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An Independent Scotland Could Result in Higher Broadband Prices

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 (1:29 pm) - Score 1,241

The debate over whether or not Scotland should become independent from the United Kingdom is generally marred by political division, which often overlooks some of the more technical and economic questions; such as what happens to the cost and speed of broadband in Scotland, England, N.Ireland and Wales if the former separates?

It’s a question we’ve been examining ourselves for a while. A question that initially seems straightforward to answer but quickly becomes incredibly complicated to fathom in its entirety. So far none of the ISPs we’ve asked about this, including some of the big boys like BT and Virgin Media, appear to have an answer. Yet.

At its core is a problem that Scotland shares with Wales. The vast majority of Scotland’s territory is predominantly rural and thus costly to maintain for the delivery of BT’s traditional fixed line broadband services; Virgin Media is largely focused upon urban areas and thus less likely to be affected, at least not to the same extreme.

In theory this suggests that an independent Scotland could see higher prices for broadband and phone services, while England and Wales might conceivably benefit from slightly cheaper and comparatively faster options. Entanet’s Head of Marketing, Darren Farnden, has today waded into the debate and offered an ISPs viewpoint on the subject. But equally they’re no closer to having the answers.

Darren Farnden said:

Another point for consideration is the cost of broadband. We have already stated that Scotland’s hard to reach areas have resulted in slow speeds or a lack of service altogether. This often means that technologies such as satellite broadband have to be used as fixed line services simply aren’t viable. However, satellite services are usually more expensive for the end user. Add to this the fact that our experience shows Scottish based urban users tend to consume more bandwidth than English users and such services could be very costly.

Will such factors mean that English based providers will increase the cost of supplying broadband services in Scotland, pushing up the price for Scottish residents? Will this then have a knock on effect for customers in Northern Ireland as many of the key undersea fibre is connected via Scotland? On the other hand will Scottish based ISPs and resellers benefit from an opportunity to compete against their English counter parts?”

Farnden notes that “at this stage it’s all just speculation” and indeed we don’t even know if Scotland will vote to become independent. But if it does then how would UK ISPs need to change their structure? Would Ofcom’s rules differ between north and south of the border? Would Ofcom simply cease to exist in Scotland? What about the impact on mobile services? You start with a simple question and soon end up with 1,000 more.

Whatever the outcome, Scotland will get the chance to decide in 2014, when a referendum is held to decide the country’s future. So far the focus has been on the political and economic side of the debate, with zero attention being given to how it might impact broadband and mobile services, not to mention other complicated industries.

We don’t envy Scottish voters, especially when the answers to some of the biggest questions won’t necessarily become clear until after the vote is taken. Leaving the development of a new telecoms structure until after the vote means that people won’t really know what they’re getting, which we suppose is much like any general election.. only much more dangerous.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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