Borders ‘on wrong side of digital divide’

WHEN it comes to superfast broadband internet services, there is a clear divide in the UK that is holding back the economic development of certain areas including the Borders.

That was the stark message from last week’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and it came with a warning that action had to be taken now to prevent businesses in the region slipping behind their competitiors.

Councillors unanimously approved the continuation of the South of Scotland Next Generation Broadband Project. The approval – Dumfries and Galloway Council members also backed the scheme’s continuation – allows the project team to finalise the South of Scotland local broadband plan for submission to the Scottish Government.

Major telecommunications companies are rolling out next generation broadband services, often referred to as superfast broadband, around the UK, with almost 60 per cent of the UK population having access to services today and 66 per cent expected to have access by 2015.

In the South of Scotland, that less than 25 per cent of the population is likely to be covered by this rollout, creating a so-called “digital divide”.

Scotland’s share of the £530million set aside for broadband delivery in the UK has been confirmed as £68.8million. By the time the total costs for the three-year project in the South of Scotland are broken down, the area’s two local authorities will have to come up with about £20million between them as their share.

Alasdair Hutton, joint chairman of the South of Scotland Alliance and convener of SBC, said: “Next generation broadband services will be delivered to only a very small percentage of the population in the South of Scotland without this project, which makes it the single most important infrastructure investment across our region.”

The South of Scotland Next Generation Broadband Project was set up by the South of Scotland Alliance (SoSA). SoSA is a partnership of Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Borders Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council.