By Jack Walsh
OPERATORS and trade groups have renewed calls for better internet connectivity after new figures revealed Scotland has several of the worst areas in the UK for broadband.
A new report from the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), a cross-party group of MPs, stated that the constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber has the poorest broadband in the UK – with nearly two thirds (65.6%) of broadband connections failing to reach the government’s proposed minimum standard of 10mbps.
Various other Scottish constituencies were also said to suffer from slow broadband connections, including: Na h-Eileanan an Iar (63.7% of connections under 10mbps), Orkney and Shetland (61.7%), Argyll and Bute (61.7%), Caithness (52.2%), Midlothian (47.5%), Dumfriesshire (47%), and Kilmarnock and Loudoun (44%).
Commenting on the figures, Marc Crothall of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) said poor connectivity “hits the tourism industry on many levels”, adding that a lack of digital infrastructure and decent download speeds “is without a doubt the number one frustration and concern for the majority of our members”.
“Fast connectivity is no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s a business essential for every tourism business in Scotland, and a basic expectation of visitors travelling to a world-class tourist destination,” he said.
Citing figures from a recent VisitScotland survey, which found that 57% of travel reservations are made online and 68% of visitors use their phone to source information during their trip, Crothall added that many tourism businesses in Scotland “are not able to operate in an efficient, profitable manner as a result of poor connectivity”.
Shirley Spear, co-owner of The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye and co-chair of tourism organisation SkyeConnect, said rural businesses in Scotland are “seriously disadvantaged” due to poor broadband.
Faced with average speeds of 2mbps, Spear told SLTN that The Three Chimneys has had to install satellite wi-fi as “it’s the only way we could possibly maintain things like an online booking system for the restaurant and rooms”.
And during peak season, more tourists attempting to get online puts further strain on local broadband connections, said Spear, adding that poor connections could put people off returning.
The situation is similar elsewhere in the Highlands.
Gareth Begg, assistant manager at Halkirk-based Ulbster Arms Hotel, which falls within the Caithness constituency, said his broadband speed “is not great”.
“We’ve had a few issues lately with not even the speed but the connection – just getting connected to the broadband… and that’s obviously upset our guests a little bit,” he said.
Saying that broadband connectivity in the area “needs improvement”, Begg reckons quality of broadband should not be affected by location.
He said: “I don’t see because of where we are geographically that it should be an issue compared to if you’re in Glasgow, Aberdeen or London.
“If it can be improved, any improvements are a step forward.”
Elsewhere, Paul Doull of The Foveran in Kirkwall reckons more needs to be done to improve the basic standard of broadband available.
“Even doing emails in the morning it’ll just churn and churn and you’re thinking ‘this is like dial-up used to be ten years ago’,” he said.
“I think in this day and age, we should expect a much better service.”
The Scottish Government said it is continuing work on its £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout – a joint initiative between the government, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and BT, which aims to provide 100% fibre broadband coverage across Scotland by 2021.
But in the years leading up to 100% roll-out being achieved, the BIG has called for automatic compensation for customers with poor and unreliable broadband connectivity.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it is “committed to delivering 100% superfast broadband access across Scotland by 2021”.