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Scotland Starts Planning its 30Mbps+ Broadband for All by 2021 Goal

Sunday, September 11th, 2016 (8:44 am) - Score 2,420
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The Scottish Government has finally begun the formal process of setting out a plan for reaching its goal of 100% “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) coverage by 2021, which will aim to reach an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 premises that are unlikely to benefit from their existing strategy.

At present the £410m Digital Scotland project with BT has already made its FTTC/P based superfast broadband network available to 85% of premises in Scotland and they’re now working towards the next goal of 95% “fibre broadband” coverage by December 2017 the end of March 2018 (note: the rural Highland and Islands region alone only expects to hit 84% by the end of 2016).

However the government will face a significant challenge in connecting up the final 5%, not least due to the often disproportionately expensive nature of spending huge amounts of money in order to run new infrastructure into small remote rural communities where any hope of a realistic payback on the investment can be hard to achieve without compromising on the technology.

The good news, as spotted by Thinkbroadband, is that the Scottish Government has at least started the process for its universal coverage ambitions by publishing a Prior Information Notice for the new (R100) programme.

The focus on 100% coverage of 30Mbps also appears to be more aggressive than the central UK Government’s approach of using a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) to help the most remote areas. However the USO is at least legally-binding, whereas the Scottish strategy, so far, is not.

The R100 Prior Information Notice (PIN)

The purpose of this programme is to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure that will support superfast broadband connections (i.e. above 30 megabit per second (mbps)) to premises that will not receive such a service with existing or planned infrastructure by the end of 2021 with significant progress by the end of 2018.

The programme builds on the investment in superfast broadband that has been realised through the two Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programmes being run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Government Rest of Scotland (ROS). We have estimated there may be around 200-000 – 300,000 white premises to be addressed by the R100 programme.

For various reasons including state aid requirements it is likely that the remaining premises will be split into several procurements or lots within one or more procurements.

The PIN is NOT a tender and merely gives ISPs notice that the Scottish Government is planning to go on a future procurement (i.e. usually within the next 12 months) and wants to hear from any network operators’ that might have an interest.

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Connectivity, said:

“As announced in the Programme for Government, we are putting digital connectivity at the heart of our agenda and delivering 100% superfast broadband for Scotland by the end of the next Parliament is one of our priorities.

Enhanced digital connectivity will improve the productivity of businesses and help to build economic growth in remote and rural areas, transforming the prospects for those who live there. We are making good progress, having met our interim target of 85% for the whole of Scotland six months ahead of schedule, but there is more we need to do to ensure we achieve our digital ambitions.

The publication of the PIN today is the latest step in achieving that ambition and I would encourage all potential suppliers to get involved to help shape our approach.”

A recent report from Audit Scotland (here) stated that high take-up (clawback) and other savings from the initial roll-out would result in BT returning £23 million of public investment to help extend broadband coverage (i.e. £17.8m from clawback), while the Scottish Government is said to have set aside £42 million (we assume this includes the £20,990,000 allocated via Phase 2 of the Broadband Delivery UK programme).

Most people might think that £65 million is a lot of money, but in reality this is likely to fall a long way short of what will be needed to achieve 100% coverage of 30Mbps+. In that sense we wouldn’t be surprised if the Scottish Government fell back on Wireless or possibly even inferior Satellite connectivity as a quick fix for many of the most remote communities.

Similarly it would be unwise to assume that BT (Openreach) will be the dominant supplier this time around. As a commercial business BT will only investment if it makes economic sense, but there will always be extreme areas where an economically viable case simply cannot be made, at least not without a much greater proportion of public investment. At the very least this may offer a greater opportunity for innovative alternative network (altnet) providers.

Scotland’s vast areas of rugged and remote rural terrain are clearly a disadvantage on the connectivity front, but this doesn’t mean to say that the 30Mbps for all target is unachievable. Never the less it seems clear that a much larger pot of money will have to be established, otherwise we’d expect to see a lot more Satellite dishes in rural Scotland and that won’t go down well with everybody.

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Mark Jackson
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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9 Responses
  1. Robbie The Pict

    Audit Scotland Report – March 2016 2.2m premises out of 2.6m have access to fibre broadband

    Reaching 100% Programme Prior Information Notice – “We have estimated there may be around 200-000 – 300,000 white premises to be addressed by the R100 programme”.

    1. So SG “confirm” ? that between 11.5 and 7.7 % premises (of 2.6m premises) will not get superfast broadband speeds at conclusion of DSSB Phase 1 programme – and these percentages will be far higher in rural areas

    2. Is it Reaching 100% or Reaching For 100% ?

    3. Scottish Government in Notice use term white premises rather than white postcodes – recognition of premises in the 95% not in white postcodes which do not get superfast (>24Mbps ?) at last ?

    4. Does the 200-000 – 300,000 white premises include those premises which were or planned for commercial coverage already counted as having “fibre coverage” but less than 30mbps

  2. alusufferer

    would someone in my situation be covered by this? Covered by FTTC in urban location but Superfast (even at 24mbps) is not achievable. Gfast will achieve nothing for us if deployed at the cabinet and im not sure LR vdsl will be deployed in towns? would be interested to know so i could forward the Notice to local MPs and Council

  3. Cecil Ward

    How do I ensure that those in power do not cop out and force satellite onto us? What can I do?

    • I’d start by writing to whoever is your local representative in the Scottish parliament.

    • Explaining the importance of latency will be a start, good luck!

      (this is the problem with a lot of ‘this sort of thing’, people are measuring internet connections by just one metric (downlink bandwidth) but uplink bandwidth and latency are just as important if you want to have two-way communication)

      The ‘fibre-when-its copper’ and the ‘speed of light’ nonsense are just the tip of the iceberg as I think we’re about to find out.

  4. We recently converted an existing customer on the Isle of Tiree from 20CN ADSL to FTTC. Whilst their speed has improved by 400% it is still nowhere near 30Mbps! We cannot see how the Scottish government could justify the investment needed to get this customer 30Mbps.

    • TheManStan

      Ouch sounds like both long E and D sides. Are they getting ~10-15 MBps at the moment? LR-VDSL2 would bring them up to ~30MBps… of course no ADSL services would be allowed on it.
      But this would be at BT ORs expense if part of USO, i’d hazard a guess that they could recoup costs through the simplified management of products (no adsl to contend with).

    • Quick up date on this one .. We have now helped to resolve an internal PSTN line issue and the customer is now achieving a connection of 8.5Mbps. So we’re getting there but 30Mbps still a long way off.

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