DIGITAL connectivity is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s agenda and its approach is deliberately ambitious, according to the rural economy and connectivity secretary.

Fergus Ewing’s remarks came in response to an article by National columnist Lesley Riddoch, in which she described the rollout of superfast broadband in Scotland, especially in rural parts, as “a bit of a disaster”.

Ewing said the article did not capture an accurate picture of the work going on “to ensure the whole country is properly served by the most up-to-date communications infrastructure possible”.

He said: “The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) rollout is one of the largest and most challenging civil engineering projects in Europe.

“Alongside our DSSB delivery partners, we are investing over £410 million to extend access fibre broadband to 95 per cent of premises in Scotland by the end of 2017.

“We are making good progress. By September 2016, over 650,000 premises had access to fibre broadband – meeting our interim target of 85 per cent for the whole of Scotland six months ahead of schedule. This public investment in digital connectivity will result in at least 95 per cent of premises having access to fibre broadband by the end of 2017.”

Ewing said it was never designed to deliver superfast broadband to every premises in this timeframe, but without the DSSB programme only two thirds of premises would have coverage and only a fifth across the Highlands and Islands.

He added: “We are not content to wait for the solutions to be handed down to us through the UK government’s reserved powers in this area. We need Scottish solutions to a meet Scotland’s digital needs.

He said successive UK governments had treated the mobile spectrum as a commodity to generate income, rather than use them to get operators to deliver mobile broadband to all of the country.

“We successfully lobbied Ofcom prior to the 4G spectrum auction to ensure a minimum 4G coverage obligation for Scotland, avoiding past auction mistakes,” said Ewing. “As a result, O2 Vodafone, EE and Three have all publicly committed to delivering 95 per cent indoor coverage by 2017.

“But that still leaves huge swathes of Scotland’s geography without coverage. A key focus is to ensure that future licence conditions are designed differently – with the emphasis on maximising coverage rather than income for the UK government.”

The Scottish Government’s Mobile Action Plan outlined how devolved levers could be pulled to improve “investment cases and 4G coverage”.

Community broadband networks were also supported by the Scottish Government, although he said this could be a huge commitment and was not for every community.

“Digital connectivity is vital to the sustainability of our future economy and communities. We have chosen a different focus to those at Westminster, which provides a role for public investment in our digital future. It is exciting to see real signs that our approach is delivering for Scotland,” added Ewing.

Charlie Boisseau, chief technology officer for communications group Commsworld, said the aim of connecting 100 per cent of properties by 2020 was a “pipe dream” and the provision of superfast broadband to rural areas had been “patchy at best”.

“Whether any one party can be blamed for this shortfall is open to discussion but if any progress is to be made in providing everyone with “superfast broadband” the government must open the building of network infrastructure to more companies,” he said.

“When this project began there was little choice to be made and Openreach was seen to be essentially the only option and won out.

“The great successes of so-called ‘alt-nets’ such as Broadband 4 the Rural North (B4RN) and Gigaclear in England, and Shetland Telecom in the northern isles, highlight the need to utilise smaller companies to build new alternative infrastructure.

“These companies have done a stellar job providing some of our most remote communities with excellent coverage and, in some cases, have demonstrated it can be done without central funding.

“A more holistic approach is needed if Scotland is to emulate the Faroe Islands, whose broadband provision is probably the best in the world.

“Faroes Telecom (FT) have achieved something remarkable and, as a centrally controlled body, proved that neither small stature nor central control are barriers to success.”