During the last four weeks of lockdown and with at least another three weeks in sight there is probably one service, after the NHS, that we all have all come to rely on: Broadband.
Living and working from home has taken a while to get used to and for those that work in an office I suspect that after lockdown it will be very difficult habit to break. I hesitate to say ‘when we get back to normality’ because I think much of what used to be will never be the same again.
Our reliance, especially during our confinement, on communication has however shown our shortcomings in the Highlands. Good reliable super fast broadband is not just important, it is critical. Critical for business and critical to all members of our households; grandparent to keep in touch with their families, parents to keep working and for children to continue their education. Not to mention those who have relied on it to keep in touch with their loved ones in hospitals.
But there is another and perhaps more critical benefit, which we haven’t yet fully utilised. With our NHS rightly focused on dealing with the pandemic and with all of us strictly following the social distancing requirements, broadband can give us access to medical care. On line consultations and the ability for multidisciplinary teams to consult with patients is something that NHS Highland have been working on with their ‘Near Me’ project. A project that deserves all of our support.
The problem is that as things currently stand it is not deliverable throughout the Highlands. Why? Well simply because we don’t have the broadbandcoverage to support it and nor are we likely to get this in the short term. The Government’s R100 project was to deliver the superfast coverage across Scotland by 2021. In the Highlands it is sadly not only way behind schedule, but the contract is also mired in a legal dispute. With a network build time of at least four years it would have needed a contract to be signed in 2017, and not put out to tender in 2019, if the 2021 delivery time was to be achieved. The lack of an agreed contract and the legal dispute make it unlikely that R100 will to delivered in the Highlands before 2026 and more likely 2027.
Now more than ever as we tackle this pandemic, we need the Government to keep their eyes on the future. Whilst we know, as the Queen told us, that when it comes to this pandemic ‘we may have more still to endure, better days will return’. Politicians need to remember that to be totally reactive and not proactive, focusing on the present without looking to the future, is shortsighted and will result stagnation. We do need action and when it comes to superfast broadband blaming the delay on circumstances beyond the Government’s control is not an excuse that we can or should accept. Let us get connected because we desperately need to be if we are to move