Ed Vaizey: Broadband will benefit Westminster and Scotland

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This weekend more than 2000 people from around the world will descend on Edinburgh for the International Television Festival.

Back when the conference began in 1976, television was a very different beast. Pictures were broadcast over the airwaves to a boxy TV set, probably with a wood-effect surround, in a corner of your living room. There were three channels, and the people behind them decided what you were going to watch and when you were going to watch it.

Today the picture has changed almost beyond recognition. There are more than 500 channels available in the UK. Seventy per cent of young people now watch television online, and half their media consumption is done on something other than a TV. We download shows and watch them at a time and place that suits us. No train carriage is complete without a commuter using an iPad to catch up on the latest must-see drama.

As Kevin Spacey said at last year’s EITC, all this choice is leading to a new golden age of television. Broadcasters are constantly increasing the quality they offer in order to stand out. This is great news for you, me, and all fans of great television. But Scotland will only be able to take full advantage if the right infrastructure is in place – and that means giving people access to reliable, high-speed internet services.

That’s why the UK government is investing hundreds of millions of pounds to bring superfast broadband to Scotland. We’re working with industry partners to lay miles of fibre-optic cable – more than 57,000 homes and businesses have already been reached by this new network, and by the end of 2017 that number will have passed 670,000.

In Edinburgh we’re spending £9 million on a range of projects, including providing free wifi on the city’s trams and, by October, on more than 700 buses. Of course, the benefits of this 21st century infrastructure go way beyond the ability to binge-watch Game of Thrones on the way home from work. For every £1 the UK government spends on superfast broadband today, £20 will be returned to economy in years to come.

Whether helping companies in Bonnyrigg do business with customers in Beijing, or giving young people in Stockbridge access to free online courses from Stanford, the superfast broadband project is nothing less than a massive investment in the future of Scotland.

Ed Vaizey MP is Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.