The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, Richard Lochhead, has told Scotland’s Rural Affairs Committee that there is “now evidence of people leaving rural communities to live in urban areas” due to a lack of good broadband connectivity.
At present Scotland looks set to benefit from an investment of £264 million (£106.7m of which will come from BT), which aims to make BT’s “high-speed fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network available to 85% of Scottish homes and businesses by the end of 2015 and around 95% by the end of 2017.
Unfortunately some areas, such as the remote Highlands and Islands region, only expect similar coverage to reach at least 84% by 2016.
Richard Lochhead said (Scotsman):
“The Scottish Government is very keen to step in with Scottish resources to try and ensure that we do all we can to connect our more remote and rural communities to the 21st century. There is now evidence of people leaving rural communities to live in urban areas, so there is rural depopulation due to a lack of connectivity.
While you have traditional conversations about people leaving rural communities due to lack of access to higher education, affordable housing or employment, now there is an added factor where there is not good connectivity that can also lead to rural depopulation.
Some research I have seen in the last year or so has started to show some evidence of that, and that should concern us all.”
Lochhead doesn’t highlight what “evidence” he is remarking upon but it’s not inconceivable that poor broadband could be playing a contributing factor in the general movement of people from rural to urban areas. But equally it’s very difficult to gauge how much of an impact the government’s current strategy might have in being able to mitigate this movement.
The comments are perhaps more about the general desire for additional funding in order to improve the current targets and fill in any remaining notspots. Unsurprisingly the UK government has recently confirmed an additional pot of £250m to help meet a similar target of 95% UK superfast broadband coverage by 2017. Some of that is sure to find its way up to Scotland.