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Rural areas denied access to the web;News;News amp; Opinion

HIGHLAND SCHOOLS could become a communications backwater unless companies install the latest digital technology. Bruce Robertson, director of education in Highland, has warned that pupils could lose out from lack of space on internet connections.

Other councils have similar concerns. And business has also criticised British Telecom's refusal to roll out ADSL digital technology in remote areas. Local companies fear they could be stranded in the second division of e-commerce.

Mr Robertson said schools now have around 3,500 modern computers, but cautioned that the full investment could be limited without systems upgrades. "We are doing really well with ICT," he said, "but we are dependent on communications providers for an infrastructure to maximise opportunities. We need increased bandwidths and digital upgrades extended to the Highland area, to ensure we have the most up to date digital technology available to us in education, as well as industry and commerce. We have taken this argument to the Scottish Executive, and it is important we keep the pressure on them and on telecommunications providers. Even if it costs a lot of money, it is our right to have exactly the same opportunities as other areas of Britain."

Angus shares some of these concerns, said Craig Clement, head of educational services. The council is investigating ways to link up rural primaries, although burgh schools are already linked by a corporate network.

A BT spokesman said the first phase of ADSL technology was confined to urban areas in Britain. In Scotland, only Glasgow and Edinburgh would be among the 400 exchanges to benefit by next March. "If demand is strong enough, the majority of households and businesses could be in coverage within three years," he said.

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