REPORTER COLUMN: BROADBAND IS NOW AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP for West Dunbartonshire.

Over the past 16 months, one issue the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted is the importance to our communities of having access to fast and reliable broadband.

Whether for work, study, entertainment or staying connected with friends and family – good digital connectivity has become as essential as the supply of water and energy to our homes and businesses.

Since first being elected in 2015, I have been working closely with stakeholders and community groups to press for improved internet connectivity in West Dunbartonshire. As your local MP, I have hosted a number of engagements in Parliament alongside Digital Scotland to highlight the need for investment in better digital infrastructure.

We’ve seen real progress here in West Dunbartonshire, where more than 98 per cent of homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband. In fact, our area is one of the best performing for broadband not just in Scotland but across the whole UK. Average local download speeds are at 105 Mbps, well above the UK average of just 72.9 Mbps – and gigabit availability here is now at 87.2 per cent, compared to only 36.4 per cent elsewhere in the UK.

The Scottish Government has invested over £579 million to improve online connectivity, with 146km of cabling laid in West Dunbartonshire alone. From Balloch, to Bonhill, to Bowling – more than 7,900 local homes and businesses have benefited from upgrades to high-speed internet thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

There is still work to do of course, particularly in rural areas and villages such as Gartocharn. I will continue speaking up on behalf of our local communities to ensure the best possible broadband connectivity is available to everyone who needs it.

For some households, though, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, it can be a struggle to get online. That is why the SNP is also investing over £48 million to address the digital divide through the government’s ‘Connecting Scotland’ initiative.

I fully support this investment which promotes digital inclusion, helping socially isolated and low-income households get access to the devices, data and training they need to get online.

As more and more services go digital, and connecting with far-away loved ones continues to be challenging, it’s never been more important to be able to get online.

If you have a friend or family member you think would benefit from the ‘Connecting Scotland’ programme, then more information can be found at: www.connecting.scot

My constituency office can also be contacted on 0141 952 2988 for anyone living in West Dunbartonshire without suitable access to a reliable internet connection. Please get in touch and I’ll do all I can to help.

This article was published in the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter on 13 July 2021.