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Closing the Digital Divide

14 July 2014

Deputy First Minister announces £2.5 million support for broadband in rural areas.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today announce an additional £2.5 million funding to support digital connectivity across Scotland’s hard-to-reach communities.

Ms Sturgeon will announce the funding on a visit to a digital skills class for adult learners, hosted by Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau. The class, run by Ormlie Community Association, aims to widen digital participation and equip local people with the skills they need to access training, benefits and public services.

The announcement brings the total investment in the Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) programme to £7.5 million. CBS is engaging with 75 active community groups in Scotland including neighbouring groups in Melness and in Kinbrace.

The Scottish Government and its partners are already investing £410 million in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme which will ensure that 85 per cent of premises can access fibre broadband by the end of 2015, including Wick and Thurso. Upgrade works are underway in the local exchange buildings.

Today’s funding boost is targeted at the areas least likely to benefit from the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollouts as part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to close the digital divide and will extend the CBS programme to at least March 2018.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“We are making this investment in remote and rural communities across Scotland to enable them to establish their own community broadband networks. Improving digital connectivity doesn’t just boost economic opportunities, it transforms the way people live, work and learn, particularly in remote and rural Scotland.

“The Community Broadband Scotland programme is an important part of our work in empowering local communities, through this programme they can control their own digital destiny alongside the major infrastructure investment through our Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

“However, funding is only one lever. In an independent Scotland the Scottish Government would have the flexibility in areas such as regulation that, alongside public investment, could extend digital services to all parts of the country.”

Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise , said:

“The announcement of the extension and additional funding for Community Broadband Scotland is excellent news for rural communities, especially those in our more hard to reach areas. HIE’s delivery of the CBS project across the whole of Scotland complements our work in delivering the £146 million project to roll out Next Generation Broadband across the Highlands and Islands. These two initiatives will be transformational to Scotland’s social and economic future."

Irene Mackintosh, Regional Digital Participation Co-ordinator with national digital inclusion charity Citizens Online, said:

“Thanks to ongoing support from HIE, BT, Highland Council and Highlife Highland, our project has been working throughout Caithness and North West Sutherland for five years, helping people get online for the first time in even the most remote communities. We have also offered support to community groups and voluntary organisations to help them make the most of digital opportunities. A systemic approach to digital inclusion in the far north, starting with improved connectivity and access opportunities, is vital in ensuring sustainability, resulting in those getting online for the first time staying online."

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