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Scotland’s R100 30Mbps Broadband Rollout May Finish by 2024

Friday, December 6th, 2019 (10:03 am) - Score 2,090

The Scottish Government‘s £600m R100 (Reaching 100%) contract with BT (here and here), which originally aspired to make “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) ISP networks available to “every single premises in Scotland” by the end of 2021 and is already running a year behind schedule, may allegedly not complete until late 2024.

The 2021 date always seemed to be an overly optimistic one, particularly since one of R100’s aims was to encourage greater use of “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband technology where possible. The fact that it took a year longer than expected before the contracts for all three regional LOTS were finally awarded (to BT) merely served to reinforce that viewpoint.

Likewise we also know from the original procurement document that the aspiration of achieving 100% coverage is similarly open to debate (officially the aim is to cover “as many premises as possible by the end of 2021“). As it stands the final procurement exercise is on-going and as a result we’ve yet to see any details of the final roll-out plan, time-scale or technology mix (further information is expected early in the New Year).

However a report in the Press and Journal has managed to catch sight of a more recent procurement document linked to R100, which perhaps inadvertently revealed that ministers still needed “key management resources” in order to deliver the R100 programme “over the next four years” (i.e. by the end of 2024). Naturally this came up in yesterday’s session of the Scottish Parliament.

Peter Chapman MSP (Conservative – North East Scotland):

“It is clear that the R100 programme is well behind its original timetable, and Fergus Ewing pledged to quit if he failed to deliver on the R100 project by 2021. As it is very clear that the scheme will not be delivered on that timeframe, will the minister follow the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy’s example?”

Paul Wheelhouse – Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (SNP):

“Oh dear. As we made clear in the information that we provided to, for example, The Herald newspaper for its coverage today, the contracts that were referenced have been awarded to resource the R100 delivery team and therefore do not correlate directly with the date of completion of the deployment. To answer Mr Chapman, we are currently looking to complete the procurement process.

I want to set out the Government’s record on delivery on broadband for Scotland. We met our target for providing access to fibre broadband to 95 per cent of premises across Scotland on time and on budget. Indeed, we exceeded that target; more than 940,000 premises can now access fibre broadband, which is about 100,000 more than was anticipated. Digital Scotland superfast broadband gainshare funding will be deployed in 2020, so DSSB will continue into 2020 as we finalise the procurement process for R100.

We are going where others would not. Before the DSSB programme, there were no plans at all for commercial fibre deployment for Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles. Now, more than 80 per cent of premises in those areas have access to broadband. We have gone faster, and 90 per cent of premises are now capable of accessing superfast broadband through DSSB, which far exceeds the original target of 77 per cent.

In saying that, I hope that I am giving Mr Chapman confidence that the Scottish Government will deliver on broadband. To be absolutely clear, the Scottish National Party is already well ahead of any United Kingdom party in its commitment to deliver superfast broadband. Its timescale is ahead of any other UK party and it is investing £600 million, precisely because the Tories have failed to deliver. I remind Mr Chapman that broadband is a reserved matter, so we did not need to make the investment. We are doing it in the interests of Scotland.”

Admittedly it’s true that contracts relating to the supply of resources for R100 may not “correlate directly with the [as yet unknown] date of completion of the deployment,” although on the other hand 2024 does sound like a much more plausible time-scale for the rollout and one that nearly aligns with the UK Government’s “gigabit-broadband” for all by 2025 ambition.

As it stands Mr Wheelhouse noted that “we are in the depths of a procurement exercise that is governed by procurement law, and I cannot discuss the details of bids.” Next week’s General Election may also have a role to play and we note that the SNP chose not to re-iterate the 2021 date in their recent manifesto launch.

However the minister has committed to appear before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to discuss the matter “as soon as I can – probably at the end of January – and to give the details that he and other members seek.”

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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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11 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all

    The LOts total 178k premises so even 48 months of 3.7k a month is demanding a lot of BT in SCotland, that is about half the last monthly total reported delivered by Think Broadband for FTTP by all BDUK.

    It highlights the nonsense of trying to spend £5bn in rural by 2025. They will be lucky to spend the monies under contract, and the monies owed which I hope is applied to fixing rural broadband.

  2. Avatar NE555

    “Over the next four years” if it means starting from now, takes us to the end of 2023, not 2024.

  3. Avatar chris conder

    All part of a superfarce, building obsolete FTTC to help a few go faster. Get the altnets in. Scotland could have learnt from the English experience but didn’t. Giving public money to openreach for cabinets is a waste. good article here from the telecom guru Peter Cochrane https://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/opinion/3084242/general-election-fibre-networks?

    • As the article says and, so far, this hasn’t changed, “one of R100’s aims was to encourage greater use of “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband technology where possible.”

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Chris, The 5,100 subsidised cabinets in Scotland are one matter, it is BT’s willingness or capacity to build beyond them using monies owed is what needs monitoring.

      The role of FTTC is spoiling demand for FTTP will be a concern, but this should not be an issue deep in rural. The latter remains a resource and a willingness to do.

    • Avatar The Facts

      @NGA – how much is ‘owed’ in Scotland?

    • Avatar The Facts

      @CC – as you have been told many times, not a ‘few’, but millions.

  4. Avatar craski

    Disappointing if true but not surprising as the original R100 timeline always seemed very optimistic. There is now a very real possibility that service via the SpaceX Starlink LEO constellation will reach many of us at the edge of the Openreach network before Openreach does!

    • Avatar Richie Brian

      A rule of thumb with any large project, especially with public money, is to quadruple the budget, and double the timeline – then you’ll be half way to the truth.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Richie, in this case the budgets have proved appropriate – although it has taken several Parliamentary enquiries to prove it. The problem was the gaming of those costs and capital, and as a consequence the resourcing was not put in place, impacting the timelines.

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