A Call for Help From Scottish Government to Prioritise Rural Broadband Connections

 The Finderne Community Council (FCC) and Finderne Development Trust (FDT), representing the area south of Forres, are asking for urgent intervention by the Scottish Government to prioritise work on improvements to the broadband network in rural Moray. The cry for help follows Openreach’s announcement of enhancements to Forres’s broadband capacity. 

The improvement to broadband connectivity is one of the key priority projects for the local development trust and they have been exploring various options since June 2019. Their attention became focussed on a potential Community Fibre Partnership when the Scottish and UK Governments announced voucher schemes to assist with internet access upgrades. 

Brian Higgs, the FDT Chairperson explains 

“We were steered towards developing a Community Fibre Partnership as the only way to quickly provide a future proofed option for the local community. These partnerships are delivered by Openreach and over the last 2 months we have requested information and support from them to no avail. Openreach have refused to provide detailed cost information required to evaluate the options. 

With Openreach’s announcements about Gigabit services in Forres it is patently obvious that the commercial drivers far outweigh their protestations about supporting rural communities. They are a business, and perhaps we should not have expected anything else. The fact, however, that our local MSP is publicly supporting Openreach’s prioritisation is saddening.” 

The typical connection speeds across Finderne are 2Mbps, with existing speeds in Forres being around 60Mbps. The upgrade to Gigabit speeds, proposed by Openreach, would mean that town centre internet connections were 500x faster than those of the rural areas. 

Howard Davenport, the FCC Secretary, said 

“Openreach, with Scottish Government blessing, is prioritising Ultrafast, Gigabit capacity broadband, for residents of Forres over desperately needed upgrades of the dreadful internet connectivity in out-of-town areas. 

Rural communities such as Burgie, Rafford and Dunphail, which can hardly be described as “remote and hard to reach” are being put at the back of the queue in favour of town centre upgrades”. Issues with broadband access is a topic raised frequently by Finderne residents 

“We have been advised that we will not even be told if we will be part of the Government’s R100 programme (which would deliver at least 30Mbps) until late summer 2021 and even then, if we are lucky enough to be in the plan, it could be 2024 before we see any work done. 

There are clearly limited resources available to deploy on improving the situation and it is totally wrong that people with existing 50+Mbps services are being prioritised over people with less than 2Mbps. 

There is an Interim Voucher Scheme, designed to provide short term, “stop gap”, improvements but this currently will not be available until late 2021. We, and the FDT, have asked the Scottish Government, via Richard Lochhead MSP, to change the rules on this interim voucher and help rural communities immediately. 

The need for decent broadband connectivity has been exacerbated by COVID and the requirement for more people to work from home. Now is the time for the Scottish Government to step up and show that it understands, and supports, the needs of rural communities” 

Leave a Reply