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Scotland Commit £600m for 100% Coverage of 30Mbps Broadband

Thursday, December 14th, 2017 (5:25 pm) - Score 2,596
scotland broadband map uk project split

The Scottish Government has today confirmed that it plans to spend £600 million on gap funding for their R100 programme, which aims to make a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) capable network available to 100% of Scotland by the end of 2021 (March 2022 when viewing as a financial year).

At present around 92-93% of premises (homes and businesses) can already access a 30Mbps+ capable connection and this should rise to 95% by the end of March 2018. The effort so far has been largely supported by the existing £428m Digital Scotland (DSSB) project with BT (Openreach), which is busy rolling out a mix of their ‘up to’ 80Mbps FTTC and 330Mbps FTTP to various parts of the country (not to mention separate commercial deployments from the same operator and others like Virgin Media etc.).

However we should point out that the current target drops to just 86% for the rural Highland and Islands region by the end of 2017 (here). Overall some 800,000 additional premises have already been covered by the existing project, which has included the installation of a 400km long sub-sea and 30,000km land based fibre optic network.

Sadly this still leaves around 280,000+ premises left to serve, many of which exist in some of the toughest, most sparse and thus most expensive areas to reach, and that’s where the R100 programme comes into play. This also explains why it will cost significantly more to reach the final few percent of premises than it did to deliver the first c.800,000.

Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary, said:

“This is the biggest public investment ever made in a UK broadband project. It is a truly transformative moment for our broadband infrastructure and a statement of our intent to make Scotland a world-class digital nation.

Fast and reliable internet connection is vital for the economic and social wellbeing of all communities. This ambitious investment – which is more than three times what the UK Government is putting towards their own fibre broadband rollout – will revitalise the prospects of rural areas right across Scotland.

Building on the success of the Digital Scotland programme, we will deliver a future-proofed, national fibre network that will place rural Scotland among the best connected places anywhere in Europe.

I am confident that the scale of our investment, and of our ambition, will attract interest from a wide range of telecoms suppliers across the UK and Europe.”

The new investment forms part of the Scottish Government’s 2018-19 draft budget, which doesn’t actually give us any clear indication of where all the money will be coming from, although we note that £20.99m is still outstanding from BDUK Phase 2 and is thus likely to form part of the R100 pot.

The document also notes that the current Digital Scotland roll-out is expected to continue during 2018-19 and will reach more premises than originally planned, which is to be funded through gainshare (clawback) that requires BT to return part of the public investment as take-up rises above 20% (more is returned as this increases over the 7 year lifespan of the contract). This should complement R100’s work.

An initial procurement for the R100 programme is expected to formally begin by the end of December 2017 and this will then last for approximately one year, which is understandable given the complicated and challenging terrain that operators will need to consider as part of their surveys.

The gap-funding approach once again envisages an outcome where the Scottish Government’s investment will be matched by money from other public sources (e.g. councils) and the private sector. Interestingly the official line is that they will aim to “find suppliers who will connect as many premises as possible for the available subsidy,” which means that the 100% target is not yet set in stone until the potential supplier(s) have confirmed they can actually deliver it.

A lot of supplier engagement was undertaken during 2017 and this is said to have “concluded that a single procurement for R100, containing three regional lots, will give the best chance of maximising competition and attracting the widest possible range of bids.”

Mark Collins, Cityfibre’s Director of Strategy and Public Affairs, said:

“It is great to see Holyrood investing in superfast infrastructure to ensure nobody is left behind as the digital age takes hold. However, as today’s announcement about Aberdeen City Council shows, towns and cities across the country are already working with alternatives infrastructure builders like CityFibre to deliver even faster and more reliable full-fibre connectivity.

We look forward to learning more about this funding from the Scottish Government and understanding what it will deliver in terms of helping Scotland maximise its clear potential as a digital leader.”

Brendan Dick, BT Scotland Director, said:

“We have been open about our wish to participate in the R100 process and look forward to seeing the detail of the tenders.”

We think it is possible to reach 100% by 2021 with the available investment but there are a lot of uncertain factors to consider, not least with respect to technology choice (e.g. how much of a role will deeply inferior Satellite play?) and regulation flexibility. Nevertheless the Scottish Government should be commended for actually setting a solid target for universal coverage of 30Mbps+ broadband.

Nearly every other EU country except the UK has pledged to do something similar, although Wales is already working to try and find some suppliers who can beat Scotland’s ambition (here). We can only hope that little old England will find its way to deliver something better than just the 10Mbps+ USO.

NOTE: The statement claiming “this is the biggest public investment ever made in a UK broadband project” isn’t entirely correct because the national Broadband Delivery UK programme originally committed £530m to its first phase and £250m to its second phase (total of £830m), although quite a bit of that went on admin, lawyers, pilots, advertising and various other things before the deployment itself. On top of that local bodies (e.g. councils) have contributed around £903m in total contracted match funding.

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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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16 Responses
  1. Avatar Bob2002

    £600 million? That’s a heck of a lot of string!

    • Avatar JustAnotherFileServer

      It would be also interesting to know where this £600 million is coming from? It looks to me like Scotland is already independent, it’s got it’s own Parliament (but still allowed in the House of commons in London) and also has the power to assign money to what it sees fit. It’s a shame that England can’t do this, instead it thinks what’s best for the UK (or what it thinks is the best).

    • Recent activity by Westminster would belie this – with attempts to move away from a Scottish Parliament. It;s good that they are able to allocate significant funding to rural broadband, we need to maintain strong local communities to ensure ta good flow of whisky and venison down south! 🙂

    • Avatar Mark

      @justanotherfileserver

      Nicola sturgeon has just added a penny to tax to mid/high earners in Scotland so that will generate a good bit of cash.

      The reason Scotland has mps in Westminster is because we are still part of the United Kingdom and therefor have the same political structure as the rest of the country. I think you will also find that southern England in particular London has more tax money spent per person than anywhere else in the uk.

      I’m no nationalist but it’s twaddle like this that annoys me.

  2. Avatar Bill

    Are there no state aid concerns with this kind of investment?

  3. Avatar Optimist

    The Treasury does not have a the hundreds of millions needed. It needs to find £40 billions for the EU divorce bill, as well as £1 billion a month for foreign aid e.g. dictators’ private jets.

  4. Avatar Steve Jones

    £600m is a serious amount of money. If the same amount was spent on the UK as a whole, that would be equivalent to about £7.5bn. Of course Scotland has special geographic issues to take into consideration, but it’s still quite a sum and it could easily be around £3-4k per premises on the gap left after BDUK funding is exhausted.

    • Avatar Bill

      Scotland is expert at spending money it doesn’t have, sometimes as a distraction for its real fundamental economic problems.

    • Avatar occasionally factual

      This cost is why it is not a good idea to offer 100% coverage without a cost ceiling. There is no 100% right to have mains electricity, gas, water or sewage in the UK which are arguable more important than broadband.

  5. Avatar Mark

    @ bill

    I’m assuming your a dailymail reader

  6. Avatar Brian

    After seeing the way the Digial Scotland programme has been run, with people promised upgrades that simply don’t happen, “we will be doing work in your postcode” changes to “near your postcode”, I have very little confidence in this. The current program has been run to maximise sound bite opportunities for political purposes, those with the poorest connections were never considered. Now its clear that the 100% is not an actual commitment, it will be all to easy to fudge it by offering more satellite installation vouchers.

  7. Avatar James

    Digital Scotland’s input just seems to be paying for BT and their subs to upgrade neglected infrastructure after years of profits being paid to shareholders. I too have very little confidence in this being much of an improvement. But the blame lies squarely with westminster allowing BT to let things get so bad. I had better broadband in rural Germany in 2000 than I have on Skye at the moment 1 MB FFS, 2000AD said we would be flying around in personal spaceships not using empty bean cans and bits of string. Walking the dog last year I came across a bunch of BT cables sticking out of a duct in the ground, taped around them to keep the rain out was an empty crisp packet. Smokey bacon I recall.

    • Avatar Fastman

      so I assume that was from Deutsche Telecom (national state owned telephone company and how much did they charges you for it each month (and what speed was it) and what choice did you have to buy it from someone else

  8. Avatar craski

    Great to hear of further help. Hopefully they’ll manage the communication aspect better than Digital Scotland did where many areas were left not knowing if they would receive any help or not. Lets hope its not another 4 years of no feedback other than being told we are “Exploring Solutions”.

  9. Avatar Billy

    I support the campaign for English independence, we should leave Britain immediately and have our own parliament based in Leicester or somewhere. Let the Westminster government dictate to the Scottish and the Welsh and leave us alone!!1!

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