public cash should be pumped into boosting internet speeds in remote locations such as the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys – by forcing commercial companies to foot the bill for broadband improvements in towns.
That is the view of Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne, following the decision by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) to invest £8.4million into Next Generation Broadband (NGB) for the region.
Commercial firms have only placed or planned NGB coverage – providing download speeds of 24 megabites per second (mbps) or more – in 38 per cent of the Borders.
And while SBC’s cash pledge will top up a commitment by the Scottish Government to increase NGB to 75 per cent of the area, it is unlikely to help the remotest of communities.
Mrs Ballantyne, who lives in Ettrick, told The Wee Paper: “We have to make sure public money is not spent on improving services which commercial companies then benefit from.
“What we should be saying to private companies is that they improve the network in cities and towns which would allow public cash to be invested in broadband in remote rural places.
“There is plenty of business in places such as Galashiels and Selkirk for these companies to invest in broadband and still make money.
“There should be some obligations placed on the private companies – we should not be subsidising firms that are profitable.”
The Scottish Government’s finance and sustainable growth secretary agrees, according to SBC’s executive member for economic development, Stuart Bell, who met John Swinney at a South of Scotland Alliance conference on broadband provision on Monday.
Councillor Bell said: “Mr Swinney said it was up to the Scottish Government and local authorities to provide broadband infrastructure in the remote rural communities, while the commercial operators should be improving services in urban towns and cities.
“He had concerns that public money was being spent in areas where commercial operators should be involved.”
The Tweeddale East member also acknowledged that far-flung settlements will not be reached by the NGB project, with details of the programme due to be announced in June next year.
He added: “The projects currently under way will still leave the most remote communities, for example the hamlets in upper Tweedsmuir, up the Ettrick, Yarrow or Teviot valleys, without this new superfast service.
“Whilst the commitment is that everyone will get 2mbps, which for some remote settlements is an improvement, the 24mbps capacity will not extend to the most remote communities.
“The Scottish Government has committed £5million seed funding to help find approaches to meet the digital needs of these remote communities.
“But that £5million is across all of Scotland and I am sure it is not enough.
“The possible solution is for communities to work on a co-operative basis to develop their own custom solutions. SBC has already supported two projects with financial backing from Leader funding in Whitsome in Berwickshire and in the Ettrick Valley.”