New Dates Announced for Digital Forum

Dear All

This year’s Northern Isles Digital Forum which will take place in Orkney on Thursday 17 April from 12:00 to 14:00 in the St. Magnus Centre, Kirkwall, and Shetland on Friday 18 April from 10:00 to 12:00 in the North Stanley Hill Hall.

The Guest Speakers this year will include Brendan Dick, Director of BT Scotland, and Stuart Robertson, Director of Digital Policy at the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), both of whom will oversee a £146 million project intended to bring super-fast, fibre optic broadband to 75 % of the people in the north of Scotland. 


Digital Forum update

Dear all,

As you may recall, on 26th July I was pleased to host the latest Northern Isles Digital Forum in Kirkwall where the guest speakers were Stuart Robertson. director of Highlands and Islands Enterprise; Brendan Dick, Director of BT Scotland; and Jamie Stewart, representing the Countryside Alliance.

The main part of the meeting involved a joint presentation from Mr Robertson and Mr Dick on the planned roll out of super-fast, fibre optic broadband across the Highlands & Islands.  Thanks to £146m of funds from UK and Scottish government, HIE and BT, a target of delivering high speed broadband across the region by 2020 has been set.  In the first phase, this will involve reaching 84% of premises by 2016, although Mr Dick explained that a similar target for the project in Cornwall had been exceeded by around 10%, due to developments in technology and efficiencies identified once the project was underway.


Engineers are currently undertaking assessments about where land-based and subsea cabling work is needed, and an announcement is expected in the autumn about the first areas that will be targeted.  Mr Dick and Mr Robertson confirmed that, while it was unlikely that Orkney would be involved in this initial work, given that more of the ‘backbone’ of fibre was already in place here, there was a recognition of the need to avoid delays through 2014.

The main focus of questioning, understandably, was around the timeframe for delivery in Orkney and concern that there would still be parts of the county not covered by the proposed roll out, despite the funding made available by UK and Scottish Government, HIE and BT.  A £2.5m innovation fund will look at how areas not covered by fibre might be served, and Mr Dick and Mr Robertson also made a commitment to work with community groups, possibly using the Community Broadband Scotland funding, to help ensure that ‘not spots’ were addressed as part of this initiative.

A copy of the joint presentation is available upon request, but the following link provides additional information, which you may find helpful.   In addition, there was a commitment given by BT and HIE to attend a follow up meeting of the Northern Isles Digital Forum towards the end of the year (or early 2014) once further detail on the timetable of work is known, including plans for the roll out in Orkney. 

Jamie Stewart then spoke in the second half of the meeting about the Countryside Alliance’s campaign for better mobile connectivity in rural areas, highlighting the importance of not being forced to rely on just one technology.  Mr Stewart welcomed the decision by Ofcom earlier this year to ensure that when the faster mobile internet technology, 4G, rolls out, it will have to cover 98% of the UK population indoors.  He hoped that this spread of technology would help to reach even more people than the superfast broadband roll-out.

In his presentation Mr Stewart highlighted the ROOT Metrics mobile phone ‘app’ which users of iPhones or android devices can install on their phones to record the levels of mobile signals they can access in any given location.  The ‘app’ is free and through a wide variety of people installing it on their phones, can build up a very thorough picture of actual coverage, as opposed to the sometimes less accurate information provided by mobile phone companies.   More details of this can be found at

In his summary of key points, Mr Stewart was keen to highlight the importance of broadband connectivity as a key component of our national infrastructure.  He argued that coverage rather than speed should be prioritised, to ensure greater access for a larger number of people.  He pointed out that for most people, speeds of 4-6Mb would be ample, and that providing this as a minimum for everyone should be the priority rather than far higher speeds to 90% of the population.

As I say, Alistair Carmichael and I will look to convene another Digital Forum in Orkney towards the end of this year, or in early 2014.  If you would be interested in attending, please do let me know, or keep an eye out for announcements in the local press.    If you are interested in receiving copies of the presentations made at the Digital Forum, please contact my office on

In the meantime, I hope that you will continue to raise with me any broadband, mobile phone, or even landline problems you have, as well as logging them with your providers.  As was discussed at the Forum, this is extremely helpful in building up a picture of where problems exist in Orkney and where investment is needed.

Kind regards,

Liam McArthur

Shetland Times: New push to improve broadband connection for rural areas

The campaign to improve broadband access in the most remote areas of Shetland is continuing.

MSP Tavish Scott has set up a meeting with a satellite broadband company to investigate whether the service would be effective and if there was any financial assistance to areas without broadband internet connections. He wants to see a situation where everyone in Shetland can access online services in the same way as those in built-up areas.

He said: “The Scottish Government announced £120m for the Highlands and Islands digital connectivity last June with a further £5m fund specifically to help bring next generation broadband to some of Scotland’s remotest communities being announced in August. Left to their own devices, big business will only pick the low-hanging fruit and ensure service and infrastructure to the larger towns and cities.

“This money must be used to ensure no-one is marginalised in the digital revolution. I have asked the Scottish Government exactly how this funding will offer real results to those in Shetland who can currently only dream of sending photo attachments, let alone watching video clips, programmes and films.

“The UK Government has allocated £363m to local councils and private enterprise partnerships to bring fast broadband to rural Britain. The company I am meeting with today will be able to give me a much clearer idea of how this money should be best used, the limitations of the current national infrastructure and how we can push to ensure people in rural areas get an equal chance of broadband at a reasonable cost. The essence of our discussions will be bridging the digital divide. With both governments contributing limited funding we must find workable solutions to experience tangible results.

“This cannot come soon enough for many constituents and I shall keep pushing until every Shetland resident and business can access online services just as effectively as those in urban areas.”


EU state aid approval for new investment in broadband internet has been welcomed as ‘an important step towards improved services’ by Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

It was confirmed earlier this week that UK government plans to invest in Scotland and increase access to high speed broadband had been approved by the European Commission.

Commenting, Mr Carmichael said:

‘People in the Northern Isles have been at the back of the queue for many years when it comes to digital services. Mobile phone and internet connections that people in other parts of the country now take for granted are simply not available in many parts of the Highlands and Islands.

‘We have seen the difficulties that EU state aid rules can cause for government projects on a number of occasions in the past. As with the fuel duty derogation, it is important that Ministers follow all the right procedures and are working to get projects off the ground as soon as possible.

‘EU approval was a vital stepping stone towards getting the Highlands and Islands pilot project underway. This is good news for the Northern Isles and an important step towards boosting internet services across the North of Scotland. The money that the UK government are putting into services in the Highlands and Islands will help drive investment from elsewhere. State aid approval is an important step towards improved services for people across the North of Scotland.’

Notes to editors:

1.            The Coalition Government’s broadband plans are hugely ambitious: the aim is to connect 90 per cent of homes to superfast broadband and ensuring the rest have access to at least 2Mbps.

2.            This support for the rollout of superfast broadband has now been approved by the European Commission, who has to approve any “state aid”. State aid refers to forms of assistance which have the potential to distort competition and/or affect trade between member states of the EU.

The European Commission monitors and controls State Aid in the EU.  Member States are obliged to notify and seek approval from the Commission before granting State Aid. This gives the Commission the opportunity to approve or refuse to approve the proposed measure.

3.            The European Commission’s green light means that local authorities can now sign procurement contracts with contractors and begin delivery work on their new broadband infrastructure projects. 

4.            The Department for Culture, Media and Sport defines ‘superfast broadband’ as broadband with potential headline download access speeds greater than 24 Mbps.

5.            The market will provide superfast broadband to around two thirds of the country but it is essential the whole country shares in the benefits of high-speed internet access. That is why the Coalition Government is providing additional funding to make it economically viable for telecoms companies to roll-out broadband to the whole of the UK.

Northern Isles Digital Forum – 17 September 2012 Event Report

The event report from the 17 September session of the Digital Forum can be found at the following link:

Northern Isles Digital Forum Event Report


Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has welcomed news that BT is set to invest £8 million in a new fibre-optic cable that will improve connection speeds for many internet users in the Isles and boost the reliability of services.

Brendan Dick, Director of BT Scotland, confirmed plans for the new cable at a meeting of the Northern Isles Digital Forum in Lerwick yesterday.

Almost 1000 km of cable will be used to link Orkney and Shetland with the North of Scotland and boost services. The existing microwave radio connections will be retained as back up to the new connection.

Commenting, Mr Carmichael said:

‘In the past people in the Isles have generally been at the back of the queue when it comes to improvements in digital services and online connections. The coalition government has made clear that extending high speed broadband to communities in every corner of the country is a genuine priority.

‘The UK government has allocated around £100m to support the rollout of broadband services in Scotland and HIE, Shetland Telecom and others have been instrumental in driving this work forward locally.

‘The announcement of a new fixed digital link for Orkney and Shetland is welcome. It is clear that a lot of work remains to be done but this £8m investment will benefit many people in Orkney and Shetland directly and is an important step towards faster internet connections for people right across the Isles in future.’



The second meeting of the Northern Isles Digital Forum in Shetland has been rescheduled for 17 September after the last event was cancelled due to inclement weather.

Brendan Dick, the Director of BT Scotland, will be coming to Lerwick to discuss the severe difficulties with internet services that people across Shetland have experienced in recent months.

The meeting will be held at 12.30 at the Islesburgh Community Centre and will be chaired by Shetland MSP Tavish Scott. For further information please contact the Lerwick constituency office on 01595 690044.

 Mr Dick will be accompanied at the meeting by local BT engineers.

 Commenting, Mr Carmichael said:

 ‘The fact that we were forced to cancel the last meeting of the digital forum was unfortunate but unavoidable. I am pleased that BT have managed to find another slot to travel north so soon after the last meeting was due to take place.

 ‘Digital services are a real lifeline in communities in places like Shetland but the quality of connection available in some areas is lacking. Whether we are talking overall speed or consistency of service, it is clear that there is substantial room for improvement and I hope that this is something we will get a chance to discuss fully at the second meeting of the Digital Forum.’