Let’s invest in broadband to end Scotland’s growing ‘digital divide’

As we survey the havoc wreaked on our economy by the Covid-19 outbreak, the debate has already begun on how best to rebuild it for the future.

Holyrood’s Committee on Climate Change was first to offer its views to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham when she put out the call for advice on a ‘green recovery’ for Scotland.

In a written reply, they highlighted a key requirement – the need to prioritise broadband investment over roads.

Finance Minister Kate Forbes also tapped into this when she asked for an independent review to focus on how the tech sector can help with the economic recovery.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kate Forbes. Action is needed, and needed now – and we can help.

Above all, I believe there is one issue that such a review must focus on. That is the huge societal unfairness existing in Scotland today that Covid-19 has crucially exposed – our ‘digital divide’.

Six weeks ago on March 23, the day of lockdown when our schools were closed, the issues surrounding remote learning for our children and young people have been laid bare.

For a sizeable number, especially those in our most deprived areas, they have been unable to access the lessons prepared for them online by their teachers. The reason? A lack of a decent WiFi network in their home and the lack of hardware on which to carry out their work.

As the chief executive of a leading UK telecoms provider, I find this intolerable.

The foundations of a modern Scottish education system have been built on equity and fairness. So how has it come to pass that pupils are failing to access their education for lack of what should be a basic 21stcentury necessity – a simple broadband connection?

It is of paramount importance that the kids of today without access to the digital networks do not become the forgotten adults of tomorrow.

After the Committee on Climate Change issued its response, its chief executive Chris Stark said: “This is the moment for Scotland to demonstrate its international leadership.”

In my opinion, we can start by accelerating the work towards a 100% full-fibre optical network throughout Scotland that rids us once and for all of this ‘digital divide’.

Bridging the divide is vital not only for Scotland’s economic recovery. It will transform attainment and bring true educational equity. The ripple effects in turn will see the creation of a workforce in Scotland fit for the digital future, plugging our skills gap. It would also help us reach the target of net-zero emissions by 2045.

We at Commsworld stand ready to help the Scottish Government achieve this goal. We manage and control the largest privately-funded Optical Core network in the UK.  We have the capability to provide a reliable, high-speed network that is affordable to all those in desperate need of it, no matter where they are geographically in Scotland.

So let’s all make a stand and work together for fairness, equality, and a better future for Scotland.