Fergus Ewing calls for 'Scotland's share' of UK broadband funding

16 April 2018, 06:38

Broadband router

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing has written to the UK Culture Secretary calling for Scotland to be given its share of UK broadband funding.

The Scottish Government said that Scotland will receive no benefits from the UK Government's Universal Service Obligation (USO) to deliver 10 Mbps broadband to 100% of premises, with all Scottish premises deemed ineligible.

Mr Ewing said it would be "grossly unfair" if people in Scotland were excluded from the USO despite contributing funding.

He has written to the UK Government to demand clarity over what Scotland stands to receive from the obligation.

Mr Ewing has asked Matt Hancock, UK Government's Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, for confirmation that the USO would tie in with Scotland's own 'Reaching 100%' broadband programme, and allow the Scottish Government to access some benefits.

Speaking ahead of his appearance at the Scottish Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Mr Ewing said: "This USO will be funded by industry, who are in turn likely to pass on the costs to consumers across the UK. If excluded from the USO, people in Scotland would get nothing back despite contributing funding.

"This is grossly unfair as this funding could be used to deliver additional benefits for Scotland.

"This is indicative of the UK Government's approach to broadband rollout thus far which has been to ignore the needs of Scotland, particularly our rural areas, and instead rely on an entirely industry-led model which would leave large parts of rural Scotland completely disconnected.

"Whilst we are currently procuring our own £600 million 'Reaching 100%' programme to connect all Scottish premises, the collaboration we seek would allow us to unlock significant savings, to which Scottish consumers have a right.

"I have therefore asked the Secretary of State for Digital for clarity about whether the UK Government intends to collaborate, and avoid cutting Scottish consumers out completely."

A UK Government spokeswoman said: "The Universal Service Obligation will benefit citizens across the UK and help ensure people in remote places are connected.

"Everyone will have a legal right to an affordable, high speed connection no matter where they live or work."

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that although the USO minimum speed will initially be set at at least 10Mbps, this will be kept under review and the department expects it to be increased over time.