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Highlands and Islands Greens
Highlands and Islands Greens

Green MSP Campaigns for Broadband Connections

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005

The problems and delays experienced by people who are trying to access broadband in remote areas of the Highlands and Islands have been taken up in Parliament by Eleanor Scott, Green MSP for Highlands & Islands.

Having pursued the complaints of people in Shetland, Wester Ross and East Sutherland, Dr Scott said: “The delays that some people are enduring in getting their broadband connections are completely unacceptable and are costing rural businesses.  I have been in communication with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to seek explanations of the source of the problems, which seem to be a combination of delays by BT and also their failure to work with other internet service providers (ISPs) to provide customers with connections that they should be providing.  But the real farce is that people who are beyond the reach of BT broadband are having still to apply and pay for BT broadband installations that are bound to fail in order to be eligible for an alternative.”

Dr Scott has asked two questions in Parliament on the matter.  One concerned the delays experienced around Poolewe, Wester Ross, that have sometimes been in excess of eight weeks (1), and the other asked how long people that cannot get a BT connection will have to wait for an alternative (2).

Dr Scott said: “I am pleased to receive an assurance that the problems around Poolewe, which were caused by a faulty exchange and damaged cabling, have now been identified and addressed and that local residents are being promised a ‘marked improvement in service’.

“However, Tavish Scott, Minister for Enterprise, dodged my question about how long people unable to access broadband via BT will have to wait for a connection.  These people are in an absolutely absurd situation.  HIE have confirmed to me (3) that although they have responsibility to fill the gaps where BT cannot reach, before they can do anything to fill a gap, the people who know they are too far from an exchange to get broadband must register for it anyway, wait for a BT engineer come out to confirm that the connection has failed, and then struggle to get a refund.  Individuals are paying good money (which is proving very difficult to recover), expending time, and losing access to their dial up accounts, even when the engineers know that the install will fail.  This is farcical, and the Minister does not even seem able to confirm when this farce will be over.

“Greens want to see it becoming easier for people to live and work in rural areas, and broadband access is an important tool for making this possible.  But the Executive’s message at the moment seems to be that if you live in a remote area then you will just have to put up with the inconvenience of no broadband, and put up with having no idea how long it will be until you get an alternative.”

Notes

(1) Eleanor Scott’s first question was as follows:

S2W-19737 – Eleanor Scott (Highlands and Islands) (Green) (Date Lodged 7 October 2005): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is aware of difficulties experienced by residents in rural areas such as Poolewe who have applied to BT for broadband access but have experienced delays of up to eight weeks before BT is able to establish whether a broadband connection can be made from any given address and what action the Executive is taking to ensure that affected residents will receive a prompt assessment from BT to determine their broadband capacity.

Answered by Tavish Scott (4 November 2005): BT have told us that the delays in testing lines for broadband access in Poolewe have been caused by storm-damaged cable and faulty exchange equipment.  Both are now being replaced and residents should shortly see a marked improvement in service.

(2) Eleanor Scott’s second question was as follows:

S2W-19738 – Eleanor Scott (Highlands and Islands) (Green) (Date Lodged 7 October 2005): To ask the Scottish Executive whether any deadline has been set by which residents who are unable to access broadband via BT can be found some other means of accessing broadband and, if so, what that deadline is.

Answered by Tavish Scott (4 November 2005): I refer the member to the answer to question S2W-19677 answered on 3 November 2005.  All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/webapp/wa.search.

The question referred to: S2W-19677 John Farquhar Munro: To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take to address any technical problems preventing consumers from obtaining a broadband connection as a result of being located too far from their telecom exchange.

Tavish Scott: We have been working with BT to identify any residual areas with broadband access problems.  In most cases the problem is distance from exchange.  We are now analysing the data with BT, with a view to implementing solutions appropriate to demand, and subject to available budget.  This process is likely to take us beyond the end of 2005.

Through our contract with BT to enable 378 exchanges in rural and remote areas, we are on track to meet our commitment to extend broadband access to every community in Scotland by the end of the year.  For this purpose, in defining “community”, we are using “census output areas” which are the smallest building blocks for the higher order definitions of communities within the census.  Typically, a census output area will contain about 50 households.

(3) HIE’s response to Dr Scott’s question: Why are people well beyond the proven range being required to progress with orders?

“HIE are trying to infill Broadband access where BT has demonstrated that Broadband access cannot be obtained through BT systems.  (BT has a contract with the Scottish Executive to try and bring Broadband to all of Scotland.  Obviously in some areas this will not be possible.) Unfortunately BT only formally record an address as unable to receive Broadband from BT after a BT engineer has called at the address and attempted to make the Broadband connection work.  Only then can HIE move and even then HIE need to know the total number of people in a community that BT have declared formally unable to access Broadband before they can determine the solution most likely to give a chance of success.  For a BT engineer to call to determine if Broadband access is impossible, there has to be an attempted Broadband connection, hence the need to order a Broadband connection even when it seems most likely that the connection will fail.”