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

Sunday, Sep 11th, 2016 (8:44 am) - Score 2,779

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.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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