Need for Islands Broadband Action Plan

09 April 2009

The need for a plan of action to win investment for new broadband services for the islands took a series of steps forward this week.

The issue has been the subject of a number of high level meetings held over the past ten days by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Peter Peacock.

Following widespread expressions of concern within the Islands about poor broadband services for many, Peter Peacock has had a series of meetings to discuss the issue and to "seek to develop a coalition for action".

Peter Peacock said,

" Over the past ten days I have had meetings with the Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with the head of BT in Scotland and with the Leader, Convener and Chief Executive of the Islands Council.

"Councillor Donald John MacSween also joined the latter meeting as he has been one of those raising the importance of the issue with me.

"These have been very constructive meetings to explore the issues that need to be addressed to try and get the investment strategy of BT to bring the next generation of broadband to the islands earlier than normal and to thus also tackle some of the frustrations and concern people have about current services.

"I am not under any illusions that this will be easy, but I want to ensure the islands do not have to wait to the end of the queue to get the investment they need.

"I seek to advance that investment.

"The islands are facing very profound economic challenges and cannot be expected to compete if they do not have the best communications technology which will be available elsewhere.

"It would be great to see the investment habits of a lifetime change and get investment in the islands early."

As well as having raised the issue in Parliament before Easter, Peter Peacock has secured the support of Labour MEP Catherine Stihler who joined him in meeting the Islands Council about the issue when in Stornoway this week.

Catherine Stihler said,

"There is a clear EU objective to secure equal access to broadband across the EU and to help every area compete on as level a playing field as it is possible to achieve.

"I will be working with Peter Peacock to open any doors in Brussels that may be needed to help advance the cause of the islands."

Peter Peacock also revealed that, having had the initial meetings with some of the key players, there would be ongoing discussions and that he was also planning to meet with OFCOM soon.

He said,

"OFCOM have a crucial role in the way telecoms and broadband services develop.

"They are, with the UK government, advancing arguments for a universal service obligation for the provision of high speed broadband.

"I want to make sure that universal service obligation caters for 100% of the UK and to impress upon OFCOM that they have a need to look after the interests of the islands and help ensure the investment they need.

"As well as meeting OFCOM, I will also be seeking discussions with UK Ministers who have responsibilities in this too.

"There is a lot to be done and at present I am trying to build a coalition of interests to get the action needed.

"The support of the people of the islands will be very important in all of this and that is building too.

"My mailbag is full of letters of concern about current services and of support for getting better and I am happy to hear from anyone who shares the objective of improving broadband services."


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