Could telecoms split benefit Scotland's rural economy?

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Could telecoms split benefit Scotland's rural economy?

Many residents of Scotland’s rural areas are affected by a lack of connectivity. There has been some debate on this subject, and it appears that changes made recently at BT Openreach could mean good news for people in more remote areas, who struggle for the connectivity many of us take for granted.

While general telecoms and business landlines may have been functioning in sparsely populated parts of Scotland, keeping up with today’s world means having access to services such as mobile and office based telephony systems and VOIP systems.

Openreach is a subsidiary of BT that takes care of the national network which maintains connections between homes, business systems and call handling systems in the UK. The developments at Openreach indicate that it will be separated from BT to some degree, with its own board. The board will be independent, although Openreach will still receive funding from BT. Now that this is happening, it is also time for an effective strategy to be put into place for servicing remote areas.

Some think that the sluggish pace at which this story has developed in many ways reflects the slowness of the internet across the Highlands and on Scotland’s many islands.

Change is now on the horizon, and this signals positive effects on business systems, business landlines, telecoms generally and mobile and office based telephony systems. Improvement in VOIP systems could really benefit businesses.

There had been moves to separate Openreach completely from BT and make it completely independent. Some people felt that Openreach was too enmeshed with BT and was too reliant on BT’s business, which is generally driven by the money to be made from domestic users, and what is known as quad play contracts, which encompass the internet, mobile phones, television and landlines. Some households spend up to £100 per month on these services.

The push for domestic business builds the motivation to provide telecoms infrastructure, for both homes and business systems. However, the eagerness to create infrastructure tends to remain more in areas where there are large clusters of customers, although infrastructure created for business landlines can also be used by the domestic customer base.

While some feel the complete separation of BT and Openreach is the ideal solution, the practicalities of carrying this out would be extremely difficult and time consuming and would require more than 30,000 staff members to swap from one company to another.

The government has vowed that every business and local community will enjoy 100 per cent connectivity by 2021. A more efficient and responsive business model can only assist in making this happen.

The goal is not only desirable but achievable, although compromises may be required along the way. For this target to be reached, the big telecoms providers will need to work harmoniously with smaller companies to ensure that rapid connectivity and efficient infrastructure reaches every corner of Scotland.

Significant strides are already being made, as Openreach has engaged almost 200 new trainees to look after areas such as Orkney, Inverness, the Western Islands and Wick. These areas had been neglected to some extent, due to lack of profitability. It is in everyone’s interest to improve the network, to serve UK businesses and help them be more profitable.