One of Scotland's leading broadband experts has warned the Scottish Government "not to repeat the mistakes of the past" by creating an expensive digital infrastructure which is inaccessible to business and private users.
In an online article for the Sunday Herald, Professor Michael Fourman, principal author of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's influential Digital Scotland report, said that a fibre-optic-based "future-proofed digital infrastructure" must be "open access" or capable of being shared by commercial providers.
He said: "Just as our roads and motorways carry security vans, diplomatic limos, private cars and public buses, so a single information infrastructure can safely carry everything from e-health and banking transactions to YouTube and Facebook."
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The Scottish Government is currently finalising procurement plans for the "Scottish Wide Area Network" (SWAN), a "network of networks" that will consolidate digital public services to make savings recommended by the 2010 McClelland Report into public-sector IT.
However, according to Fourman, fears of violating EU state aid rules may cause officials to repeat the errors of the "closed" Pathfinder network of 10 years ago, where schools were connected to the network but "outside of school hours these networks lay idle, inaccessible to local communities and businesses because they had not been procured and designed to provide open access".
Advice from top state aid lawyers seen by the Sunday Herald suggests that a publicly-funded open access SWAN network which is accessible to commercial wholesale providers could be exempt from state aid rules as a "service of general economic interest".
Michael Fourman's article can be read on our website www.heraldscotland/business