Mike Crockart: Narrow view of need for broadband

Kirkliston residents are unable to access content-rich websites. Picture: IAN RUTHERFORD
Kirkliston residents are unable to access content-rich websites. Picture: IAN RUTHERFORD
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Fast and reliable broadband is something that many people take for granted.

It’s needed to access the best business deals like energy suppliers, it’s essential for school children researching their homework and increasingly it’s the default way to access government services including benefits.

Yet rural communities barely ten miles from the centre of Edinburgh have a provision devoid of investment and incapable of delivering the most basic of services.

Many local residents of Kirkliston, Ratho and Dalmeny regularly report difficulties accessing content-rich websites and watching 
television online is a luxury many can only dream of.

There was a false dawn 18 months ago when an £11 million grant to Edinburgh City Council raised hopes that a super-connected city would include all its residents.

But European state-aid rules dashed those expectations.

Had it gone through, the Kirkliston Exchange would have been upgraded by May 2015.

Instead, the necessary upgrade was included in the Superfast Broadband programme to be delivered through a £264m contract with British Telecom.

So essentially, the same work was commissioned but the bill was to go to a different address.

Why, then, in February 2015 are we still 18 months away from seeing any benefit?

Fed up of hearing excuses from BT about “commercial viability” of the rapidly growing housing in the west of the city, I made an FOI request to Edinburgh City Council to see if there is a reason for the delay.

Unbelievably, the initial response stated that the council was “unable to provide the information requested because it is not held by the council” and that “the City of Edinburgh Council has had no meetings or discussions or holds any documentation in regards to the Scottish Government in relation to upgrading the Kirkliston exchange”.

This nonsense received a swift appeal which caused a change of tack.

Now, instead of there being no information, there are actually 8240 files, none of which can be released as they’d all have to be censored before we’re allowed to see them.

And the correspondence between the council and the Scottish Government? We’ll never see that because it’s subject to a non-disclosure agreement signed by both parties. I did however receive a full four pages of legal justification why we couldn’t be trusted to read it.

It’s clear to me that the long-awaited upgrade is being brought in at a time and pace to suit the glacial movement of Edinburgh council and Scottish Government.

And who can blame BT for refusing to pick up the tab for work that others have said they’ll pay for?

But the losers are the taxpayers in the west of Edinburgh who have paid upfront for their broadband upgrade but who will have to endure another eighteen months of misery of that buffering symbol.

It’s only 4915 miles from BT HQ to the Kirkliston Exchange. I’ll bring my spade if it’ll help?

Mike Crockart is Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West.