Digital infrastructure puts Scotland in pole position to recover strongly

Broadband advances have kept people and businesses going during lockdown, says government connectivity director


Scotland’s ability to withstand some of the effects of Covid-19 has been boosted by major advances in digital connectivity over the last decade. If the coronavirus pandemic had struck 10 years ago, the economic and social impacts would have been far greater, ac- cording to Robbie McGhee, deputy director of connectivity at the Scottish Government. Speaking at Digital Scotland,

the annual public sector digital and data conference, McGhee said the increased reach and speeds of broadband connectivity have supported people working from home and allowed businesses to function throughout lockdown, something that arguably would not have happened when connec- tion speeds were so much slower in the recent past. McGhee said: “I guess it’s dif-

ficult to stop in the midst of a crisis of this type and start to draw lessons from it. All of our lives over the past nine months have been turned upside down, in many ways. Tere are stories all around us of personal loss, and it’s not just a massive economic toll that’s hurt us, and organisations that we work for, and it’ll take many years to recover from “But I guess we can look at the situation today and see some hope

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on the horizon with the vaccines hopefully within touching dis- tance, and I guess we can also see some positives in the way people and organisations across the public sector and indeed across the wider economy have pivoted to digital ways of working.” McGhee – who oversees the

Scottish Government broadband public investment programmes as well as helping to bring mobile connectivity to ‘not spots’ – added: “I think it’s true to say that just about every organisation of any sort of scale almost had to become a digital organisation overnight back in March and it’s had to innovate and transform its digital offering ever since. “A lot of that work has been in

systems and platforms but all of the digital tools in the world won’t help you if your people don’t have the digital connectivity to allow

them to access those tools. And the question that pops into my mind is where might we have been if the pandemic had hit 10 years ago. And to be honest I don’t think we would have been in a good place. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to work as ef- fectively from home; I think we’ve found that all of our organisations wouldn’t have been as resilient or have been able to deliver their services remotely to the extent that they have.”

Much of the progress in con- nectivity has been as a result of both private and public sector investment in new network cov- erage, which has led to “dramatic improvements” in recent years, said McGhee. He said that in 2012 there was

very little commercial investment in broadband outside of urban areas, but over the last eight years a combined £400m investment from central and local govern- ment and the European Union has brought huge benefits to the parts of the country which could not access services. Te Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB), for example,

has gone from 66 per cent to over 95 per cent fibre broadband coverage in Scotland. Te island communities went from having virtually no coverage to having 80 per cent of premises connected. McGhee said: “It’s that invest-

ment that has perhaps mitigated what could have been even more extreme economic and social impacts from the pandemic. In total the DSSB programme has connected over 950,000 prem- ises across Scotland; that’s about 110,000 more than was originally planned. It’s truly transformed access to broadband across rural Scotland and driven fibre out to areas that otherwise wouldn’t have had it. So the picture has improved and it will continue to improve.”

The Scottish Government is trying to incentivise greater com- mercial coverage by bringing in 100 per cent rates relief over 10 years to new fibre developments. It is also now seeing the deploy- ment of the Reaching 100 per cent (R100) contracts it has issued to BT Openreach, which will close the gap in the remaining parts of the country currently unable to

“I think it’s true to say that just about every organisation of any sort

of scale almost had to become a digital organisation overnight back in March ” Robbie McGhee, deputy director of connectivity, Scottish Government

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