Scottish Parliament to challenge rules on superfast broadband funding

A Member of the Scottish Parliament has said she is determined to campaign for a change to government guidelines preventing Inverness from applying for funds to help develop a local superfast broadband cable infrastructure.

Rhoda Grant, who represents the constituency of Highlands and Islands, said she was angry that the city had been ruled out of consideration for such funding, on the grounds that it did not contain enough homes and businesses.

According to the criteria which qualify towns and cities for part of the government’s £50 million Urban Broadband fund, homes and businesses must number more than 45,000. As Inverness has only 24,570 homes and businesses, it is automatically excluded from applying.

Ms Grant said she finds the rules particularly frustrating given that qualifying criteria for towns and cities in Northern Ireland have been relaxed, permitting those with just 35,000 homes and businesses the right to apply for broadband infrastructure funding. She said:

“It seems out of kilter as the geography of Northern Ireland is similar to ours…If Northern Ireland is [being] treated differently then so should we.”

Ms Grant said she intended writing to the UK government to make her case.

Ms Grant’s feelings were shared by local MP, Danny Alexander, who said the disqualification of Inverness from the funding bid was “disappointing”. He added:

“It is vital that the city has access to high-speed broadband.”

Meanwhile, Drew Henry, the leader of the Scottish National Party Highland Council group, has said he will be asking Jeremy Hunt, as culture secretary, to look at the possibility of instituting new funding for cities such as Inverness.

The alarm expressed at the lack of superfast broadband funding opportunities for Inverness is considered partly to be a reflection of the importance broadband has for businesses seeking to capitalise on the competitive advantages of business VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and internet protocol (IP) telephony.