Scotland business

Call to modernise Scotland's broadband

Fiber-optic cables overlying world map
Image caption Reform Scotland says Scotland needed to have access to the next generation of broadband

Investment of £200m would help Scotland compete with other countries in modernising its broadband network, according to a think-tank study.

Reform Scotland said more effort should be put into ensuring all Scots have access to faster connection speeds.

Public subsidy would be necessary to upgrade links in the most rural parts of Scotland, it said.

The report claimed the UK and Scotland were at risk of being left behind by ambitious plans in other countries.

It compared the cost favourably with the investment required to replace the Forth Road Bridge or to build a tram line in Edinburgh, arguing broadband infrastructure should get a high priority as well.

It described the technology as important as canals or railways were at the start of the first Industrial Revolution.

The think tank said there should be a Scottish government minister whose role it was to ensure Scotland had a co-ordinated plan for improving broadband, both in its speed and in its reach across Scotland.

It said: "There is no co-ordinated digital strategy or plan to ensure that large parts of Scotland do not suffer from no or very limited access to the next generation of high-speed broadband.

"If Scotland is to compete with other countries and with other regions of the UK, then in an increasingly digital world, we must move quickly to develop a plan to build a fibre network across large areas of Scotland with enhanced copper, wireless and, exceptionally, satellite at the edges of the networks.

"This will necessitate some public subsidy and choices to be made over how our public and private capital is deployed."

The report highlighted the target across the UK of ensuring there is universal coverage at 2 megabits per second, though the new government has pushed that back from 2012 to 2015.

It said about a fifth of Scotland's homes and businesses lie too far from the nearest telecom exchange to be able to hit this target within five years.

It highlighted the next target was to lift that to 50 megabits across 90% of the UK by 2017, but pointed out that Scotland was likely to include most of the excluded 10%.

Computer technology

In a separate development, an industry advisory group on information and communications technologies has recommended a strategy intended to accelerate the sector's growth. It has been claimed that it already accounts for 48,000 jobs, and a further 60,000 IT professionals across other sectors.

In a highly competitive industry globally worth US $3.8 trillion in 2008, it said a well co-ordinated approach between private industry, educational institutions and the public sector was vital.

The intention is to focus on increasing the rate of internationalisation of companies, creating more companies making products, improving access to capital, driving more innovation and attracting and retaining key skills.

The industry advisory group has been working with government economic agency Scottish Enterprise. Software entrepreneur, Gerry Docherty, chair of the group, said: "The industry in Scotland is already an impressive and important one.

"But our new strategy will look at how we can make even more of the opportunities to transform the industry in Scotland.

"Our vision is that Scotland will have a reputation as one of the most active and fast growing locations for ambitious high-growth information and computer technology companies globally."

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