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Park Talk: Getting Connected

23rd October 2017

By CNPA Convener, Peter Argyle

When I was first elected as a councillor, back in the twentieth century, emails were quite a novelty and most of my correspondence came by post. No one had heard of an ‘app’; ‘social media’ as a concept or a reality were known only to a chosen few. How things have changed.

As technological development has raced ahead and more and more of everyday life is ‘on line’, so the need for vastly improved connectivity has moved ever higher up the agenda. Rolling out effective superfast broadband is hugely expensive and the costs rise massively on a per capita basis when delivering to rural Scotland. The challenge is huge but cannot be ignored. As broadband speeds for some improve, so the demands from those feeling left behind grow.

The CNPA is not directly involved in the delivery of broadband infrastructure of course but is committed to working with partners to support better connectivity within the Park. There can be no doubt that excellent connectivity is essential for businesses, residents and visitors and we will work with the Scottish Government, HIE, Community Broadband Scotland and the local authorities within the Park to that end.

I was both sad and disappointed to hear that after almost two years of really determined volunteer effort by its directors, the Cairngorms Community Broadband Ltd project to deliver superfast broadband to communities in the ‘hardest to reach’ areas of the Park, will not be able to proceed. A community-led solution would have been an excellent way forward. I commend all those involved with the initiative and take this opportunity publicly to thank the directors for the unstinting work they did to drive the project.

The Scottish Government’s ‘Reaching 100%’ (R100) programme now offers the best opportunity for superfast connectivity across Scotland. The commitment is to provide superfast broadband access to 100% of premises by 2021. Whilst this means that some communities or areas will have to wait for up to four years, the good news for the Park is the further commitment to put the initial focus on those areas which currently have the slowest speeds.

The consultation phase of R100 ended in August and it is expected that the tender process will commence in December, with the contracts being awarded a year later. This will be a project vital to the Park and all who live, work or visit here. The CNPA will do all it can to support the delivery of it.

We will continue to convene the Cairngorms Digital Steering Group which brings together the partners I mentioned earlier and is important in collating the information that keep those communities with the poorest provision informed. There is no doubt that there is huge frustration within the Park – and across much of rural Scotland – about the lack of effective and reliable superfast broadband. The lack of information and the consequent uncertainty is part of that.

A final reflection; when I worked for one of our local newspapers back in the 1990s I could send copy to the editors by means of slow and cranky dial-up transmission but any pictures had to be printed in black and white and delivered by post or hand. I can only wonder where technology will have taken us by 2021 but surely superfast, consistent and reliable broadband will be even more essential.