Hanging on the telephone

Working in public services requires a great deal of connectivity – both with regards to phone signal and internet connection. But what about when you are based somewhere without a good internet connection? LGiU Scotland’s Kim Fellows blogs about her travels across Scotland recently and the difficulties she has faced.

It has been a real privilege for me over the last few months to visit many different parts of Scotland. I have been uphill and down dale (literally and metaphorically) for both work and fun. What a beautiful country we live in.

I work freelance, and when I am out and about in my hometown of Edinburgh I rather take for granted access to both mobile data and a phone signal. However, I must say travelling to some far-flung places in Scotland this year has given me a real insight into working life in the public and private sector outside the “central belt”.  I am sure I am not alone in taking the role of connectivity and the essential part it plays in public services for granted.

Audit Scotland published a report on the roll out of broadband across Scotland including the ambitious target of 100% coverage by 2021.

The 95% roll out has been achieved but I have been moved to write of my experience of the “left behind” – that 5% gap or lacuna in connectivity. These are the people who rely on satellites and masts for internet services. Some communities have taken matters into their own hands – for example, the village of Balquhidder built their own broadband service.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of a phone signal. I was working on a tricky, private and time-sensitive piece of work. After standing on my tiptoes up a hill, hanging out of a window and then wandering around a village, I was forced to go into a café and beg to use the landline. Just outside Gairloch, again with no phone signal, I found a payphone, scrambled together my change and hoped for the best, but no, you had to have a BT charge card. Off to beg again for a landline connection in the local pub. Well, someone had to!

Then secondly, mobile data. I was travelling in hope, with my trusty mobile internet hotspot, in search of the G spot. It was weird – sometimes I would find a lonely bit of remote road, grab some Gs, sometimes even 4Gs, then it would disappear. Drive on a bit and those elusive Gs would return. Then it would rain, and the Gs would disappear again.

You might scoff and say ‘big deal’ to this situation. I was mildly inconvenienced, and forced to drink unwanted coffee to steal a bit of broadband . However, I did wonder how public services manage in these circumstances. It must be challenging to do the things folk like me take for granted like booking online classes at the publically-provided gym, reporting issues to my local council, checking bus times or recycling dates, speaking to my GP, claiming benefits and a myriad of other things.

This isn’t just an issue for public services – private and third sector organisations must have a hard time too.

So when you hear about people having a ‘digital detox’, spare a thought for those souls who in 2018 are waiting patiently for Gs and connectivity.

And of course, a big thank you to all those lovely people and businesses who let me use their phones and WiFi!

Photo Credit: alexliivet Flickr via Compfight cc

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