Finderne, asking Wheelhouse to experience for himself the limitations of current rural broadband.
“Working from a desk in a field in the heart of our rural community will soon let Mr Wheelhouse get a taste of the everyday reality for those trying to run a business or home school kids in this part of the world,” said Pery Zakeri the Development Manager of the Finderne Development Trust.
“What we want to show him is that you can have everything you need for a workplace or home office – but in 2021 it’s pretty much worthless without a functioning broadband connection.”
Zakeri highlighted that the lack of connectivity is contributing to a regional brain drain, with people forced to move away when the poor internet access became untenable.
“We’ve even seen people forced to leave the area because they can’t continue with university studies while living in their family homes because the connectivity is so bad,” she explained. “There are days when you’d be more successful getting a usable connection by trying to plug your phone or computer into a turnip, or maybe a passing cow. It’s the same story for remote and rural communities across the north of Scotland.”
The Scottish government currently has a wide-reaching scheme for improving connectivity throughout the country called ‘R100 – Reaching 100%’, which aims to deliver speeds of 30 Mbps to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021. However, numerous delays mean that Finderne residents have been told it could in fact take them 4−5 years to receive the necessary connectivity.
As a result of these delays, areas affected should be eligible for vouchers worth up to £400 to help support their connectivity needs until the R100 rollout is complete. However, these supplementary will only become available once the R100 scheme begins in earnest later this year, leaving many people without support for crucial months during the ongoing pandemic.
According to the Finderne Development Trust, their attempts to communicate with Wheelhouse to resolve this issue have proven unfruitful.
Discussions around the digital divide have become increasing urgent throughout the pandemic, but despite plans to increase broadband coverage, both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole, delays represent a tangible and severe detriment to rural communities.
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