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Orkney MSP Calls for Clarity on Scotland’s R100 Broadband Target

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019 (1:38 pm) - Score 1,059

The MSP for Orkney, Liam McArthur (LibDem), has called on the Scottish Government’s Connectivity Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to come clean with regards to whether or not they have now “quietly abandoned” the target to make “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) available to all of Scotland by the end of 2021 (March 2022 financial).

Officially the £600m Reaching 100% (R100) project hasn’t yet changed its rollout target, although the recent confirmation (here) that no contracts would now be awarded until the end of 2019 – it was originally supposed to be announced by the end of 2018 – has fuelled concerns that the 2021 goal may not survive (unless they opt for an inferior Satellite solution or something along those lines).

At present around 94% (average) of premises across Scotland can order a superfast service, although tackling the final 5-6% won’t be easy as an increasing number of sparse communities exist in remote rural areas. In such locations the normal economic models tend to become extremely stretched and deployment often slows to a crawl. Wales has already discovered how difficult it is to deliver on such big ambitions (here).

One other awkward catch for the Scottish Government is that the current Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, has staked his job on completing the R100 roll-out by 2021/22 (here). “If I don’t deliver this by 2021, I think it will be time for [me] to depart and do something else, and leave the job to somebody else. But I can assure you, we’re on the case,” said one very optimistic Fergus in May 2018.

Liam McArthur MSP said (Orcadian):

“Walking back on the deadline for R100 is bad enough, but deliberately dodging legitimate questions shows a blatant disregard for those who need these upgrades the most. Rural and island areas have been left behind for too long when it comes to broadband services.

The SNP made much of their promise of high speed internet for every household in Scotland by 2021 during the last election. It is not good enough for the deadline to be quietly abandoned as if it doesn’t matter. Islanders have the right to demand better.”

In fairness the Scottish Government have had to deal with a number of difficult problems, such as a dispute between the prospective suppliers, as well as DCMS’s move toward only approving Building Digital UK contracts if they’re in keeping with the new focus on “full fibre” (FTTP) and the recent appointment of Boris Johnson as UK Prime Minister (his 2025 target for total full fibre coverage is welcome but currently lacks credibility).

Similarly they have previously acknowledged that the aim with R100 is to reach “as many premises as possible for the available subsidy,” which is rather different from the much more public promise to achieve 100% coverage (as per the very name of their project). Sadly we tend to only get the relevant details once contracts have been assigned and initial surveys completed.

Once again it’s worth reminding readers that the responsibility for improving broadband in Scotland is reserved to Westminster. On the other hand it’s normal for local bodies around the UK to contribute their own funding toward such efforts, which has helped to spread the coverage of superfast broadband much further than would have otherwise been possible with only central Government funding.

In the meantime isolated communities will, from March 2020, gain access to request the new 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO), although most of that is expected to be delivered via EE’s 4G network rather than FTTC/P (full details).

At present around 180,000 premises across Scotland are deemed eligible for intervention under R100 (across three lots), which given the £600m equates to a significant subsidy of around £3,300+ per premises. You could certainly do an awful lot of FTTP across that patch for such investment, particularly if the chosen supplier(s) put some of their own funding into the pot.

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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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6 Responses
  1. Avatar Gary

    Sticky position for the SNP, they’re not likely to lose an election anytime soon so can’t dump the issue on another political party, That said it will naturally be Westminsters fault when it doesn’t work out.

    I can almost hear Nicola explaining how ‘If’ we had been Independent we could have had superfast for all.

    • Avatar Gary

      The latest release from SG here https://www.gov.scot/publications/reaching-100-superfast-broadband-2/ 1 day ago adds nothing really to what we previously knew, which was again practically nothing.

    • As per the article, it’s what that update doesn’t say that matters. The 2021 date has gone.

    • Avatar John

      “That said it will naturally be Westminsters fault when it doesn’t work out.”

      It is…

      Broadband/Internet is reserved to Westminster.

      R100 is the Scottish Governments own initiative with its own cash, over and above BDUK funding from Westminster.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      It is probably just the date issue. ISPreview reported another 60k premises within the existing project from existing funds, this will take more than 20201 before R100 starts. They will need to push on to 2025 as no additional resources was brought into play while cabs without in-fill were being deployed. The money if managed would remain within the system.

      I think this is what we are now observing.

  2. Avatar Brian

    So no change, any promise of improvements just pushed back yet again.

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