Theresa May’s claim that the SNP is not using powers which it has to influence better broadband coverage across Scotland has been mostly debunked by investigative journal The Ferret. An investigation was launched by the Ferret Fact Service after Mrs. May told Tory MP Luke Graham during PMQs on the 25th October that the SNP should ‘get on’ with using its powers for the, “benefit of the people in Scotland”.
The debate surrounding superfast coverage in Scotland has raged for some time now, igniting with the launch of the Scottish Government’s new Digital Strategy for Scotland in February this year. This strategy outlined plans for every Scottish household to have access to broadband speeds of at least 30Mbps by 2021.
One leader has even gone as far as to claim that Scotland’s digital infrastructure has been, ‘left in the dust,’ of its European neighbours.
The Ferret’s investigation into PM May’s claims form the latest development of the ongoing debate as to where the responsibility ultimately lies.
The Ferret contests that the Scotland Act 1998, passed for devolution, sets out the Scottish Parliament’s reserved and devolved powers. While the list of Scotland’s powers has been added to since then, ‘internet and wireless technology’ – including broadband – has remained under the control of Westminster.
However, the Scottish Government does have control over how UK funding for broadband is used in Scotland, and has the power to provide additional financial support when needed. Additionally, the Scottish Government also has responsibility over managing internal broadband initiatives, such as the Highlands and Islands digital rollout.
Using this information, The Ferret concludes that while the Scottish Government leads the rollout of broadband services in Scotland, it ultimately has no power over the wider funding of broadband projects, which remain vested in the UK Government. Scotland also has no power over the regulation of the broadband market, which remains in the hands of Ofcom.
Additionally, SNP targets for fibre broadband have either been met or are on their way to completion, as The Ferret notes. For example, in early 2016 John Swinney, the then Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, told MSPs that the old 85% target for coverage had been met six months early. The new 95% target for the end of 2017 is now on track for the end of 2017.
The Ferret concludes: “Theresa May’s claim that Scotland should use its powers to improve broadband services is misleading. While the Scottish Government has some measure of control over broadband projects, telecommunications including broadband infrastructure are ultimately still reserved by Westminster, limiting the level of decision-making available to Scottish ministers.”
You can read The Ferret’s full investigation here.