MPs and MSPs call for action on network infrastructure following publication of study which finds that a significant proportion of constituencies in Scotland are rural, economically deprived and connectivity ‘not-spots’
Scottish parliamentarians have called on the UK government to ensure a speedy rollout of 5G technology after a study showed almost one-third of constituencies north of the border are both rural and amongst the most deprived areas nationwide.
The study carried out by WPI Economics and titled ‘Connecting the Countryside’ also found that Na h-eileanan An lar, Orkney and Shetland had no 5G connectivity at all. Overall, on a UK level, the Vodafone-commissioned research found almost half of all UK constituencies that are both rural and among the top nationally deprived areas were 5G “not-spots”.
Among the potential benefits of the technology cited by the survey were better access to remote GP consultations, and online learning as well as the provision of infrastructure to support local businesses like farmers who could be able to monitor their crops remotely through sensors in the soil.
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Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “Connectivity matters to everyone in this country but in the Highlands and Islands it is close to existential. We need to ensure that these areas have the same access to digital connections – including 5G infrastructure – that other parts of the country benefit from.”
Along with the research, Vodafone UK and Three have proposed joint efforts to bridge the divide by “delivering 95% 5G standalone geographic coverage by 2034,” according to Vodafone UK’s chief network officer Andrea Dona.
As telecoms is a reserved matter to Westminster, the Scottish Government has limited powers, meaning it is “crucial” for the UK government to consider the research before the gap widens “even further”, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan said.
However, Allan added the priority should be to deliver “full and reliable 4G connectivity”.
SNP MP Ian Blackford added that “progress in reducing deprivation levels in rural areas” will only happen if infrastructure is futureproofed.
Other parliamentarians supporting the partnership are independent MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, Labour shadow rural affairs secretary Rhoda Grant and Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone.