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Everyone's leaving rural Scotland because the Internet is too slow

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Population shifts are driven by all sorts of social factors, but the Scottish government appears to have pinpointed a new one: direly sluggish Internet connections.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead today told Scottish Parliament that “[e]vidence is emerging of broadband-led rural depopulation amid concerns that nearly a fifth of homes in the Highlands and Islands” will not have their service upgraded any time soon, The Scotsman reported.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government's economic and community development agency, has the funds to ensure high-speed broadband for 84 percent of the population in the next three years, but Finance Secretary John Swinney has promised 95 percent coverage by 2018, which won’t be possible without more money.

The U.K. government, meanwhile, has amassed a £250 million “broadband pot” to bankroll increased connectivity across the country, planning to split the money among 10 large cities; now the Scottish Government is lobbying for a handful of that capital to meet their ambitious goals, and possibly prevent an outflux of younger citizens to more urban areas.

Two U.K. mobile operators, Vodafone and EE, have criticized the national plan for rolling out rural broadband infrastructure, claiming that the intended competition for contracts failed to materialize: about two weeks ago, a House of Commons watchdog issued a report stating that “all 26 local contracts for rural broadband have gone to BT, and that the incumbent operator is also likely to win all 18 remaining contracts. This is only because BT was the only bidder for the contracts after rival Fujitsu withdrew from the process.” Moreover, the goverment accepted “contract terms that were overly generous to BT and do not promote value for money, such as confidentiality clauses over bid costs and roll-out plans.”

Commenters, even those who could attest to the deplorable Internet speeds in the Scottish highlands and islands, were not entirely convinced that depopulation could be tied to the lack of broadband, noting that pressures like poor job prospects and high gas prices were just as much to blame, if not more so. “Who moved out of the highlands due to slow broadband?” asked one. Our guess would be someone tired of getting booted from World of Warcraft servers.

H/T The Scotsman/Betabeat | Photo by bobbyneng/Flickr