Scots demand government cash for broadband rollout

The Scottish Nationalist Party is unamused that the South Pole might soon get a broadband connection, while many parts of Scotland must make do without one

Two Scottish politicians claimed on Monday that the Highlands will remain a broadband desert unless taxpayer's money is spent to subsidise the rollout of affordable high-speed Internet services in Scotland.

At a press conference, Kenny MacAskill -- shadow transport minister and a member of the Scottish Parliament -- urged the Scottish Executive to invest in broadband rollout in the same way as countries such as Norway and Sweden have.

The governments of both these Nordic neighbours, along with those of other countries such as the US and France, have committed to subsidise the rollout of broadband infrastructure in areas where telecoms firms claim there is not enough commercial demand for them to offer services alone. According to MacAskill, Scotland needs the same approach.

"For too long the Highlands have been damaged by poor transport infrastructure. We must not replicate the wrongs and errors of the 20th century regarding transport. We must ensure that this does not re-occur with broadband in the 21st century," said MacAskill

MacAskill insisted that a demand-led approach to broadband, as pursued by the UK government, isn't enough.

"There needs to be government investment and we need ministerial action, not words. There must be a coherent, thought-out strategy," MacAskill added.

David Thompson, a Scottish Nationalist Party candidate for the Scottish Parliament, backed up MacAskill's words by warning that the lack of affordable broadband in many parts of Scotland was damaging local businesses.

"The Executive must show more support for Highland communities and businesses. They must put their money where their mouth is and give Highlands and Islands Enterprise the backing and resources needed to roll out broadband," said Thompson.

BT has upgraded its telephone exchanges in some of Scotland's major cities to offer broadband, and both Telewest and ntl operate cable networks north of the border. In the less densely populated areas of Scotland, though, neither ADSL nor cable broadband is available. BT has been offering satellite broadband products for several months, but the costs are much higher than for ADSL or cable broadband.

MacAskill is also unhappy to learn that plans are afoot to run a broadband connection to Antarctica. "If the South Pole can have broadband, why can't Sutherland?" he demanded.

This idea is at an early stage, though. It is understood that the foundation that runs the science base at the South Pole is considering installing a fibre-optic cable across the continent. Given the glaciers, huge mountains, crevasses and severe weather conditions, such a project is rather more technically challenging than making broadband available to homes and businesses in outlying parts of Scotland.

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