MSP welcomes OfCom’s challenge to BT over rural broadband

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by a Newsnet reporter

SNP MSP Rob Gibson has long campaigned to champion the improvement of broadband services in rural areas.  The MSP yesterday welcomed the decision by the telecoms regulator OfCom to instruct British Telecom to change the charging structure for broadband services, however Mr Gibson warned that more was needed.

OfCom’s decision obliges BT to reduce the amount it charges Internet Service Providers for access to the network.  The regulator has ruled that BT must reduce its charges to ISPs by 12% below the rate of inflation.  The ruling will remain in effect until late in 2014.  Currently there are few providers in rural districts, OfCom believes its decision will boost competition.

Last month the Scottish Parliament backed SNP proposals to improve the availability of high speed broadband services in rural areas, a topic which is of vital concern to businesses and other organisations and individuals throughout the Highlands and other areas of the country. The SNP Government has proposed further support and investment in rural broadband, including the Next General Digital Fund, which promises to ensure that all of Scotland is able to access fast broadband services.

In the motion put before Holyrood, the SNP recognised that private sector provision alone would be insufficient to ensure that equal access to broadband was enjoyed by all of Scotland.  Public intervention is necessary to ensure that less favoured regions do not lose out in the digital age.

Mr Gibson, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross also convenes the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs committee.  Speaking about Ofcom’s decision Mr Gibson said:

“This is a welcome move. Anything to drive down the cost of broadband has to be welcomed. However I represent many people in remote and rural locations whose internet is perishingly slow with BT the only provider.  BT has significant responsibilities and the lack of inclination to provide better broadband has hit businesses and stunted growth.

“This is an issue of real importance to Scotland’s rural economy and the SNP Government’s commitment to see improved broadband and digital services across Scotland will help grow the economy.

“The key test for BT will be if people in similar areas across Scotland see a marked improvement in their broadband speeds.”