Scotland's islands: proposed national plan

The proposed National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. It was replaced by the final National Islands Plan (published 27 December 2019).

Digital Connectivity

Digital connectivity is essential to improving the majority of other sectors on islands, including sustainable economic development, depopulation and health and wellbeing. During the consultation, island communities indicated that although the progress with broadband connectivity was a positive, further advancement was needed given the variation of both mobile and broadband connection between, and within, the islands of Scotland. To ensure that the Plan is fair and inclusive, actions must be taken so that those on the periphery are not unfairly disadvantaged.

Fibre broadband roll-out has been quite a success, but there is still a lot to do here. I think that the island plan should include the ambition to make this rollout

as good as that of electricity.
(Consultation participant, North Uist)”

Islanders in many cases suffer a lack of reliable digital connectivity,[30] which can become a barrier to sustainable economic development, both in terms of businesses already in operation and those people who may wish to move to an island and work remotely. Resilient communications are important for the delivery of emergency services on the islands and good digital connectivity is also increasingly vital for education. Additionally, remote health care could potentially be improved if an increased standard of digital connectivity allowed for virtual appointments. Despite the reserved nature of telecommunications legislation, the Scottish Government is driving forward a number of initiatives to help overcome market failure on the islands, closing the digital divide and helping communities to experience the benefits that access to good quality digital connectivity can provide.

Hebnet provides superfast broadband to the Small Isles (Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck) as well as Soay and the remote mainland communities of Knoydart and Elgol through microwave and wireless technology. The digital source comes via microwave radio from the mainland (Mallaig) and uses a combination of wireless point to point relays and full fibre to the premises (FTTP) to connect all the homes and businesses, providing an essential service for these communities.

SG Policy

The implementation of the Plan will align with, and build on, existing digital strategies, specifically Scotland’s overarching Digital Strategy, the ongoing deployment of fibre broadband through Scotland’s £400 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme, and the Scottish Government’s “Reaching 100% Programme”,[31]
the £600 million procurement of which is nearing completion. The DSSB programme met its target to extend fibre broadband access to 95% of premises in Scotland by
the end of 2017, providing fibre broadband to around 100,000 premises more than originally anticipated. When the DSSB programme began there were no commercial plans for fibre broadband delivery in, for example, Orkney, Shetland or the Western
Isles. Now over 80% of premises in these areas can access fibre broadband thanks, in large part, to the DSSB programme.

Percentage of premises with access to broadband[32]

LA Percentage of premises with access to superfast broadband (2014) Percentage of premises with access to superfast broadband (2019) Percentage of premises with access to fibre broadband (2014) Percentage of premises with access to fibre broadband (2019) Number of premises connected to fibre broadband through DSSB3
Orkney1 11.1 65.7 12.0 82.5 9,320
Shetland2 28.9 74.2 35.1 86.3 10,475
Western Isles 1.3 76.5 1.6 89.8 14,066

1. Data only available from December 2014.

2. Data only available from September 2014.

3. Correct at 30 August 2019.

SG Policy

The Reaching 100% Programme, more commonly known as R100, is the Scottish Government’s programme to deliver on our commitment to provide 100% superfast broadband access across Scotland, building on DSSB roll-out. The procurement strategy for R100 sees urban premises excluded, reflecting our view that public investment should be focused in areas where it is needed most – rural Scotland. The procurement has been split into three lots – North, Central and South – with delivery of gigabit infrastructure in challenging rural locations a requirement of the North lot. By mandating coverage in key locations within the North lot, and providing additional weighting to others in the scoring of bids, we will drive fibre into some of our most remote rural and island communities, creating a truly national fibre network, providing a platform for a wide range of digital connectivity, including 4G and superfast broadband today; and 5G and ultrafast broadband tomorrow.

Connectivity, however, is not just about broadband; access to 4G is equally as important. We will continue delivery of the Scottish 4G Infill Programme in which we are investing £25 million to deliver 4G infrastructure and services in selected mobile “notspots”, including on the islands, while our 5G strategy published in August 2019 sets out the Scottish Government’s commitment and the steps we will take to ensure Scotland realises its potential as a forward-looking 5G nation.[33] We have also established The Scotland 5G Centre whose aim is to be Scotland’s national platform for collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing across all aspects of 5G from research to delivery and exploitation. The Centre’s work will include further development of the early rural 5G trials already taking place on Orkney.

Emerging digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) are highly relevant to islands. Essentially the IoT links remote physical devices, such as sensors and actuators, to the digital world. With SE, HIE and delivery partner Boston Networks, our IoT
Scotland Programme is deploying infrastructure to support IoT services across much
of Scotland. Complementing this work, our IoT Support Project, delivered by the
Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS) aims to educate, inform and
enthuse Scotland’s SMEs about the potential of this technology. We are targeting economic sectors with high relevance to Islands such as Tourism, Transport, Food
and Drink (including areas such as aquaculture) and Health.

It is vital that our citizens, communities and businesses possess the digital skills to participate in, and take advantage of, the opportunities of a leading digital economy. These opportunities must be distributed fairly and we must connect our most promising sectors, innovators and entrepreneurs with the advice and investment they need to flourish, grow and create jobs.

We have invested £23 million over the past five years in supporting businesses and individuals to develop their digital skills. Over £11 million of this funding has been focused on delivery of the Digital Skills Investment Plan. To further support our SME businesses improve their digital skills and capacity we have invested £7 million in the “Digital Boost” programme and we will extend the delivery of the Digital Development Loan which provides loans to companies who wish to improve their digital capabilities to improve economic productivity.

Strategic Objective 6

To improve digital connectivity

In order to improve digital connectivity the Scottish Government will:

  • Deliver a step change in the quality of broadband services available across the islands;
  • Mandate the delivery of gigabit-capable connectivity to selected island locations, such as Yell and Sanday, through the R100 programme, with many other island communities to benefit once contracts are finalised later this year;
  • Call on the UK Government to prioritise early investment in Scotland’s islands as part of their plans for full fibre roll-out by 2025;
  • Call on Ofcom to address the issues faced by island communities when designing telecoms regulation and policy. Convene a meeting with Ofcom and island representatives to explore how regulatory levers (such as spectrum auctions) could improve both mobile and broadband coverage on the islands and ensure that the needs of islands are represented to DCMS in UK national policy development;
  • Through the Scotland 5G Centre, building on the 5G RuralFirst trials currently taking place on Orkney and working with partners including Ofcom, we will develop rural 5G use cases to address the rural digital divide using 5G technology;
  • Work with local resilience partnerships and telecoms providers to encourage them to focus on resilience of data links to and from the islands;
  • Consider options to develop a digital skills programme designed by island communities to meet their needs; and
  • Look to extend the availability of coding clubs and community-based digital inclusion programmes across the islands.



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