I was invited to an event at the Royal Society of Edinburgh last Thursday organised by The Foundation for Science and Technology. The theme of the event was “Digital Scotland – can Scotland grasp the opportunities created by the digital revolution?’
The event coincided with the publication of ‘Digital Scotland’ by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The report makes interesting reading and suggests that Scotland requires 2,500km of fibre optic cable to remain economically competitive and become more socially inclusive. The cost is estimated as £100m installation with running costs of £10m a year over a 15 year period – total cost £250m. The assumption is also made that revenues of around £25m a year would be generated directly from users of this infrastructure. This seems to me to a relatively low level investment when compared, for example, to the cost of new Forth road bridge or the Edinburgh trams, with close to universal benefit for the country as a whole.
The report makes five recommendations to be taken forward by the Scottish Government, local authorities, OFCOM, industry and other interested parties:
- A Digital Scotland strategy should plan to make a minimum speed of 16Mb/s accessible to all by 2015, rising to 128 Mb/s in 2020. It should set a target for median speeds above 64 Mb/s by 2015 and 512 Mb/s by 2020. [Ambitious but given that the technological capability has doubled every 20 months since 1976 and not unreasonable in the light of rising expectations and emerging applications. Let’s see what our inventive technologist come up with to connect up those last few kilometres.]
- The Scottish Government should endorse a Digital Scotland Strategy as part of its strategy for national infrastructure. [An inescapable requirement that should have cross-party support.]
- A Digital Scotland Trust should be created as a Non-Profit Distributing Organisation. [Makes sense not to have this run by government.]
- To enhance creative competition the Scottish Government should work with Ofcom (the telecoms regulator) and the UK government [Sensible to look at the wider context of the UK whilst focusing on moving things forward in Scotland.]
- To enable digital inclusion, local and national Government should promote community hubs, teleworking, e-learning etc. [Again crucial role for the local and national state to create the optimal conditions for success]
All very sensible and let’s hope we can gather some momentum around these recommendations. To do otherwise will leave Scotland playing catch-up not only with the rest of the UK but increasingly with the rest of the world.
The report is to my mind a great start but we also need to delve deeper into the benefits of increased connectivity, think more about those who choose not to get connected (who will as a result be socially and economically disadvantaged ), look beyond Scotland to countries that are looking toward mobile devices as the future of broadband (India for example) and much more.
I am confident that once we get every community connected the ingenuity and creativity of the Scottish people will find some great life-enhancing uses for what is increasingly a utility service that should already be accessible to all at the point of need.