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A changing nation: how Scotland will thrive in a digital world



No One Left Behind

Barack Obama observed that “the internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” [2] As we have responded as a nation to the pandemic, this has become more apparent than ever. The internet has provided access to essential services and up-to-date and accurate information, and helped us to maintain the social contacts that are so important to our wellbeing. In doing so however, it has also exacerbated the isolation of those who do not enjoy access to technology and focussed attention on the risk that, unless we tackle digital exclusion, we could increase, rather than reduce, inequalities in our society.

Where we are now

The £463m invested in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme has extended fibre broadband access to more than 950,000 homes and businesses across Scotland. Over 95% of premises in Scotland can now benefit from faster speeds. The programme has transformed access to broadband in rural areas, with 65% of premises in Orkney, 75% in Shetland and 79% in the Western Isles now able to access superfast broadband – areas where there had been no commercial plans for this kind of infrastructure. Without this targeted public investment, the economic and social impact of the pandemic would have been even more acute.

The £25m Scottish 4G infill programme is addressing mobile ‘notspots’ (areas where no mobile coverage is available) in remote communities across Scotland, from the Scottish Borders to Shetland and Orkney. However, there is progress still to be made, with the 2019 Ofcom ‘Connected Nations’ report pointing out that approximately 20% of Scotland – mostly in rural areas – does not have 4G coverage from any mobile company [3].

Scotland has a higher proportion of properties with gigabit capable broadband – 42% compared to 27% in the UK as a whole, [4]– but lags slightly behind when we compare residential premises with access to superfast broadband – 94% at September 2020, compared to 96% for the rest of the UK. However, with access to full fibre broadband at 17%, Scotland is still somewhere behind the best in the world, with Ofcom’s International Broadband Scorecard for 2020 (reflecting data to the end of 2019) showing that 100% of households in Singapore and South Korea and 77% of households in Sweden, compared to 45% in Scotland, enjoy such access.[5]

The 2019 Scottish Household Survey suggests that home internet access has increased steadily and is now at an all-time high. However, access to getting online in the most deprived areas is lower (82%) than in the most affluent areas (96%). Other studies also suggest that the digital divide exists across generations. While the number of adults in Scotland over 60 using the internet has increased significantly since 2017, it is lower than the total number of all adults in Scotland (66% for adults over 60; 88% for adults of all ages). [6]

Scotland has an impressive record of partnership working to tackle digital exclusion.

The Digital Participation Charter has been signed by 673 organisations, each of which has committed to supporting their employees and people across Scotland to develop the essential digital skills they need to do their jobs, live their lives, and use different digital services with confidence. The associated Charter Fund, administered by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), has provided grants (typically up to £10,000) to over 188 organisations to tackle poverty, social isolation and other forms of inequality in society through embedding essential digital skills development work in day-to-day activity with their service users.[7]

Connecting Scotland’, a collaboration between Scottish Government, Local Government and the Third Sector, developed in response to the pandemic, provides an internet connection (20 gigabytes a month), training and support, and a laptop or tablet, so that the most vulnerable and digitally excluded people in Scotland can access services and support and connect with friends and family. It will bring 55,000 people online by the end of 2021 and truly encapsulates what can be achieved when organisations, from all sectors of the economy, work together with a common purpose.

Where we want to be

We want Scotland to be a fully digitally inclusive nation in which our digital and data infrastructure is recognised as critical national infrastructure and the benefits of technology are available to everyone.

Scotland’s Infrastructure Investment Plan adopts a wide, encompassing definition of infrastructure. It extends beyond the fibre, masts and small cells needed to meet our connectivity needs, to encompass digital platforms, online public services and data architecture. Future capital investment decisions will be driven by this understanding of the role that data and digital play in ensuring the economic and societal resilience of all our communities and our ability to trade with the world. They will also support our transition to a net zero society by enabling us to replace unnecessary journeys and make more efficient, environmentally friendly use of the more traditional infrastructure of transport and buildings.

Despite telecoms being reserved to the UK Parliament, our £600 million investment through the Reaching 100% (R100) programme will continue to deliver future-proofed and resilient broadband infrastructure in some of the most rural areas of Scotland. These networks will be transformational – in the short term, enabling faster broadband speeds and the growth of 4G and 5G; while, over time, underpinning the growth of data-driven, connectivity-enabled technologies across Scotland. We recognise, however, that demand for connectivity continues to increase exponentially and we want to ensure that Scotland leverages commercial partnerships and its research capabilities to anticipate future trends and attract international innovation and investment.

Our investment in digital infrastructure will ensure that our rural and island communities share fully in the future economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Scotland. It can help to address population decline by making living and working in a rural setting a more attractive option, and put small rural businesses on a level playing field with their competitors by providing ready access to international markets. It can also help to diversify our rural economies by capitalising on the unique richness of Scotland’s renewable energy sources to attract investment in high quality jobs. As working from home becomes a new normal for many, there will be new opportunities for people to live and work in every part of Scotland and we want to work with remote and rural communities to ensure that they benefit from this trend.

Progress has been made to tackle digital exclusion in Scotland, but we want to go further and achieve world-leading levels of digital inclusion. This depends, not only on the quality of Scotland’s digital infrastructure, but on the ability of people to be able to afford data allowances and devices, and to acquire the skills and confidence to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities of being digitally connected. Through the Connecting Scotland programme and targeted initiatives, we will therefore continue to bring people online throughout Scotland. This, in turn, will provide the foundation of a country that enjoys the benefits of universal digital citizenship where individuals and communities have the skills, information literacy, support and the data required to participate, as full partners, in the design of public services, and through active engagement in national and local democracy to hold us to account for the way in which these are provided.

At the same time, we must recognise that there are some people who cannot or do not want to use technology to access services. We remain committed to offering alternative options and using digital technology behind the scenes to improve the quality of the user experience.

How we are going to get there

  • Deliver broadband coverage for all and maximise gigabit investment in Scotland. R100 will deliver new subsea connections and bring resilient, future-proofed connectivity to many of our island communities, providing speeds equitable to those experienced in our cities. The vast majority of the R100 contract build will be full fibre connections, capable of download speeds of up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Mbps) – more than 30 times greater than the initial superfast commitment. Commercial delivery of full fibre and gigabit capable networks will also continue at pace in urban and semi-urban areas – incentivised by 100% non-domestic rates relief on new fibre.[8] We will work with commercial providers to stimulate further investment in full fibre, and will work with the UK Government to secure a fair share of the £5bn that has been committed to extend next generation gigabit-capable broadband across all of the UK
  • Improve rural 4G mobile coverage and set the right conditions to encourage investment: We will continue to invest in future-proofed infrastructure through the Scottish 4G infill programme and work collaboratively with the UK Government to ensure maximum impact from the up to £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) investment in Scotland – the UK government has said this scheme will provide 91% geographic coverage by at least one mobile network operator[9]. We will simplify the planning process to make it easier for telecoms operators to deploy infrastructure that meets community needs, and through Scotland 5G centre’s Infralink project offer support and guidance to improve rental access to publicly owned assets and ensure that the siting and design of masts helps to protect the natural environmentTechnology Enabled Icon
  • Ensure that all newly publicly-funded infrastructure is future-proofed for data requirements, and all our communities – including our rural and island communities – are resilient and sustainable so they have a strong economic future and can transition to a net zero society. Making robust, high quality data open and available to our communities will enable smarter investment, allow better use of assets and innovation in our public services and economy. Data Driven Icon
  • Build upon our Connecting Scotland programme to go beyond the 55,000 people we will support with equipment and data packages by the end of 2021, and work collaboratively with all sectors of our economy to achieve world leading levels of digital inclusion. Together, we will provide training opportunities, support and materials to ensure that people have the skills, confidence and information literacy required to make the most of being online. Inclusive Icon
  • Ensure everyone can access services. We will work to ensure that moving government and other services online reduces inequalities and does not exclude the least advantaged in society from the services they may need the mostInclusive Icon

Alignment to our National Performance Framework


We will;

  1. deliver broadband coverage for all;
  2. improve 4G mobile coverage;
  3. ensure all newly publicly-funded infrastructure is future-proofed for data requirements;
  4. provide equipment and digital skills training to those in need;
  5. ensure everyone can access services.
NPF Alignment
NPF Education Icon

Education – We are well-educated, skilled and able to contribute to society.

NPF Poverty Icon

Poverty – We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally.

NPF Communities Icon

Communities – We live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe.

NPF Environment Icon Environment – We value, enjoy, protect and enhance our environment.


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