Conquering the digital divide could be transformational for Highland residents, according to a senior council official.
Stuart Black, Highland Council’s director of development and infrastructure, spoke out after a damning survey revealed that the Highlands, Orkney and Shetland have the worst broadband speeds anywhere in the UK.
The survey carried out by consumer watchdog Which? found that average speeds in the north fall significantly short of the government’s proposed minimum download speed of 10 Megabits per second.
Mr Black said funding has been available through the Inverness City Region Deal to make high speed broadband available throughout the Highland region.
He said: “The take-up across the Highlands is actually really good.
“When it is available a lot of people do take it up. This is all about making it available and there are places in the Highlands that it is not available.
“That’s what the £20million from the UK Government in conjunction with the Scottish Government and the R100 project will seek to address.
“There is a digital divide, it’s not simply about whether people choose to subscribe.
“It’s about do they have the ability to subscribe and through this city region deal we want to create access in conjunction with partners in government.”
Mr Black said that the best example of the power of the internet for the Highlands was the North Coast 500 – which has been developed largely off the back of digital marketing.
But he said that improved connectivity would be of benefit to individuals and businesses across the region, partly because of the Highlands’ relative remoteness.
He added: “It makes a difference for every individual as a consumer because there are so many deals online which you can’t get anywhere else.
“It’s also important for for businesses where it creates significant opportunities for online trading, accessing advice, accessing products and services in a way which can’t really address by any other means.
“We’re always going to be slightly further away for physical transport. We’ve got great air connectivity but digital connectivity really transforms things because you are then able to access the world just as quickly as everyone else.”