Excellent 4G mobile phone signal and superfast broadband are essential services and yet many people in rural communities do not receive even basic mobile signal or broadband. It is one of the most limiting factors affecting businesses, communities and individuals in rural areas and is a likely cause of the out-migration of working age people and businesses.
Broadband and mobile phone signal provision are essential services which should be available to all.
Access to superfast broadband and 4G mobile phone signal would make it easier for rural businesses to compete more effectively on a national and international scale, providing jobs and ensuring the sustainability of rural communities. As technology develops it can provide people in rural communities with essential and desirable services, improving quality of life. The importance of being able to connect with friends, family and information can not be overestimated.
Lack of good broadband means businesses will not move into the area, and the slow speeds reduce the potential output in one day which is magnified over the course of a year. Need more businesses to produce employment, to have more people to use the local facilities to make the high street thrive.
There are projects underway to improve both broadband and mobile phone signal. Broadband is dealt with by the Scottish Government and mobile phone signal is dealt with by the UK Government.
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Programme aims to provide fibre broadband infrastructure to areas where commercial infrastructure providers have chosen not to develop. Combined with current commercial roll-out plans, 95% of premises in Scotland should have access to fibre broadband by the end of 2017 and 85% by the end of 2015.
Community Broadband Scotland has been set-up to focus on providing broadband solutions in the areas that are least likely to benefit from the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollouts.
People in rural communities are concerned by the pace of the roll-out of broadband, that some households and businesses may not get any improvement and that until BT confirm where they will not be operating communities can not access alternative solutions.
Find out more: Broadband improvement organisations
Be inspired: Rural Innovator Award winner 2014
The Mobile Infrastructure Project has been allocated £150million by the UK Government to deliver mobile phone signal to rural areas where there is currently no signal. The project is responsible for “a full-scale roll-out including mobile network planning and design, sourcing and acquiring sites, building the infrastructure (including masts), installing the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) equipment and operating the sites – after the equipment has been commissioned by the MNOs.” (http://www.arqiva.com/views/our-views/mip-better-connecting-rural-britain/)
However people in rural communities are concerned about the slow pace of progress – the project is currently two years behind schedule – and that their are no plans to provide 100% coverage or to improve 4G coverage.
The Scottish Rural Parliament Action Plan 2015-16
Objective 1: Mobile phone signal in rural areas is significantly improved over the next 5 years.
We are seeking: The Mobile Infrastructure Project is reviewed and the effectiveness of this project for rural Scotland is maximised.
Gather and collate information and concerns about mobile coverage in rural areas by September 2015.
Raise concerns about the Mobile Infrastructure Project with the UK Government by October 2015.
Objective 2: Broadband of sufficient speeds reaches all rural communities as quickly as possible.
We are seeking: Greater transparency from BT over the delivery rates of broadband to rural areas and in particular clarity over the areas broadband does not reach. A Universal Service Obligation for broadband which specifies a minimum speed.
Seek immediate clarification of the status of different areas of Scotland, to enable communities to work with Community Broadband Scotland to identify a solution for their local area where this is necessary by July 2015.
Contribute to the Ofcom review of telecommunications and encourage other rural organisations and communities to respond to the public consultation by Oct 2016.