The £410 million Digital Scotland project with BT (Openreach) has announced that £15.6 million from contract clawback (Gainshare) will be reinvested to raise the number of homes and businesses that have access to “superfast broadband” speeds of greater than 24Mbps.
At present the project has already helped to make FTTC/P based superfast broadband networks available to nearly 90% of premises in Scotland and the current plan is to reach around 95% of Scotland with “high speed fibre broadband” by the end of March 2018, although this figure drops to 86% for the rural Highland and Islands region by the end of 2017 (here). We’re not completely certain whether that 86% for the H&I reflects the raw fibre footprint (inc. sub-24Mbps speeds) or speeds of 24-30Mbps+.
The good news is that the Digital Scotland contract, which also makes use of public investment from the Broadband Delivery UK scheme and private investment from BT, includes a clawback provision that requires BT to return part of the public investment when uptake of the new service passes beyond the 20% mark. The money that gets returned can then be reinvested to further improve coverage and connection speeds.
The programme is currently split into two halves (The Rest of Scotland and The Highlands & Islands) and we’ve already seen clawback return £2.3m for the H&I region, which will be used to reach an additional 6,000 premises.
Today the Scottish Government has confirmed that an overall project total of £15.6m will now be returned via clawback, which is expected to help boost FTTC/P broadband coverage and performance in areas with poor speeds including Aberdeenshire, Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Perth and Kinross, the Scottish Borders and Stirling.
Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution, said:
“I am delighted that thanks to the higher than expected uptake of our Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme more premises than originally planned will now have the opportunity to benefit from investment in reliable and speedy broadband services.
The increase in broadband access shows clearly the difference this Government is making to people, communities and businesses, supporting jobs and livelihoods in the North East of Scotland.
This additional funding will benefit local authorities across the country but will be focussed on those areas that need it most including Aberdeenshire, Angus, and Perthshire as well as Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.
Work is already underway and by December 2018 every local authority across the project area will enjoy at least 85% superfast broadband coverage with users able to experience speeds of above 24Mbps as part of our commitment to deliver 100% superfast broadband by 2020.
We are already looking at how we reach further and ultimately ensure we get superfast speeds to all. This will include extending the programme to new areas, as well as identifying new solutions for parts of the network that are currently unable to access superfast speeds.”
Robert Thorburn, BT Scotland’s Fibre Broadband Director, said:
“We are proud of the Digital Scotland rollout – a massive infrastructure project that’s being delivered on time and on budget and provides a vital digital network for Scotland for generations to come. It’s built in to the contract that strong take-up levels trigger the release of funds for reinvestment back into the network, and BT has chosen to release these funds early so we can go further.”
We assume Mackay isn’t referencing the whole of Scotland when he talks about “at least 85% superfast broadband coverage” because we’re already well past that point, although the H&I region is still a long way behind. Another confusion is that the press release refers to “superfast” as being 24Mbps+, which is despite Digital Scotland and all future contracts normally using the 30Mbps+ definition. Fun.
Meanwhile the Scottish Government are currently still working to develop a plan that will extend “superfast broadband” coverage to 100% of premises by 2021 (here), although we think they’d struggle to deliver that in the H&I region without falling back to fixed wireless and / or inferior Satellite solutions.
The press release describes this £15.6m as being “additional” money, although strictly speaking clawback is a partial reinvestment of an existing commitment. Sadly today’s announcement doesn’t offer any further detail.