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UK needs regional powers to fast-track broadband roll-outs

Businsses could be offered with high-speed broadband more quickly if the rest of the UK followed Scotland's example of targeting broadband black spots, Scotland's enterprise minister said this week.

Jim Mather said that Scotland's strategy of using local authority and regional development agencies to provide broadband links in areas of poor coverage could add between £2bn and £6bn to the Scottish economy and is an approach the minister recommended for UK-wide success.

The Scottish Parliament will award a £3.5m contract in April to fill Scotland's broadband coverage gap, which affects approximately 1% of Scotland, by the end of 2008.

Enterprise minister Jim Mather said that the intervention was made possible through a website, which helped identify areas in Scotland where users could not gain broadband access.

The website allowed businesses and members of the public who could not get a basic broadband service to register their demand for broadband, helping to provide a business case for the government to intervene.

"When you look at the US and Canada, there is a very interesting pattern. Relatively small provinces such as Alberta or British Columbia are cracking on with their broadband deployments. By targeting specific areas, you actually improve broadband access faster."

By plugging the gap in coverage, Maher said this would help attract investment from businesses to set up in areas where broadband had previously been unavailable.

A 2007 report for the Scottish Executive said that the annual gross value added of broadband to Scotland's economy in 2015 would be between £2bn £6bn higher owing to business take-up of broadband.

However, it said that although broadband availability in Scotland was approaching 100%, a divide would exist between urban and rural areas and 26% of the Scottish population would not be able to achieve 5Mbits per second for some time.


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