Scottish Gigabit Cities

 

Speech by Lewis Macdonald in the Scottish Parliament debate

 

8 May 2019



I, too, congratulate Bruce Crawford on securing the debate, and on highlighting the importance of a number of Scotland’s cities and city regions that are leading the digital revolution.

If data is the feedstock of the new economy, digital infrastructure to send and receive vast quantities of data at the highest possible speeds is as important in the online world as transport infrastructure is to movement of people and goods.

The Aberdeen city region has been one of the first to grasp the opportunity and challenge of ultrafast connectivity and, as Maureen Watt said, Aberdeen is leading the way in extending full next-generation fibre to the premises—FTTP—which is being delivered by a partnership of CityFibre and Vodafone, with an investment of £40 million.

CityFibre says that :

“Aberdeen was chosen as the first Scottish city in this FTTP roll-out”

not just :

“because of the community’s strong tech sector”,

which has been mentioned, but because of

“the council’s forward-looking commitment to smart city initiatives, and the strength of its support for the project.”

Those three elements—engagement by business, a forward-looking local council and strong buy-in with investment by the public and private sectors—will be important for other cities and regions, too.

Information technology in Aberdeen has grown strongly in recent years—first as a by-product of the energy industry and then, during the downturn of the past five years, as an alternative to it.

Data analysts and other skilled workers who were laid off from the oil and gas industry soon found other industries that were keen to take them on or, in many cases, they set up in business for themselves.

Aberdeen City Council and its partners were quick to recognise the urgent need to diversify the local and regional economies, and to embrace digital infrastructure as one of the smartest ways of doing that.

Aberdeen’s gigabit city initiative, which was launched as early as 2015, aimed to create an 80km full-fibre network to serve new and existing businesses.

The Aberdeen city region deal followed in 2016, which brought on board the Scottish and UK Governments and established Opportunity North East to represent the private sector in working with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council.

Aberdeen City Council then extended plans for the network to 100km by connecting public buildings across the city from 2017, with Scottish Government support.

That strategic public investment helped to anchor deployment of fibre in the city and gave some certainty to the private investors who later came forward.

It was also a powerful signal of the council’s support for the city to go further. That takes us to last year’s announcement.

The aim is to deliver FTTP to thousands more homes and businesses through an expanded city-wide network of up to 880km.

As we have heard, construction began last summer and, across the city, the first homes have already been connected.

That means full fibre not just from the exchange to the street cabinet, but from the street cabinet to every individual home or business that it serves.

That will deliver ultrafast speeds, virtually unlimited bandwidth and a high standard of reliability.

Some technological advances in recent decades have become obsolete within a few short years.

Nobody can know what has not yet been invented, but gigabit connectivity is likely to put Aberdeen and our other gigabit cities in a very strong place for decades to come.

That is good news for existing businesses.

As well as making those cities great places to start up new businesses, it provides lots of other opportunities, from online GP consultations, which Bruce Crawford mentioned, to remote monitoring of vulnerable people who live alone, to online learning opportunities in schools, colleges and universities.

It also provides a solid foundation for Aberdeen’s next-century post-oil economy by delivering the world-class and worldwide connectivity that is essential for the city and region to diversify and grow.