MSP forced to connect in the back of his car as minister quizzed on rural broadband

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AN SNP MSP was forced to take part in a Holyrood committee meeting from the back of his car due to an “unusable” home connection as Scotland’s Infrastructure Secretary stressed a troubled rural broadband project will help 55,000 people in isolated communities to get online by the end of the year.

Stewart Stevenson, a former transport minister who represents the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, explained to colleagues on Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee he taking was part in the meeting from his car because his broadband was “unusable”.

As he did so, Infrastructure Secretary Michael Matheson said improvements to internet connections the Scottish Government was making should allow people in remote areas to “have a level of digital connectivity which as good as if not better than our major urban areas”.

His comments came after SNP MSP Mr Stevenson told colleagues on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that “the broadband at home has finally become unusable”.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has seen much of Holyrood’s business switch to online in the last year, with most committees now only meeting virtually.

And Mr Matheson told him: “I’ve had a few ministerial meetings from the back of my own car as well over recent months, so I know how it feels.”

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Questioned later on the issue of digital connectivity by fellow committee member Maureen Watt, Mr Matheson said that £90 million in the draft budget had been set aside for three contracts as part of the government’s R100 programme – which aims to deliver superfast broadband access to 100% of properties in Scotland.

Asked if he was confident the money was enough to make a difference to those affected by the “digital divide”, Mr Matheson said: “I think in part, yes.

“There is no doubt the R100 programme will have a significant impact in helping to improve high quality digital connectivity into some of Scotland’s most remote parts in a way which will allow people who live in remote communities to have a level of digital connectivity, which as good as if not better than our major urban areas.

“It will deliver a significantly improved level of digital connectivity around rural Scotland.”

He added that the Scottish Government was also working to improve access to computers, saying: “You may have access to broadband connectivity but if you can’t afford to have a computer then you could find yourself excluded and experience digital exclusion.

“So there is funding we provide through our digital connectivity programme which is around £45 million, which is about giving up to 55,000 people who are presently digitally excluded, to support them to get online by the end of 2021.”

Mr Matheson added: “That is targeted very much at individuals who are digitally excluded, not because of a lack of just digital connectivity, broadband connectivity, but being able to afford to have a computer and to be able to sustain a broadband connection.

“That fund is specifically designed to support individuals and to assist them in being able to make use of digital capacity.”

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