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RBS Bank Closures Hit Areas of Weak UK Superfast Broadband Availability

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017 (4:36 pm) - Score 539
rural broadband and river scene

Last week the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) managed to cause a storm by announcing the closure of 62 branches for 2018, although at the time the bank said online banking would still allow remote customers to access their accounts. But a new report warns of problems with broadband connectivity.

According to the Press and Journal, many of the branches being targeted for closure exist in areas where the availability of “superfast broadband” is considered to be weak or virtually non-existent (e.g. Tongue, Kyle etc.). Unsurprisingly quite a lot of the closures also appear to affect parts of the Scottish Highlands and Scotland in general.

The newspaper includes a quote from the MP for Banff and Buchan, David Duguid, who warns that the bank’s claim of keeping people connected to their accounts online could become “very difficult indeed if you don’t have a reliable broadband connection.

A Spokesperson for RBS said:

“More and more of our customers are choosing to do their everyday banking online or on mobile. Since 2012 the number of customers using our branches in Scotland has fallen by 44%. Only 1% of our customers in Scotland now use a branch regularly while the number of regular mobile users has increased by 39% since 2015.

As customers continue to change the way they bank with us, we must change the way we serve them, so we are investing in our more popular branches and shaping our network, replacing traditional bricks and mortar branches with alternative ways to bank.”

Now let’s put all of this into some context. The £428m Digital Scotland (DSSB) project with BT (Openreach) aims to extend fixed line “high speed fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) coverage to 95% of Scottish homes and businesses by the end of March 2018, although that drops to just 86% for the rural Highland and Islands region.

Crucially we’re not entirely sure what the target speed for that 95% figure represents, although the current coverage of “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) in Scotland is around 92-93% depending on your data source. Obviously this is a national average figure and so some areas, such as quite a few parts of the Highlands, are still trialling well behind.

Back to the bank closures. None of this will come as much of a surprise because many of the areas set to lose local banking services also tend to be locations with sparse populations, such as rural highland communities. Over the past few years we’ve also seen a similar decline in post offices, pubs and other rural services from such communities, where the cost of maintaining those facilities has become challenging (example).

The counter argument here is that you don’t strictly need a superfast connection in order to conduct online banking (banking sites should work fine with 1-2Mbps). A far bigger concern is likely to come from elderly users, many of which prefer to talk with a human than fiddle with unfamiliar internet connectivity. Actually most of us like the option of talking with a human, not only pensioners, although increasingly to get this from your bank it means having to travel a fair bit further (e.g. into a larger town).

As this point the UK Government might step in to point out that their roll-out of “superfast broadband” is on-going and should cover around 98% of UK premises by 2020, while it’s hoped that the remaining 2% can be catered for via a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO). The latter assumes that the Government can find a way through some of the current regulatory and competition concerns (example).

Meanwhile Scotland has separately set itself the target of reaching 100% coverage of 30Mbps+ broadband by 2021 (here) and the contract for this could potentially go out to tender before Christmas. However that’s unlikely to help those isolated communities that will begin to suffer from the RBS closures next year, although many can still get broadband that’s good enough for basic online banking.. if far from perfect.

NOTE: RBS is 72% owned by British taxpayers after a £45bn bailout in 2008.

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Mark Jackson

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

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